A Clonmel based traveller family with six children, three of whom have serious medical conditions, have decided to take legal action against South Tipperary Co. Council over the length of time it is taking to provide them with a local authority home.
Paddy and Ellen Hutchinson and their children, aged between 11 years and nine months, have been living in an 32ft long mobile home on the grounds of the Railway Cottages off the Clonmel Inner Relief Road for the past 12 years.
The family, who have been on the Co. Council housing list for about eight years, are taking legal action against the Council because of their frustration at the length of time it is taking for the Council to deliver on its commitment to provide them with a suitable home.
They say they urgently need a suitable home as they have no running water, no toilet facilities or central heating in their three-bedroom mobile home, which has been prone to dampness over the winter months. They have to go to the home of Ellen’s 82 year-old grandmother Bridget next door to avail of toilet and shower facilities.
Apart from the overcrowded conditions and lack of basic facilities, three of Paddy and Ellen’s children - Paddy Pio, Joseph and Bridget-Anne, - suffer from the kidney disease, renal tubular acidosis, and other serious associated medical conditions, which require them to receive a high level of care.
These three children require frequent nappy changes daily and nine year-old Paddy Pio, who also suffers from short bowel syndrome and osteoporosis, is due to go back into hospital soon to get a feeding peg tube re-inserted to stem the weight loss he is suffering because of his condition.
A rural two bedroom bungalow on a half an acre was purchased by the Council for the family at Ballinraha, Kilsheelan in early 2008.
The Council initially informed the family it would take about 18 months to renovate and extend the Kilsheelan house to their needs but there has been no progress in the interim.
The Council has now informed the family it will be another 18 months before the house may be ready as its technical people, having examined the occupation therapist’s report on the house, have decided it will be more cost effective to build a new house on the site.
The Council has offered to accommodate the family in a standard local authority house temporarily until the Kilsheelan house is ready for them. The family turned down this option because they feared they and their children would be subjected to bullying and discrimination while living in a local authority estate and also because a two-storey house would not be suitable accommodation for their three sick children.
The Council also approved the Hutchinsons for rental supplement to enable them get private rental accommodation temporarily.
But Paddy Hutchinson said the family approached several local auctioneers and estate agents in 2008 seeking private rental accommodation but nothing was available for them. He showed The Nationalist several letters from local auctioneers confirming this.
Ellen, who is expecting her seventh child, said they were first informed that the house in Kilsheelan would be ready for them in 18 months when her daughter Bridget-Anne was in intensive care in hospital following her birth. She is now four years old.
“The winter was dreadful here. We only had an oil heater. All the children got colds and Paddy, who has lost a lot weight can’t afford to get colds. We asked the Council for a chalet with water and toilets but they wouldn’t facilitate us.”
Paddy asked whether something would have to happen his children before the family are accommodated by the Council. He called on the new Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald to do something to help them.
Paddy’s aunt Helen Hutchinson, one of the founders of the Dublin Traveller Education Group, said the conditions the family are living in are “appalling” and a “national disgrace” comparable to what you would find in the Third World.
“They talk about the recession but when the money was there during the boom there was nothing done for them. To say they can leave a family with three very severely sick children in that sort of accommodation without bating an eyelid...” she declared.
She pointed out that the Government allocated funding for adapting houses for people with disabilities and she believed this family were one of the cases most in need of this funding.
Ger Walsh of South Tipperary Co. Council Housing Section said the Council hadn’t been advised yet by the Hutchinson family that they were taking legal action.
He said the Hutchinson family were the victims of their own decision to refuse the Council’s offers of temporary accommodation in a standard local authority house. If the conditions they were living in were that bad they should be happy to take a house temporarily until their permanent residence was ready, he argued. He said the Council was actively trying to progress the matter and hoped by the end of March or early April to begin the Part 8 planning process to build a new house on the site of the existing property at Ballinraha, which would involve a public consultation phase.
Mr Walsh pointed out that the Council had only received E250,000 funding this year for Traveller accommodation and this funding was not going to allow the Council complete any scheme in 2011.
He pointed out that the Council did have other single rural houses available but they were situated some distance from Clonmel in areas like Fethard, Cahir, Cashel and Glengoole.
Paddy Hutchinson replied that the family required a house in the Clonmel area as they needed to be close to South Tipperary General Hospital due to their children’s medical conditions.
In relation to the family’s request for a chalet to be installed temporarily at Railway Cottages, Mr Walsh said that was a matter for Clonmel Borough Council but noted that there was very little room on the site and the Hutchinson family’s mobile home was unauthorised.