by Ann O'Loughlin
A homeless family of seven who were living mostly in one hotel bedroom since February have settled their legal action after being "satisfactorily housed".
The settlement means the High Court will not have to decide what Mr Justice Seamus Noonan described as “very significant wide-ranging ” issues concerning the duties of local authorities and the State to homeless people in acute housing need.
The unemployed couple and five children aged up to seven, including a baby born into homelessness, have been in ten temporary accommodations in four years and in a particular hotel since February.
They claimed the hotel was not an "adequate home” and failed to meet South Dublin County Council’s statutory responsibilities to them.
Their case sought to have the court address the Council's responsibilities under the Housing Acts and whether the Minister for Housing had failed to vindicate their rights, particularly those of the children, under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights Act.
Their claims against the Council included that such accommodation is unsuitable for long-term living and does not meet the Council’s obligations.
The Minister, they claimed, had failed to ensure families in acute housing need are not forced to live long-term in conditions “wholly incompatible with the normal enjoyment of family life”. The Minister was alleged to have not considered adequately or at all the educational, social, emotional, psychological and physical development needs of the children.
While allocated two bedrooms in the hotel, the family, for reasons including the rooms are not adjoining and youth of the children, said they were effectively living in one room.
The case was initially only against the Council but, after it insisted it had complied with its statutory duties, lawyers for the family said they wanted the Minister made a party and to amend the proceedings.
The case was adjourned to facilitate that and, when it returned before Mr Justice Noonan this week, he was told by Cormac O Dúlacháin SC, for the family, a resolution had been reached, and the family had been satisfactorily housed.
Costs issues will be addressed later.
The court previously heard an independent social worker consultant who assessed the family had said their living conditions in a small, stuffy hotel room would “almost certainly have a detrimental effect on the children’s development and the parents' ability to provide a stable family environment”.
The children's health problems included asthma and various infections, some exhibited behavioural issues, the oldest had missed school due to frequent moves and distance from school, and the parents suffer stress-related illness.
Because they are not permitted cook, they eat a lot of fast food, here was no nearby park and the children are not allowed use public areas of the hotel to play, the consultant said.
The parents, from the South Dublin County Council area, have three children together. The two oldest children are the mother’s. They were designated homeless in early 2016 and were on the Council's housing list.
They were evicted from other homeless hotel accommodation at an hour’s notice three days before last Christmas, shortly after the youngest was born.
The Council alleged they were subject to "multiple warnings" regarding their behaviour and a "credible threat" was made to the general manager of that hotel on December 21st. Their solicitor David Joyce said they got no opportunity to address the complaints and Council breached its duties by revoking their accommodation before identifying alternative accommodation.