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'Getting worse by the night': TDs debate Ireland's growing housing crisis

The government was accused of demonstrating “arrogance beyond belief” as only three members of the coalition attended the discussion.

Jan O'Sullivan
Jan O'Sullivan
Image: Screengrab/Oireachtas TV

THE GOVERNMENT WAS accused of displaying “arrogance beyond belief” when only three members of the coalition attended a debate on homelessness this evening.

During private members business, the Technical Group put forward a motion on the issue.

Housing minister Jan O’Sullivan was the only Labour TD in attendance, while backbenchers Michelle Mulherin (Fine Gael) and Ann Phelan (Labour) were also present.

Fine Gael Deputy Jerry Buttimer chaired the discussion.

Independent TD John Halligan described the lack of government representation at the debate as “arrogance beyond belief … contemptuous, arrogance personified”.

He also accused O’Sullivan of having “no compassion” and “not paying attention” while members of the Technical Group spoke.

“You should call an election and fall because of the way you’ve treated people on housing lists,” he said, noting: ”More people than ever are homeless, more people than ever are on housing lists”.

O’Sullivan accused opposition TDs of engaging in “personal attacks”.

“I will not be accused of not caring,” she said.

‘Terrible decisions made’

The minister said that the government acknowledges there is a serious housing issue but noted that Fine Gael and Labour were not responsible for it.

She said that they were bound by decisions made by previous governments and “couldn’t spend money that we didn’t have”.

We have done our best with very serious financial constraints.

She said there were ”terrible decisions made” in the last years of the Celtic Tiger “when the country was flowing with money”, such as building on flood plains and in areas with no demand.

“What happened in the past will never happen again,” she assured.

john halligan 30 april

John Halligan. Source: Screengrab/Oireacthas TV

O’Sullivan stated that the government remained committed to their goal of ending long-term homelessness by 2016.

“I intend to reach that target,” she insisted.

She said an additional €30 million was allocated towards local housing this year, with €1 million going to the local authority housing construction programme.

O’Sullivan said that she wanted ”significant construction” to begin “as soon as we possibly can”, but noted that a mixture of approaches was needed in the meantime.

‘A real tragedy’

When introducing the motion, Technical Group Whip Catherine Murphy said that if the coalition failed to address the crisis, they were “not fit to govern”.

Murphy told the Dáil that the problem was ”getting worse by the night” and “men, women and children are becoming homeless on a routine basis … it’s out of control”.

She said it was “appalling” that people who were forced to live in their cars were ”open to being the subject of debate and ridicule”.

Murphy told the story of a pregnant woman who was facing homelessness and had come to her for help. She noted that a hospital would not let a mother leave if she has a car without a car seat, but that no such rule applies to someone without a house.

Where is the concern for these unborn children? … How is the state putting these children first or even considering their needs?

There are currently 90,000 people on the social housing waiting list, a 30 per cent increase since 2007.

Murphy called on the government to draw down funding from the European Investment Bank to help tackle the issue.

She said the problem was exacerbated by large scale repossessions and worse than it was in 2007  because “the can has been kicked to the end of the road”.

The problem is getting worse by the night – it’s out of control … It’s a real tragedy for the people who are at the heart of it.

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher noted that there were over 5,000 boarded-up houses across the country that could be used as accommodation.

Receivership

Mick Wallace said the government needed to do more to protect tenants whose landlords go into receivership and regulate the price of residential property and rent.

mick wallace 30 april

Mick Wallace. Source: Screengrab/Oireacthas TV

He added that it “should be illegal” for landlords to refuse people on rent allowance.

It’s clear that the government does not have a coherent plan for dealing with the homelessness crisis.

“You’re able to get the money for some things so it’d be great if ye could get the money for this … You have to want to and I don’t see that the government has an appetite to do it,” Wallace commented.

‘A human right’

Deputy Clare Daly accused the government of ”trying to minimise the scale of the problem and deny it exists”.

She said that a house was ”not just bricks and mortar, it is a human right”

Daly noted that “the rot had started long before” the current government came to power, saying that a limited supply of houses was built in Fingal when she was a county councillor there for 13 years.

She said her and her staff were confronted with “devastating cases” of homelessness every day where there was “absolutely nothing” they could do.

She spoke of one family who were forced to move miles away from the school where their son with special needs attended and one mother who was spending €930 a month on a one-bed apartment for her and her children.

O’Sullivan said she was “working every day to find new ways, more ways and better ways … to provide homes where peopel can grow and flouish”.

The debate will resume tomorrow afternoon.

Related: 16 families becoming homeless every month in Dublin

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

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Órla Ryan

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