Family in ‘unsafe’ caravan denied State help

A Traveller family living in a leaking, cold caravan was denied help from the State’s homeless unit just before Christmas despite an environmental health officer declaring their living conditions unsafe and inadequate.

Documents seen by the Irish Examiner show that the homeless unit in Clare told the family they were “not deemed homeless” as they lived in a caravan.

In her application to the unit, Mary O’Donoghue, a mother of 12, wrote she was living an old 14ft caravan with holes for the wind to come through and it was leaking. “I can’t stick it anymore,” she said. “Sometimes I need the nebuliser and the generator broke down again so we did not have light. It is too dangerous now.”

In 2009, a HSE environmental health services report stated the family’s caravan was “unfit for human habitation”. Although a similar report was carried out for 2010, it was not made available to the family.

The report found inadequate cooking and heating facilities and an absence of drinking water supply and sanitary facilities.

A doctor’s letter also stated that Ms O’Donoghue, whose children are grown up, is a “very unwell woman” with numerous health problems. Dr Brian Jennings wrote that Ms O’Donoghue needs to use a nebuliser on a regular basis, has epilepsy and asthma, and is on medication.

Despite all this, on appeal, the family — Ms O’Donoghue her husband and two teenage sons — were denied emergency assistance under the State’s exceptional needs payment scheme. The appeals officer said the family might qualify for rent supplement if they were approved for housing by the local authority to source private rented accommodation.

The family say it is impossible for them to rent once landlords find out they are Travellers. A letter from a community development worker stated he had been assisting Ms O’Donoghue to find a place to rent since late 2009, with no success.

In recent weeks, the family left the caravan after it was vandalised while they were absent. They had been living on the Barefield site on a link road off a motorway near Ennis, Co Clare. Court proceedings initiated by the council to secure their removal went ahead last week.

At the High Court hearing, Mr Justice Roderick Murphy made an order prohibiting them from returning, the council said.

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