Agencies under fire for response to halting site conditions

A parish priest has criticised statutory agencies for failing to act on a report carried out over four years, which highlighted appalling living conditions for children at a Limerick City halting site.

The report was commissioned in 2011 after repeated approaches to Fr Pat Hogan of the Holy Family Parish in Southill from mothers of children living at Clonlong halting site, where 30% of the children were being treated for asthma.

After visiting the halting sites during the freezing winters of 2009 and 2010, Fr Hogan said he witnessed the implications for people living in holiday caravans in extreme cold.

These included frozen water and gas pipes; frozen washing machines; children absent from school for up to six weeks because their uniforms could not be washed; children and adults sleeping in the same bed just to keep warm; up to five heaters operating at full strength but having minimal impact.

The authors of the report, which was carried out over a three-week period in August 2011 were two retired social workers, who visited 10 families comprising a total of 19 adults and 34 children.

A nine-month old child was described as suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea as a side-effect of antibiotics. Two others had to be treated for thrush, again attributed to the side-effects of antibiotics.

One six-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis and advanced liver failure needed 24-hour care. While awaiting a liver transplant in the UK, this child had to be hospitalised each time as he developed an infection.

His family, whose caravan was grossly overcrowded, was on the housing waiting list for 11 years, but have since been rehoused.

According to the findings 10 children out of 34 had been, or were being, treated for asthma. At nearly 30%, this was considerably above the prevalence of asthma among school age children in Ireland, estimated variously at between 15% and 21%.

The authors were given detailed health information on each of the 34 children, ranging in age from 9 months to 16 years. Among the health findings were:

  • Recurrent wheezing and chest infections (12 children);
  • Kidney infections (five children);
  • Constant ear and throat infections (eight children);
  • Bronchitis (five children);
  • Tonsillitis (three children);
  • Asthma (10 children);
  • Only two out of 34 children appeared to be free of regular respiratory or other infections.

The report was sent to various statutory agencies, including: Limerick City and County Council, Barnardos, the then ombudsman for children Emily Logan who visited the site along with the then minister for children, Frances Fitzgerald.

However, despite the rehousing of one family, nothing much has changed according to Fr Pat Hogan: “We got a lot of well-meaning talk but nothing has changed...

“Nothing has changed really and in light of what has happened in Carrickmines in Dublin; we are looking at that on a daily basis and there’s a lot of sick children.

“A lot of the families are even bigger now with more children and you ask yourself, how can you live in these conditions.”

About 20 families are living on the site; three in permanent dwellings and the rest in mobile homes.

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