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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 23 September, 2014

‘Time to put flesh on the bones of your policies’: Heated exchanges in homeless debate

Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan said it is the government’s “firm ambition” to eliminate longterm homelessness and rough sleeping by 2016. Opposition TDs were having none of it.

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TEMPERS WERE FRAYED in the Dáil chamber this morning as TDs debated the government’s handling of homelessness and social housing across the country.

Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan told TDs that it is the government’s “firm ambition” to eliminate longterm homelessness and rough sleeping by 2016.

“Homelessness is a destructive social condition that can wreak havoc on human dignity and wellbeing,” she said.

In a real republic there’s an onus on us to ensure all citizens have a place that they call home – that is the government’s policy in this area.

The junior minister pointed to recent investment in the development of social housing, like the launch yesterday of a two year €68 million local authority home building initiative. This will see 449 new homes built across the country over the next two years.
She also told TDs that the government is, at present, delivering 5,000 new social homes each year.

Deficiencies

This did not do much to satisfy Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen who launched an attack on her and the government for failing to “put flesh on the bones” of policies put forward on social housing during the election.

He said it has to be acknowledged that there are over 100,000 households on the social housing waiting list across the country and claimed the “vicious combination” of social welfare cuts and escalating rents was pushing people into homelessness.

Cowen told the junior minister that she has a responsibility to “address the deficiencies that exist today, not yesterday, not last month or not last year”.

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I, as well as many others, are fed up listening to the old mantra, to the press play on the machine you have in front of you to say it’s all your fault, we inherited what we did and what we did not. You had a lofty policy document on social housing when you entered government – well it’s time to put flesh on the bones, it’s not time to rehash the same arguments we had before the last election.

No other choice

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien was also critical of the government’s policies, telling O’Sullivan that 80 per cent of the people who visit him at his clinic are there with housing issues. He said people are now living in houses with no hot running water and no heating and “people are paying money from top of social welfare payments on top of rent allowances to live there because they have no other choice”.

Richard Boyd Barrett said the “catastrophic failures” of the previous government had been compounded by policy failures by this government since it took power.

If a family does not have a roof over their heads they cannot function in any other way in society. How can you pursue education? How can you try and access employment? How can you even maintain your mental health? How can you not run the risk of drug and drink problems or mental breakdown if you don’t have a secure roof over your head?

He urged the government to continue direct building of social housing and lift the rent cap which he said is forcing people onto the streets.

“It is the most basic thing and if a government can’t deliver that for its citizens, it is not worth the name government,” he added.

Read: EU to double Ireland’s funding for homeless services like soup kitchens>

Ireland’s housing crisis: Four women’s stories of facing eviction and homelessness>

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