Sewage on halting site ‘a serious risk to children’

A large lagoon of water and raw untreated sewage poses a serious health and drowning risk to almost 100 children living alongside it, a damning report has warned.

Sewage on halting site ‘a serious risk to children’

And a near-vertical 20m-high unstable cliff face towering over homes should be made safe to prevent its collapse.

These are just two of a raft of serious engineering and public health issues identified by three reports which warn of major risks to the health of residents living on what has been branded one of the country’s worst halting sites.

The full extent of the dangers at the overcrowded Spring Lane halting site on Cork’s northside are now laid bare in the previously unpublished reports, which have been seen by the Irish Examiner.

The shocking reports, one by an engineer, one by an environmental health officer, and a third by a director of public health nursing, were compiled in 2012 in a bid to force the authorities to act.

However, a consultative forum involving Traveller lobby groups, halting site residents, local residents, and representatives of various stage agencies, has collapsed without agreement.

Another inter-agency group set up in its wake has stalled, prompting renewed calls last night for fresh talks between all sides in a bid to resolve the complex issues.

Halting site resident, Christina McCarthy, 27, has lived on the site all her life. Her parents have lived there for almost 30 years.

She said her parents, uncles and aunts have been fighting for 30 years for improvements in conditions. But they still have to use prison-like steel toilets, without proper shower facilities; and cope with sewage seeping on to the site.

She said they will resist attempts to relocate them and that all they want is a new site built on vacant land adjoining the halting site.

“How could you expect people to leave their homes when they’ve been here all their lives,” she said.

“They are trying to take away our homes. What do they expect us to do? To stand down when they are trying to take away our homes? We’re not going to stand down.

“This is not like Dale Farm in England, where outsiders came in. This is all the one family, not newcomers.”

Ann Marie McCarthy said her caravan is falling apart around her family. She has been waiting 10 weeks for a replacement caravan in what has been deemed an emergency case. The roof in her bedroom is leaking. The ceiling in the living area is falling down, exposing electrical wires. There are gaps in the doors and windows.

“I’m afraid in case this caravan falls down around us, or goes up in fire,” she said.

“We are after getting letters from nurses, doctors, hospitals, and still nothing is being done for us.”

The Spring Lane halting site was developed 25 years ago to cater for 10 families. But as children grew up and married, the site expanded.

Members of the extended family are now living in an “unauthorised, subsidiary site”, which has developed around the official site.

Today, the site is home to some 33 families — more than 60 adults and more than 100 children.

Council officials presented plans in September 2011 to extend the site by rezoning the nearby Ellis’s Yard, but councillors voted against the rezoning.

Although the three reports were prepared in 2012, the conditions have worsened following the collapse of a consultative forum designed to address the issues.

Several families are already taking legal action against Cork City Council over the conditions.

Spring Lane is included in a collective complaint submitted by the Irish Traveller Movement, via the European Roma Rights Centre, to the European Council for Social Rights, against the Government for failing to live up to its promises under the European Social Charter by failing to deliver proper accommodation to Traveller families.

And the Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) confirmed last nightit is working to ensure that Traveller families are registered to vote in the May local elections. “The truth is that politicians don’t see Travellers as part of their constituency,” said TVG spokeswoman, Chrissie O’Sullivan. “We are now running a campaign right up until May to get people registered to vote.”

Faults highlighted

-Faults with the halting site’s main drainage system have led to the creation of a very large lagoon of water and raw sewage, up to 80cm deep.

Human excrement is clearly visible at the edges of the lagoon. It poses a danger to the health and wellbeing of residents and may also pose a drowning risk, the engineering report warns.

The lagoon is very accessible to the estimated 100 children living on the site. “If this was a private housing development, this ponding would not be tolerated and at worst would be fenced off to protect children,” it says.

-Two sides of the site are bounded by vertical slopes more than 20m high. The eastern slope is practically vertical — over 80-degrees — comprised of sand and gravel. The gradient is too dangerous and unstable, made all the more dangerous by wet weather.

-Surface drainage is ineffective. Ground surfaces are uneven and dangerous.

-Communal wash rooms are shared by up to 16 people.

-There are no safe play areas for children or animals.

-Inadequate waste management on the site, and the lack of proper bins provide ideal conditions for the harbourage of vermin.

-High Infection rates amongst children, with conditions including upper respiratory, lower urinary tract infections, and skin infections.

-Traveller women attending GPs for stress-related illnesses, mental health illnesses, chest and skin infections.

-High percentage of children with special needs, speech and language, and learning difficulties.

-One child suffered a fractured radius and ulna in a fall on the uneven road surface.

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