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'A national scandal' - Government defends housing record as minister says 'we need more landlords'

The Housing Minister was reacting to the revelation that there are now 10,000 homeless people in the country.

LAST UPDATE | Mar 28th 2019, 12:58 PM

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been accused in the Dáil of presiding over a “national scandal” following yesterday’s revelation that the number of homeless people in Ireland exceeded 10,000 for the first time.

The numbers taken over the course of one week in February show that there were 6,480 adults and 3,784 homeless children living in emergency accommodation in the State.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said this morning that the government is “playing catch up” on the housing crisis but his comments have come under fire in the Dáil this afternoon. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Murphy reiterated that the statistics are “hugely disappointing” and said that more positive figures in December and January weren’t reflected in February.

“In December and January, we saw more families exiting than entering emergency accommodation,” he said. “We hoped that’d be a trend… that didn’t happen last month.”

He pointed to the “complex response” to the homelessness and housing crisis being undertaken as part of Rebuilding Ireland. Murphy said the actions being taken by government were having a positive effect but said the situation continues to be “incredibly difficult”. 

Speaking in Leader’s Questions this afternoon, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said Murphy was understating the problem. 

“The Minister for Housing described these figures as hugely disappointing, but they’re a lot more than that, they’re an absolute and utter disgrace, what they represent is a national scandal, not just disappointment.”

Eoghan Murphy went on radio this morning, and who did he bat for? Well it was very clear, it wasn’t for the 10,000 people who were homeless in this State, or those that are facing rent hikes or eviction, he batted again as he always does for the landlords, because that’s what he always does. Because that is the side that he is on and that is the side the Fine Gael is on.

pearse Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty.

In this morning’s interview, the Housing Minister was also asked about other proposals that may help address the current crisis, such as a Sinn Féin bill that would mean tenants can’t be evicted from a buy-t0-let property if that property was being sold.

Murphy said that the government had looked at numerous measures proposed by NGOs and political parties but added there aren’t any “simple measures” that can be introduced. 

“We can’t just say if someone is going to sell their home, they have to keep a tenant in place,” he said, but also indicated a lease must be respected.

He said a landlord could be in a situation where they have to sell because they are in debt or in negative equity.

“The fact they would be selling with tenants in situ would mean the property would devalue by between 20-30% potentially, so you could actually be putting them in a very difficult financial position or even into bankruptcy,” Murphy said.

Interviewer Bryan Dobson then put it to the minister that it appeared the government’s priority was to protect landlords, but Murphy disagreed.

“By trying to help one person, you’d be hurting someone else,” he said.

We need landlords. The difficulty at the moment is we’re losing landlords from the sector, and as a result people are finding themselves in housing insecurity and are presenting to emergency accommodation. We have to find a balance in all of these things.

Responding to the latest report from the Residential Tenancies Board, with its designation of two new areas as rent pressure zones, Murphy said these measures are beginning to have a positive effect.

He also said that rent pressure zones – in these areas, rent cannot be increased by more than 4% per annum – would be strengthened through reforms presented to the Dáil.

When Dobson put it to Murphy that Dublin City Council had only built just over 70 social houses last year, the minister said it was an “ideological” point that was being made, and repeated this on a number of occasions. 

He said that social houses were delivered through a number of streams, and that people try to “undermine the numbers”. 

Murphy closed the interview by saying that while he “a lot of things we’re doing is moving in the right direction, we need to do more”. 

PastedImage-93919 Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

In the Dáil, Tánsiste Simon Coveney also defended the government’s record on housing and the minister in particular. 

“Mr Murphy is bringing a new approach in relation to protecting tenants next week to Cabinet, and that of course will be tested in this house as it should be,” Coveney said. 

But I think it’s important for us to focus on where the problem is. We are delivering more and more social houses now, we are delivering more and more private and affordable houses too. But we are not unfortunately overtaking the pace at which people are coming into homelessness.

“And that is something that the government intends on responding to, to providing more pretections to tenants to keep them in their homes and to keep them out of homelessness.”

In response, Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary TD said the government is merely repeating statements it has made in previous years.

“That’s a response you gave in 2016, 2017, 2018. 72 houses, that’s the figure, 72 houses were actually built in Dublin city last year,” he said.

“And the houses under social housing that you’re claiming have been delivered, 64% of them are actually bought off the market, they’re houses that other people are looking for, first time buyers, families and the government is muscling them out of the market.”

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy  

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