TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY hit back at criticism of the governmnet’s handling of the increasing rate of homelessness today, challenging Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald to talk to homeless people “to learn a lesson as I have done”.
McDonald raised statistics published today by Focus Ireland which show it has provided assistance to 9,237 people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness this year, a rise of nearly 1,500 on last year.
“Your austerity policies are forcing people out of their homes and onto the streets,” McDonald told the Taoiseach, asking: “When are you going to take this homeless crisis seriously?”
Kenny hit back, saying that this is “something that is not simple to sort out” and recalling “meeting someone on the street recently”.
“[He] was from a county not from Dublin, had a row with his spouse and was on the streets and will be on them, according to himself, for a couple of weeks,” he said.
Kenny said the issue of homelessness becomes more prominent at this time of the year but appeared to question whether figures were entirely accurate when some are based on phonecalls to Focus Ireland.
“I think we have a requirement here to get a real accurate focus on what’s happening in Dublin,” Kenny said, noting that 879 people moved from homelessness to independent living in 2012.
He continued: “I asked the homeless person the other evening what did he do with all the gear he was carrying, and he leaves it in a particular spot and he goes around his usual haunts to see if he can make ends meet. Not a satisfactory situation.”
‘Tea and sympathy’
McDonald said that “tea and sympathy will not cut it” and called on Kenny to commit more funding to local authorities to tackle the housing crisis.
The Taoiseach hit back, saying: “Name me a predecessor of mine who took time to go down to talk to these people… to understand what has them on the streets?
“If you think that it’s just a yarn that a person says to me: ‘I’ll tell you where I hide my sleeping bag’… if you think that’s some type of smart aleck remark, then it’s beneath you.”
He said this was not an issue “that the Sinn Féin party own” and said that the government has a “duty from a humanity point of view to deal with these issues”.
“If you want to take time to go down the streets yourself and talk to some of these people who sleep in doorways then you too might learn a lesson as I have done,” he added.
Independent TD Seamus Healy raised the issue of mortgage arrears and banks’ letters threatening to evict some homeowners. Kenny said that such letters are not a solution and said the first thing homeowners should do is “engage with the lender”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised hospital waiting times, saying that there had been a 50 per cent increase in the number of children on such lists in the last year, according to National Treatment Purchase Fund figures.
Kenny hit back saying the work of he Department of Health’s Special Delivery Unit had reduced waiting times particularly for those on the lists for as long as three years.
“You just ran away from it and didn’t touch it,” Kenny said of Martin’s time as Health Minister.