European rights chiefs have accepted a landmark class action against the Irish State taken by residents of 20 of the country’s most run-down housing estates.
Five years of research into the conditions in council-run complexes revealed 355,000 people in parts of inner city Dublin and Limerick living in homes with sewage problems, persistent leaks, harmful damp and mould.
The Government will be forced to answer allegations of breaches of human rights to the European Committee of Social Rights in Strasbourg.
Among them are questions over why families with children are living in homes with damp, mould, sewerage problems, poor maintenance and pyrite, and independent medical evidence which shows the conditions are having detrimental effects on health, particularly among children, the elderly and other vulnerable people.
Debbie Mulhall, who lives at Dolphin House, one of the country’s oldest council estates, said residents are being treated as third-class citizens.
“Your home and where you raise your family is so much more than just bricks and mortar. It is the starting place for so many basic rights essential for life - the right to health, the right to education, the right to work,” she said.
“We are being denied these basic rights and being treated like third-class citizens simply because we are tenants of the state.”
Dolphin House has been earmarked for regeneration for several years and residents have joined with others, including the eight-year-old Balgaddy estate in south Dublin, where the hazardous mineral pyrite has been recorded and buildings show signs of damp and poor materials and construction.
Other estates in Dublin highlighted in the original complaint included St Theresa’s Gardens, Charlemont Street and Bridgefoot Street in the south inner city and O’Devaney Gardens, Dominick Street and Croke Villas in the north inner city.
Surveys carried out on residents in Dolphin House in 2012 revealed a risk of lung disease and nine out of 10 children missing school days because of the impact of damp, mould and sewage.
Some people in the flats reported breathing difficulties, diarrhoea, skin rashes and depression due to the conditions.
Ms Mulhall has no confidence the regeneration will happen.
“It is already well over 18 months behind time and at this rate it could be years before it really happens,” she said.
“In the meantime, tenants continue to live in conditions that we allege are unacceptable, unhealthy and uninhabitable. Many people have been moved out which means that our previously strong community is breaking down while we wait patiently for what we were promised.”
The report also targeted the €3bn Limerick Regeneration Scheme for failing to complete promised work in estates like Moyross, Southill, St Mary’s Park and Ballinacurra Weston. It says only €116m has been spent.
It also pointed to Dublin City Council plans dating back to 2008 to regenerate 12 large disadvantaged local authority estates in inner city locations involving more than 2,000 of its stock of 11,000 inner city flats.
Padraic Kenna of National University Ireland Galway, the legal expert behind the complaint, said it is ironic that council housing falls well short of the standards set for the private sector.
“While local authorities carry out a range of limited inspections of private rented properties, there are no such inspections of local authority housing,” he said.
“This illustrates the clear conflict of interest in this situation and the failure to respect the rights of local authority tenants. The result is that the same standards expected for private tenants are not applied on behalf of the state’s own tenants.”
The complaint claimed 130,000 households face discrimination over housing standards and there is no national or regional tenants’ associations in Ireland, and no state support to set them up.
The human rights complaint, which claimed the state has breached residents’ right to health, social, legal and economic protection and to the protection against poverty and social exclusion, was first lodged last summer with the Council of Europe.
The Government has until May 28 to respond.