A young woman pregnant with her first child says she and her husband have been left with no option but to live in their car after a court order for the removal of their caravan from council land on the southside of Cork city.
Margaret O’Reilly, 22, a member of Travelling community, said she and Nicholas, who were married last November, had to sell their caravan afterwards and have been living in the car for over a week in the Mahon area.
She said while they have been offered just over €610 a month in Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) they have been trying but cannot find affordable accommodation in the private rented sector. She said she now fears for her mental health, for the health of her husband, and the health of their unborn baby.
“We have a baby on the way and I want to have proper facilities for my baby. I attended a hospital appointment yesterday and I told them about our situation and they were fuming. If it isn’t resolved by September, I won’t leave the hospital after our baby is born until there is a house available for us.”
Ms O’Reilly, who was raised in Ballyvolane, worked with the Traveller Visibility Group until her contract ran out. Her husband is unemployed. She said they moved into the caravan in a field alongside Nicholas’s parents’ home in the Meelagh housing estate in Mahon after their wedding.
Ms O’Reilly insists they had a right to be there, claiming that Traveller families living in Meelagh were allowed to use the field for the grazing of horses.
But Cork City Council secured an injunction in January for the removal of the caravan from the lands. Ms O’Reilly said because they had nowhere to store the caravan, they had to sell it.
She said they cannot stay with Nicholas’s parents in their four-bedroom home, because there are 11 people living there already. She said she can’t go back to her own halting site which is chronically overcrowded.
“I’m five months pregnant and can’t put the car seat back because our belongings are in the back of the car.
“We are homeless but the city council won’t declare us homeless so we can get help from the homeless unit. They said they can’t declare us homeless because we sold our caravan, but we had to sell it because the council took legal action.”
She said they have been offered emergency B&B accommodation in Skibbereen, Mallow and Bandon but it is not suitable for them.
The council’s head of housing, Brian Geaney, said they cannot comment on individual cases but in cases of trespass on council lands, the council will endeavour at all times to deal with the matter amicably.
“If a resolution cannot be reached between the parties, the city council has no other option but to apply to the courts for an injunction. In all cases, Cork City Council will work with the families involved to assist them in finding alternative accommodation which can include private rented accommodation through HAP scheme and advise them of homeless services available. This was also done in this case.”
The Green Party’s Oliver Moran said he was shaken by Margaret’s plight.
“It’s not OK for the council to turn a vulnerable expectant family out onto the roads. Their circumstances may not have been legal but they were at least housed.”
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