Monday 23 July 2018

Family living in caravan without basic facilities challenge council's decision to defer housing support

The High Court, Dublin
The High Court, Dublin

Aodhan O Faolain

A High Court challenge has been launched against Donegal Co County Council's decision to defer offering housing support to a Traveller family of seven living in a caravan without basic facilities including running water.

The action has been brought on behalf of Brian and Eileen Ward, and their five children who are members of the Irish Travelling Community. 

They are currently living in caravan at Shore Front, Bundoran, Co Donegal.

The family, supported by the Child and Family Agency who voiced concerns over their living conditions, applied to the Council for social housing support. 

The Wards, who have two children with medical needs, were deemed by the Council to be “an unacceptable risk of anti social behaviour” and the offer of housing  was deferred.

The family was informed last March that they could make a fresh application in 12 months time but the Wards say the council informed them it would be five years before it would be in a position to offer them housing.

The family's lawyers argue that the council has failed to engage meaningfully with the Wards before arriving at its decision. They also claim the decision was disproportionate and made without relevant considerations.

At the High Court on Wednesday the family’s barrister Mark Lynam, instructed by solicitors for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said the council's decision was taken without any input from the Wards who had been unaware that the process was even taking place.

Mr Lynam said the council had made its decision based on the Ward's housing file rather than putting its concerns to the family for their comment.

The Wards claim they should have been afforded a hearing and that up to date information should have been sought.

Mr Lynam said that any decision to defer or refuse housing due to any alleged anti-social behaviour must be proportionate. He said that in arriving at its decision the council failed to give due weight to Tusla's concern about the family's welfare, the conditions they reside in and the fact they are homeless.

They currently had no running water and had limited use of a generator.  They had tried but had not been able to secure private rented accommodation.

In their proceedings against the Council the family seek an order quashing the local authority's decision to defer offering them social housing. 

They also seek declarations including that the council's decision was disproportionate, breaches their constitutional  rights and rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Permission to bring the challenge was granted, on an ex parte basis, by Mr Justice Richard Humphreys. The judge made the matter returnable to a date in September.

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