Traveler accommodation project planned next to Cork’s Spring Lane site

A local authority secured state funding to develop plans for a group housing scheme for Travelers next to one of the worst Travelers’ hosting sites in Ireland – a decade after qu ‘A similar approach was rejected by city councilors – while working with individual families to identify potential housing solutions.

New efforts to address the many complex and persistent issues at the Spring Lane shutdown site in Ballyvolane, north Cork City, were presented to city councilors six months after a scathing report on the management of the site by the advice.

Last May, the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) found, after three years of investigation, that the council had failed to take into account the best interests of the children living on the site by allowing them to live. in dirty, overcrowded, rat infested places and unsafe living conditions.

The OCO found that the council did not maintain the site, including maintaining toilets and showers known as “welfare units”, ensuring consistent waste management and pest control, and providing passage clear and safe at school, as well as areas for children to play.

It found that record keeping was not transparent or accountable, that housing applications were incomplete or not processed, meaning families may have missed out on housing or not getting on the list, and that overcrowding at the site was another result of poor administration.

The OCO also found that the local authority had not taken into account the disadvantages encountered by Travelers in actually obtaining accommodation and that they had not fulfilled their obligations regarding the accommodation program. accommodation for Travelers.

The council rejected the report and said the issues were “nowhere near as straightforward as described”.

Last May, the office of the Ombudsman for Children found, after three years of investigation, that the council had not taken into account the best interests of the children living on the site by allowing them to live in conditions of dirty, overcrowded, rat infested and dangerous lives.  .  Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney / Provision
Last May, the office of the Ombudsman for Children found, after three years of investigation, that the council had not taken into account the best interests of the children living on the site by allowing them to live in conditions of dirty, overcrowded, rat infested and dangerous lives. . Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney / Provision

In a rebuttal report to the Housing Ministry, he said the OCO report did not show a “full understanding or appreciation of the complex issues and deeply rooted socio-economic issues” involved at the site.

Solidarity adviser Fiona Ryan requested a full report from council executive director Ann Doherty on the council’s response to the OCO report before Christmas, and the issue was discussed at Monday’s council meeting.

Housing directorate services director Niall Ó Donnabháin told councilors that dealing with the range of issues at the site takes an enormous amount of time within his department.

“There’s no doubt it’s a challenge – it’s a huge challenge across the board, dealing with day-to-day operational maintenance issues and also long-term plans to deal with the delivery of more services. long. long-term solutions for the 50 families that exist on Spring Lane, ”he said.

It is not an easy challenge. We need solutions based on one family per family. We used the appropriate support services in terms of liaison people to engage with families to understand their needs.

He said the council faced “high expectations” from families at the site and that a large cohort was looking to move to more settled accommodation.

“And it’s a challenge because it takes time, it takes understanding, and in many cases it’s a fundamental change for a lot of these families and what we do is understand that,” did he declare.

He also said the Peter McVerry Trust would be able to help by providing “comprehensive services” to families seeking to move into “fixed accommodation” so that they can be supported in a way that “suits the needs of the family. – beyond what we would do on a daily basis.

“We’ll see progress over the next 12-24 months, but you can’t imagine solutions like this overnight,” he said.

“The provision of long-term housing solutions and housing solutions for these families must be done correctly and correctly from the start. ”

Advisors also received a detailed written report on the board’s efforts since May to address the BCO’s recommendations, including details of its semi-annual review with the BCO in December.

The report says that as per the OCO’s first recommendation, Ms Doherty was overseeing the board’s response and that bi-weekly meetings were being held with the board’s deputy chief executive to take stock of progress.

Funding approval obtained

Most importantly, however, he revealed that funding approval had been obtained from the Department of Housing for a group housing program at the adjoining Ellis’s Yard site and the assessments, studies and designs needed to get started on the process. planning part 8.

Council proposals to expand the arrest site in this council-owned yard were rejected by city councilors in 2011.

The report also states that following another recommendation from the OCO, the council also plans to renovate or redesign the original 10 bays of the reception site for families who wish to stay, to include welfare units, electricity, water and sanitation services, in parallel with the delivery of a collective housing program to Ellis’ Yard.

Based on another recommendation from the OCO, the council also plans to renovate or redevelop the original 10 bays of the reception site for families who wish to stay, to include wellness units, l 'electricity, water and sanitation services, alongside the delivery of a group housing project to Ellis' Yard.
Based on another recommendation from the OCO, the council also plans to renovate or redevelop the original 10 bays of the reception site for families who wish to stay, to include wellness units, l ‘electricity, water and sanitation services, alongside the delivery of a group housing project to Ellis’ Yard.

A project implementation team has been put in place to help carry out this work, and in the interim, temporary wellness packages will be provided.

“There have been major difficulties in obtaining such units due to the current delays in the supply chain for construction-related equipment, which are well documented, but things are underway and under control,” said the report.

The report states that the council has put in place a team, including external service providers, to prepare and carry out an engagement with the residents of the stop-site to “identify all relevant issues, both social and techniques, in order to identify and implement a lasting solution to improve the quality of life of children and their community, as soon as possible ”.

The report said the board was pleased that its “core engagement team” had been accepted by the traveling community, and that after months of family reunions, in-person, and phone calls, all in context pandemic restrictions, confidence was restored in his relationship with the community of Spring Lane.

The report says the engagement has given council a “clear estimate” of how many households will accept “standard local authority accommodation,” it identified those who wish to stay in a renovated Spring Lane site, and those who wish to stay at a renovated Spring Lane site. move to the collective housing program in Ellis’s Yard, or a collective housing program elsewhere by 2024.

“The ability of the city council to meet expectations will, of course, depend on availability in the existing housing stock, demands from the growing waiting list for social housing assistance (currently around 4,500 approved households) and the willingness of Spring Lane residents to be flexible in the type and location of supports they are willing to accept to meet their housing needs, ”the report states.

The OCO recommended an immediate review of housing applications submitted by the 11 Traveler families who filed a complaint with the OCO, in order to identify any potential administrative errors that may have had a negative impact on them and their children.

The board report states that the internal audit section of the board reviewed the nominations and confirmed that all “relevant information and procedures were followed”.

“The city council is of the opinion that no errors were identified that would have had a negative impact on the success of candidates bidding for social housing on the Choice Based Letting (CBL) system,” the report said.

However, the audit section suggested “process improvements” that could help manage the system on behalf of the Traveler community.

The report said that a temporary trail was being set up to help children at the site access the local school, and a new trail was proposed from the public road through the site, but these work was delayed because the ESB had to move two utility poles at the top. of an embankment.

“The council is exerting all pressure to resolve this current delay,” the report said.

The report also found that the Department of Applied Social Studies at University College Cork is also conducting an equality review of the council’s CBL system, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, and which should improve and simplify the system for use by travel communities.

The board also conducted a comprehensive review of its Traveler Accommodation Unit (TAU) and implemented an updated maintenance system with a dedicated phone line to ensure that maintenance and upgrade work from routine and emergency are carried out efficiently.

It is also planned to establish a specific complaints handling mechanism within the TAU.

And dedicated secure play areas are being considered in association with the overhaul of the 10 bays.

“The board is committed to fully implementing the recommendations of the OCO report and implementing the measures outlined in the current traveler accommodation program for the benefit of all residents, especially the children of Spring Lane,” indicates the report.

“The board is confident that despite the serious and complex challenges involved, this new approach along with the continued efforts of board staff, the cooperation of other agencies and the goal of all parties to work collaboratively with families and representative groups can improve the lives of children in Spring Lane and achieve satisfactory results in the shortest possible time.