The Ombudsman for Children (OCO) has strongly criticised Cork City Council over conditions at a Cork halting site and the "shocking" and "deplorable" conditions for children there.
In No End in Site, the report into the living conditions of children on a local authority halting site which is published today, the OCO doesn't name the site. However, theunderstands it to be Spring Lane on the northside of Cork City.
The OCO met 17 children living there. One 12-year-old said:
A seven-year-old boy said "we only play in puddles" while a girl, 12, said: "People ask why I’m dirty, but I’d be ashamed to say. I don’t want to say it was from walking out of the site." Another child said:
The OCO said the HSE director of public health has said that children living on the site suffer skin conditions and respiratory problems "at a much higher rate than the general population" — and that this is attributable to the living conditions there.
In 2018 the OCO received a complaint from a Traveller advocacy group about conditions at the site.
Those issues included persistent rodent infestation, inadequate sanitation, extreme overcrowding, and a high rate of childhood illness caused by living conditions.
The OCO met with families and formally received 11 individual complaints. Investigators visited the site on three occasions.
It said the site's 10 bays are on a first-come, first-served basis but that several families took up unauthorised residency, resulting in overcrowding.
"The local authority estimate that 38 families now live on-site with 66 children between them," it said. "In total, there are approximately 140 people using toilets and washing facilities designed for 40 people and the residents say this has led to stress, tension and, at times, conflict."
The OCO report outlines a string of alleged failures on behalf of the local authority, including that "carelessness and undesirable administrative practice has resulted in overcrowding and serious risks on the site for children".
It also references failure to comply with and implement the minimum statutory requirements of the Traveller Accommodation Programme, and a failure to consider the best interests of children.
The report includes a string of recommendations, including direct CEO involvement in the oversight of the implementation of the recommendations, "to ensure accountability and a ring-fenced budget".
The local authority said "the Chief Executive will prioritise this matter" and gave a number of assurances and updates regarding other observations and recommendations from the OCO.