Over 1,000 Traveller families still living in inhumane conditions
Research just published carried out on a Travellers site in County Galway demonstrates the inextricable link between their deplorable living conditions and poor health status. This morning Minister Eamon O Cuiv launched the report on the health of residents living in Carrowbrowne Travellers Halting Site, which is located in the Ministers own constituency, north east of Galway on the Headford Road. It reveals the appalling conditions experienced by Travellers – rat infestation, no water, no electricity, portoloos which were cleaned out just twice a week. And the benefits for involving Travellers at an early stage in the planning and development of any sites. Galway Traveller Movement carried out this research between 2007 and 2009 before site was refurbished. It is a detailed analysis of health 101 residents on the site and the findings are a combination of what the residents experience and some GP health records and they make hard reading. It found
- The site had no electricity except for a generator that was off at night and very expensive to run
- No hot water and the cold water came from 2 external cold water taps and a fire hydrant
- No plumbed toilets – the toilets were 22 old portoloos were emptied twice a week
- Site was rat infested
- Site is beside Headford road with speed limit of 100 km an hour
- Site is on an old landfill site and beside a composting site with very bad smells
- Surface of site was mostly gravel and therefore prone to flooding and makes access to portoloos impassable
- No green areas, no play areas, far from shops and services, no foot paths
- No caretaking provision on site
- Emergency services were not able to access the site.
While it is obvious living in such an environment would have very negative impacts on the residents’ health, what is significant about this research is that it is the first time that the relationship between Travellers accommodation and their health has been looked at. We know that Irish Travellers live about ten years fewer than their settled counterparts – and they experiences greater levels of sickness. And this research clearly finds this from their medical records. Residents are much more likely to have higher rates of
- kidney infections
- suffer from anxiety and depression
- be at high risk of injury and accidents
But it also details very real lived experiences of the Travellers living on Carrowbrowne. If you have diabetes, you need to take insulin and it needs to be stored in a fridge but if the generator is off at night, then that is just not possible. Mothers spoke about being unable to heat bottles at night because they could not boil the kettle. About children having to go out in the cold and wet in wellies to go to a portoloo and bang it with a stick before going in for fear of rats. About the very high costs of living if you have nowhere to store food. About the stigma their children feel as they cannot showers before school. In the words of one residents “lLiving on Carrowbrowne was not living it was surviving”.
The good news is that the Carrowbrowne site has since been redeveloped and is much improved since the research took place. Galway Traveller Movement has produced a video of the site before and after its redevelopment and it is unrecognisable. They are like two different planets. Now there are bays for the caravans, plumbed loos, showers, electricity. On the video the Travellers speak about the real improvement in the quality of their lives, you see the children playing in safe areas.
But Carrowbrowne was built as a transient site so its meant to be a site where Travellers can travel in and out of, but in reality the families there are there permanently. BUT it is not built as a permanent site which would have better facilities and more room. And would have been much more expensive to construct.
And while the residents in Carrowbrowne are no longer in such poor facilities, there are many other families living in the conditions described above, without the most basic facilities. We do not know exactly how many because there is no audit of types and conditions of halting sites in Ireland. But the Dept of Environment figures show there are 600 families living on the side of the road in conditions similar to the old Carrowbrowne and there are another 800 Traveller families living in low grade accommodation with varying degrees of bad conditions. So there are at least 1,000 families living in these inhumane conditions.
Minister O Cuiv seemed pretty familiar with the conditions in Carrowbrowne and has visited the site. He said that the conditions were “totally unacceptable”, that there needed to be “radical change” and government’s job was to make sure that that happened.
Yet the track record is not good on it. Ireland has had a very poor record of redeveloping and refurbishing and building new sites for the remaining 1,400 families. There have been improvements in some sites but for example under policy or even legislation ever county council is meant to have a transient site, but not one county has one because the people in them stay there as there are not enough permanent sites. Also every county has a 3-year Traveller Accommodation Plan but there is a big gap between the plans and what actually happens. Plus there is a big push to get Travellers in to houses they may not want to be in.
So there needs to be implementation of the guidelines and policies and legislation that exists. And what about introducing penalties to city and county councils who consistently break their plans and promises. This research was carried out at the same time as the redevelopment of Carrowbrowne and as a result the Travellers became involved in the redevelopment. This resulted in changes which greatly improved the quality of life of the Travellers but did not cost any money and saved money in the long term.
However, as the Travellers were not involved at design stage, there were some things they simply could not change eg school is at the front of the site beside the main road when it would be much safer to have it at the back.
What this project shows very clearly is that if you involved Travellers at the earliest stage, you will save money and get a better result. As Bridget Corcoran, a Traveller who lives on the site who was at the launch today said – ‘none of the officials have ever lived on a site, so they don’t know’.
Some random other findings in the report:
- Census 2006 found over 6,700 Travellers were living in caravans and of these 91% of Travellers had no central heating, 26% had no piped water, 25% has no sewage facilities
- The timing of this report is very important it was carried out btw December 2007 and March 2009 – at the peak of the boom – so there is no excuse for having done nothing
- There is not one transient halting site in any county in Ireland as recommended in the 1995 Travellers task force report so – 15 years on, during the decade we had most, we failed to act
- The task force report also recommended a joint committee btw Doh and DoE, this has met once or twice and never since the Review of the Task Force Report in 2000 – this reflects the political and administrative will or lack of it to address these issues.