The Ombudsman for Children's Office has found what it has described as "deplorable" living conditions for children at a local authority-run halting site.

The 'No End in Site' report describes rodent infestation, inadequate sanitation and higher rates of skin and respiratory problems among the children than in the general population.

The local authority, which cannot be named to protect the identities of the children, has committed to address the conditions on the site.

The investigation began after a Traveller advocacy group contacted the Ombudsman for Children's Office about conditions at the site, where 66 children and their families were living.

Eleven families went forward with a complaint that centred on persistent rodent infestation, inadequate sanitation, extreme overcrowding, a high rate of childhood illness, a lack of safe play areas and a lack of progression in housing applications.

When investigators visited the site, which was established in 1989, they found facilities to be very basic.

The OCO's team met 17 children, including children as young as three years of age. They said they knew their living conditions were different from other children.

One 12-year-old girl told the team "walking up to school you see all the rats". She also said "they would be running up and down the walls of the trailer".

OCO investigators observed overcrowding during their three visits to the site and its surrounds.

Children were sleeping on makeshift beds cramped into the living/dining spaces, according to the report, which says there was evidence of damp on the walls and ceilings in each of the mobile units.

A 16-year old girl told the team "when you put your hands out of the bed in the mornings, the blankets are all wet".

Children were seen to be walking and playing in areas where there was an abundance of rubbish.

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This was particularly evident on the roadways outside the bays and on the entrance into the site during the first visit by investigators to the site in 2018, but was less visible on the second visit in November 2019.

With their parents' permission, several children escorted investigators around to the areas of the site where they play, and showed the route, a shortcut, they take to school.

Investigators observed that due to the water pools in the grassed areas and parts of the roadways, passage through the area can result in muddied shoes and clothing, which the children described as a particular problem in terms of their daily journey to and from school, and which they felt drew negative and unwanted attention from their peers.

A 14-year-old girl said people asked her why she was dirty. "I'd be ashamed to say. I don’t want to say it was from walking out of the site."

The Traveller advocacy group who made the complaint said they were exhausted by efforts over the years to try to make things better. They believed their efforts were in vain as they struggled to get improvements on the site.

The HSE Director of Public Health told the OCO that the children living on the halting site suffered skin conditions and respiratory problems at a much higher rate than the general population.

Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon described such living conditions in Ireland in 2021 as utterly shocking, which he said cannot be allowed to continue.

The local authority has committed to address the conditions of the site.

In a statement, the local authority said it recognises the important role of the Ombudsman for Children Office.

It said it is "committed to implementing the recommendations of the report and look forward to working with families, residents, Traveller community development groups, the HSE, Tusla and other state agencies to find and progress solutions to improve the lives and quality of life of children at the site".

One of the complaints was that housing for families was not being progressed.

The report found that record keeping by the local authority lacked transparency and accountability. Housing applications were incomplete or not processed meaning families may have missed out on getting a home or did not move up the list.

The local authority advised that many of the families would not consider any houses outside of their preferred area, which did not have sufficient housing stock to meet this desire.

The Ombudsman for Children has called on the local authority to immediately review housing applications complaints made by the 11 families.

Any errors should be acknowledged, and redress provided, it said.

The local authority is noted in the report as not being aware of any administrative errors, but says it will undertake a review of the housing applications in question. It adds that any errors will be acknowledged and rectified without delay.

It has committed to improving the way it deals with housing applications by the Travelling community.

The OCO has also recommended that the local authority engages the HSE social inclusion unit, Tusla, youth services and local schools to improve the lives of the children living on the site.

The Minister of State with responsibility for local Government and Planning, Peter Burke said in a modern society, he doesn't want to see young children living in such sub standard and high risk accommodation and he doesn't want to tolerate it.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, he said they've engaged with the local authority in question, that additional land has been secured for that site and he will be monitoring the process.

He said an expert review was established to identify why the budgets of local authorities were not spent on traveller accommodation.

Mr Burke said there were a myriad of reasons for this and the review was established to determine the ways to unlock these barriers.

The Director of the Irish Traveller Movement Bernard Joyce said he welcomed the Minister's comments and while the policies are good, unless they get the provision of accommodation to a basic standard that's acceptable, he said nobody should be able to sleep at night, including the Government.

He said children and families are living in inhumane conditions and it's not the responsibility of individuals to report that to the Ombudsman for Children so these reports can be carried out.


The site as outlined in the report

The site was originally a sand and gravel quarry, which in 1989 was established by the local authority as an official ten-bay halting site for members of the Traveller community.

It is in shadow for most daylight hours. The services on the site in 1989 were, and continue to be, basic.

The rudimentary concrete infrastructure from the original development of the site remains in place and no substantial, infrastructural improvements have taken place to date.

OCO investigators were informed that there was no organised allocation process in 1989, with most of the ten bays populated on a first come, first served basis.

It is reported that several families also took up unauthorised residency on the site, some on the bays and others on vacant areas throughout the site.

Over the years, overcrowding has become a significant issue, as family growth has resulted in extended families taking up residence on the periphery of the halting site.

The local authority estimated that 38 families now live on site with 66 children between them.

While electricity is available, there is no natural gas supply or telecommunications supply, and there have been persistent problems with regard to the waste management system for both solid and recyclable domestic waste in the past.

Unauthorised residents on the site have no separate toilet, washing facilities, or running water of their own and depend on the tenants of the ten serviced bays.

In total, there are approximately 140 people using the toilets and washing facilities designed for 40 people and the residents say this has led to stress, tension and, at times, conflict.

In addition, residents state that there is no safe place for children to congregate or play.

Sanitary provisions on site are within communal washrooms, referred to as 'welfare huts'. These consist of a toilet, a bath/shower and sink.

All facilities are located within non-insulated out-houses made of blocks and concrete with the sinks and baths made of stainless steel. Mains water and communal washrooms are shared in some cases by three families or up to 16 people, including children.

Not all welfare huts have hot water, and during electricity outages children spoke about having to boil kettles for a bath that is shared by the entire family.