Time to cherish Traveller children equally

Members of the Maughan Families on the Volex site in Castlebar, Co Mayo., with portaloo to the left of the picture

Bernadette Maughan: Three reports published this year investigating conditions faced by the Travelling community in Ireland have once again brought to the fore a structural prejudice that has existed for decades (see, for example, this report on the experience of Travellers in the mainstream labour market). The most stark report, published by the Ombudsman for Children, No End in Site, described the living conditions on one site in Co Cork. Despite Cork County Council’s attempt to defend the lack of progress, the reality is that it is not an isolated case. In fact, it is the lived reality for the Travelling community on many sites across the country.

“The reality is that finding solutions for Traveller accommodation, or ensuring access to water, electricity and sanitation, has not been a political priority”

We saw very recently the situation in St Margaret’s Park in Ballymun, where the community held a human right protest to highlight the poor conditions, including access to running water, that has persisted for 40 years.  Dublin City Council are now building a depot adjacent to the St Margaret’s community at a cost of €100 million, while budgets for Traveller accommodation remain partially unspent. Of course there are always logistical problems and always excuses, but they can be overcome when it comes to building infrastructure for businesses or retail units. The reality is that finding solutions for Traveller accommodation, or ensuring access to water, electricity and sanitation, has not been a political priority. It has been kicked down the road while children are growing up in unhealthy conditions.

“Four generations have been living for 21 years without basic services of water or electricity”

Last month, the Connaught Telegraph highlighted the example of the Maughan Families on the Volex Site, on Mooneen Road, Castlebar, Co Mayo, where there are four generations who have been living for 21 years without basic services of water or electricity.  When the family arrived at the site in 2000, they started paying for toilets (portaloos) themselves as a temporary measure because the Local Authority had not provided them and had not yet connected the site to running water. Now, 21 years later, a second generation of the family are still living under those conditions.   

Familes on the Moneen Road are still using portaloos

In March 2020, the Department of Housing and Local Government issued a circular stating all families living on sites, whether authorised or unauthorised, were to be provided with all necessary sanitation, and additional caravans to facilitate isolation and sanitation.  The only aim of this measure was to curtail the spread of the Covid 19 virus. The circular stated that “every effort should be made to find prompt and practical solutions on existing sites.”

Yet the families on the Mooneen Road site are still using portaloos and still have no access to water, electricity or appropriate sanitation. What we are asking for are very basic human rights. We may be approaching another wave of Covid 19; we may face pandemics in the future.

“The Proclamation aspired to cherish all of the children of the nation equally”

Even without the threat of global pandemics, the children on this site – who will return to school in September – need access to clean running water. Like every other child in the country they should have access to basic sanitation. Without this they run the risk of recurring poor health. The Proclamation aspired to cherish all of the children of the nation equally. It’s a good aspiration.

Travellers are identified as one of the most vulnerable  groups in society. Please support the Maughan Families by contacting Mayo County Council requesting support for delivery of basic human rights.  

Bernadette Maughan is a member of the National Traveller Women’s Forum

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