Local authority breached its duty to Traveller teen with cerebral palsy

A local authority breached its duty to a teenage girl with cerebral palsy by failing to take certain steps to improve the conditions of a caravan in which she lived along with eight other members of her Traveller family, the Supreme Court has ruled.

However, the court said South Dublin County Council had discharged its duty to Ellen O’Donnell’s parents, Mary and Patrick, who had refused several offers of alternative accommodation and who gave away a second caravan which had been provided by the council to alleviate their overcrowding situation.

Now in her 20s, Ellen, who uses a wheelchair, is entitled to a declaration giving her what may be “moderate” damages to be decided later by the High Court, the Supreme Court also said.

The five-judge court was giving judgment in an appeal brought against a 2008 High Court ruling which found Ellen’s right to a private life under the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached by the council’s failure to provide adequate temporary accommodation for her. That court, however, dismissed other claims brought by the rest of the O’Donnell family, including Ellen’s six siblings.

Both the the O’Donnells and the council appealed the decision.

The O’Donnells claimed the High Court had erred in failing to hold the duty to provide accommodation for them extended to “temporary dwelling” and that the council failed in its statutory duty to provide them with an adequate and suitable caravan.

The council, in a cross-appeal, argued that the O’Donnells’ claim should in its entirety be dismissed. It argued it had gone beyond its legal duty by providing them not alone with a halting site but with two caravans.


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