Dublin: Rachel Peavoy’s Death From Hypothermia In Her Ballymun Council Flat Exposes The Suffering Of Irish Society’s Most Vulnerable People

5 Feb

An inquest finding that hypothermia caused the death of 30-year-old mother-of-two Rachel Peavoy in her council flat is a stark reminder of how society’s most vulnerable are suffering as the economic crisis worsens, writes Scott Millar IN THE IRISH EXAMINER


THE Ballymun housing scheme on Dublin’s northern fringe has, since its completion in the late 1960s, been associated with social and economic depravation. Although all but one of its seven multi-storey towers, named after the signatories of the 1916 proclamation, are now demolished, the much-vaunted regeneration of the area is yet to be finished, several years after its supposed completion date.

The flat in which Rachel Peavoy died on the night of January 11, 2010, is contained in one of the scheme’s smaller housing blocks.

Despite its reputation, Ballymun’s apartments are well regarded by residents for their cost-effective, efficient, communal under-floor heating systems. It was the decision by the council to switch off the heating in the block where Rachel and her two sons were the last remaining residents which may well have led to her death and is now the centre of a call for a full public investigation. Rachel’s inquest held in late January found she had died of hypothermia, with evidence from gardaí that her apartment was “perilously cold”.

The inquest heard she had contacted the council, local Fianna Fáil Minister Noel Ahern and her doctor concerning the apartment’s freezing temperature, but had not been provided with an alternative source of heating.

Rachel had been awaiting a move to one of the new houses which are being built as part of the Ballymun Regeneration Project. It is, as yet, unclear if she had turned down the offer of moving to another apartment when regeneration began on her block of flats. Many residents have been reluctant to take the first accommodation offered to them by the council, fearful of falling down the waiting list for a more suitable property.

It’s a “Catch-22” situation that local community activist John Dunne is well aware of: “This is a big problem for people, waiting to get a house. Often people will wait out until the house is built, so it’s only one move. People have been waiting a very long time for this project to be completed; a lot of the estates that were to be built by now haven’t even been started. People feel they have one chance and want to get the best home they can.”

He added; “Most people in the flats rely on the under-floor heating because it was so good. They don’t have other sources of heating or in many cases the money to buy them.”

Initially, the Celtic Tiger-era regeneration project, begun in 2001, was to be fuelled by so-called public private partnerships (PPP) which have now fallen through leaving NAMA in possession of some sites and derelict blocks scattered across the scheme, with a largely deserted shopping mall at its centre.

Local Labour TD Roisín Shortall said she had serious concerns about the PPPs from an early stage, as private developers pushed the regeneration project away from providing new low-rise council housing to replacement high-rise private apartment blocks, many of which lie largely vacant with no buyers.

On the issue of problems with people heating their homes in the area, Ms Shortall said; “A lot of money for special payments from the council would seem to have dried up. There was also meant to be measures to reduce the impact of the carbon tax on electricity bills for low-income families, but they have not materialised. This is making heating a growing issue.”

A conference next Monday and Tuesday in Dublin will bring together experts from Britain and Ireland to discuss the problem of fuel poverty, which is a factor in several deaths each year. Among those organising the event is Energy Action, a charity dedicated to assisting those in fuel poverty through locally-based insulation programmes.

Energy Action general manager Charles Roarty said; “There are currently 375,000 households on fuel allowance in the Republic, this compares to well under 300,000 prior to the recession. There are combinations of factors which are causing the increase, the carbon tax increase in fuel prices which is over and above a global increase in energy prices. Then you have the recent cold winters combined with the recession reducing people’s incomes.”

Among the areas where the charity has found some of the most severe fuel poverty problems is Duhallow, Co Cork were an insulation project has been established.

According to Mr Roarty, because about 80% of Irish housing stock is privately-owned, insulation is poorer than in other EU countries.

Mr Roarty added; “What is key to combating the problem is information being provided to people about the importance of proper heating, information to advice on what to do as regards curtains and timers that can be used to save money. There is a key role for the state and local authorities to push an integrated approach on this issue.”

The problem of fuel poverty may become an issue in the election. In an RTÉ debate on Thursday night, right-wing commentator Cormac Lucy attempted to use Rachel’s death to attack the record of the Labour Party, who controls Dublin City Council. It is an intervention that disgusted John Dunne; “Let’s be honest about it, the city councils have no power, they have no resources beyond a department that is cutting resources. For those that championed greed to now attack people over what are the fruits of their failures is bit much to take.”

On legal advice, Rachel’s family and Dublin City Council are not commenting directly on the young mother’s case until the final Coroner’s Court hearing on February 24.

Rachel’s two young sons, Leon and Warren, are now being cared for by her sister in one of the new houses in Ballymun so desired by their mother.


One Response to “Dublin: Rachel Peavoy’s Death From Hypothermia In Her Ballymun Council Flat Exposes The Suffering Of Irish Society’s Most Vulnerable People”

  1. sarah fennell 0AprilJ2011 at 9:46 am #

    she did not turn down a new home, she would have givin her right arm to give her children a better home she would have done anything in her power for them she was left in that hell hole

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