Conditions at a Cork City halting site, which was the subject of a damning report by the Ombudsman for Children last year, have improved but the pace of change is still not quick enough, according to a follow-up report.
The No End In Site report, first published in May 2021, did not name the site, but it was understood to be the Spring Lane site on the northside of Cork City.
That report by the Office of the Ombudsman for Children (OCO) described conditions for children there as "shocking" and "deplorable". There were 140 people using toilet and washing facilities designed for use by 40 people, while children suffered skin conditions and respiratory problems "at a much higher rate than the general population".
Issues included persistent rodent infestation, inadequate sanitation, extreme overcrowding, and a high rate of childhood illness.
A progress report by the OCO, published today, said significant steps had been taken by the local authority in the past 12 to 18 months to improve living conditions for children and families living there, but added: "there is still a long road ahead to rehousing the families and ensuring the site is fit for purpose".
There are 66 families living at the site and the initial report made 10 recommendations for action, all of which were accepted by the local authority. The OCO said the recommendations had been actively prioritised for implementation, with more than €450,000 spent on refurbishment and upgrading at the site in the past year.
That included a caretaker hired for five days a week to log and report maintenance issues, a dedicated phoneline for complaints, the installation of two new welfare units, and 30 new portaloos, as well as two mobile homes. Water and electrical works have also taken place.
According to the report: "The local authority tell us they are actively trying to purchase houses and identify existing stock that are suitable for the needs of families who wish to move offsite. Indeed, a number of families have already been accommodated in social housing to date."
The local authority also told the OCO of council plans to construct a further Traveller group housing scheme, with planning permission expected to be sought in the first quarter of next year.
But the OCO report said: "Despite the significant efforts made by the local authority a small number of families report that their living conditions remain unchanged and they are frustrated with the pace of developments. We remain concerned that relationships between the Local Authority, the residents, and their advocates can be strained at times, and we have conveyed to all parties that open communication is central to building trusting working relationships going forward."
The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon acknowledged the work done by the council but added: "While we are satisfied with the work that has taken place over the past 12 months, our work here is not complete. We will continue to engage with the Local Authority, and with families on the site, to drive further change that will benefit the children who live there.”
Initially, 11 families came forward to make individual and shared complaints about a range of issues and the OCO welcomed a new policy whereby residents can appeal and seek a review of disputes about the length of time for which they are recognised as being on the housing list.