Traveller couple with one-year-old baby sleeping in van after losing caravan roof in Storm Ophelia

"We are sleeping with our clothes on in the van at night and our daughter is frightened and very afraid and scared."

Traveller couple with one-year-old baby sleeping in van after losing caravan roof in Storm Ophelia

Olivia Kelleher

A young traveller couple in their 20s with a one-year-old baby have been sleeping in a van since Storm Ophelia blew the roof over their mobile home at a halting site in Cork.

The 21-year-old couple, who do not want to be identified, say they are feeling completely desperate since their lost the home from over their heads at Spring Lane Halting site in Ballyvolane on the northside of the city.

The father of the little girl said that she is "very afraid" of sleeping in the van. The family were in the caravan last Monday morning when Storm Opelia hit and caused havoc in their lives.

"I was in bed when I heard a noise coming from the roof. When I opened the door the roof was swinging off and then it blew away like a balloon in the air," he said.

"We have been sleeping in the van since. Edel House did organise for us to go to a hotel the first night. But now the City Council want to split us up as a family. They want to send us to different places.

"We are sleeping with our clothes on in the van at night and our daughter is frightened and very afraid and scared."

The grandfather of the little girl, who also asked not be named, said that caravans in Spring Lane have been in disrepair for years and that the whole site is uninhabitable at the best of times.

"These caravans are summer caravans with no insulation whatsoever. They are rotting and are not livable. The caravans are really old and it wouldn't take that much for the roof to come off. There is nothing to hold the roof on. The conditions in Spring Lane you wouldn't get in any site in Ireland. It is a miracle that nobody was killed or injured here last Monday when that roof came flying off."

Cork Traveller Women’s Network (CTWN) and the Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) have long called for the development of long-term, good quality, culturally appropriate accommodation for the families living on the Spring Lane Halting site.

The groups say that Spring Lane is ‘chronically overcrowded." The site was originally built for 10 families; 34 families and more than 150 people are now living in the bays. The bays onsite have poor electrical connections, lack of toilet facilities, flooding issues and a pot-holed road network.

Cork City Council is working on plans to provide alternative accommodation to the residents living on the site. The aim is to complete the shutdown by 2020 and it is understood that an interagency group is working to tackle accommodation issues with that date in mind.

It is proposed that the families on the site could be accommodated in group housing schemes, dedicated halting site accommodation and social housing.

A spokeswoman for Cork City Council said the Housing Directorate was in attendance at the local co-ordination centre last week and is aware through calls to the freefone number that mobile homes and caravans sustained damage at Spring Lane and Carrigrohane Road.

"Arrangements were made to accommodate families whose homes became inhabitable as a result of the storm damage," the council said.

"Assessors were called on Tuesday (October 17), which was the earliest appropriate time due to the effects of ex-hurricane Ophelia.

"The assessors examined damage and on completion of the assessments, the appropriate action will be taken to remediate.

"Cork City Council is aware of the number of families who have accessed homeless support services and will take all necessary steps, as quickly as possible, to address the issues arising. We would like to underline that emergency accommodation was available to all who wanted it."

Meanwhile, the Green Party in Cork has called upon the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, to make emergency funding available to Cork City Council to re-home the young couple at the halting site.

The couple were visited on Saturday by Cork Greens chair, Eithne Lynch, and representatives, Lorna Bogue and Oliver Moran.

Mr Moran, the Green Party representative in Cork North Central, said that the situation was "heartbreaking."

"A couple who did everything right, saved to buy a home, however modest to many people, to make a loving environment for themselves and their child, lose everything," he said.

"Part of our response to extreme weather events like Ophelia has to be protecting the most vulnerable. Here in Montenotte, I lost a slate. A mile or so away in Spring Lane, a young family are made homeless. It isn't good enough to expect the poorest to bear the cost of climate change like this.

"There is a clear case for the Minister and Cork City Council to make exceptional funding available through a hardship fund as part of the overall response to Ophelia."

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