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'Wholly unjustifiable': Garda interference led to withdrawal of housing offer for mother-of-two

The woman had the same surname as a family with a “bad reputation” but was not part of this family and had no criminal history.

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FREE LEGAL ADVICE Centres (Flac) has expressed concern about the exchange of information between gardaí and local authorities in relation to housing allocation.

The organisation’s annual report, due to be launched later this morning, highlights a number of cases in which it offered assistance to people who were being denied housing after interference by gardaí.

In one case, a Traveller woman with a number of children became homeless and the local authority agreed to allocate her a particular house. Local residents became aware of the allocation and went to gardaí stating they had concerns about the family as they had a “bad reputation”.

Flac said the woman had a common surname among Traveller families but was not part of the family with the stated “bad reputation”. The woman had no history of criminality or anti-social behaviour. 

“Local gardaí then contacted the council by email to express concern regarding the allocation. The offer of housing to her was withdrawn without explanation. The contact between An Garda Síochána and the local authority only emerged on foot of an FOI request, and in the course of adjudicating on a subsequent complaint,” the report said.

The email contained significant hearsay in relation to the family concerned and passed through many email accounts within An Garda Síochána and the local authority before causing what appeared to be a wholly unjustified denial of access to housing and considerable hardship to the woman and her children.

Section 15 of the Housing Act 1997 allows for the exchange of information between local authorities and a number of other bodies – including An Garda Síochána – in relation to anti-social behaviour as part of the process of the allocation of social housing. 

Flac said the exchange between gardaí and the council in this case was “without any statutory basis” as the information requested by the local authority indicated that the woman concerned had no criminal history. 

Another case concerned a judicial review of a council’s refusal to assess a family as homeless.

Flac said on foot of a Freedom of Information request it emerged that An Garda Síochána was providing “extensive information” to the council in relation to the family.

Most of the stated information was inaccurate and largely based on hearsay, and went far outside the particular knowledge of the garda members concerned. The filing and contents of an affidavit by An Garda Síochána on behalf of the council in the court proceedings in support of the council’s position indicated that they lacked objectivity in how they engaged in the dispute between the client and the council.

Flac said the affidavit contained information in relation to parking offences and locations where the members of the family were picked up by traffic cameras as they were driving. It said this information was not relevant in relation to whether these family members homeless or not, and went outside the purpose for which the data was collected in the first place.

The case ultimately settled with the family being assessed as homeless by the local authority.

Flac said the two case studies are among a number of files where the issue of information exchange appears to have “strayed beyond the purpose of the statutory regime”. It said better guidance should be given to members of An Garda Síochána about their role in vetting applications for local authority housing. 

In response to a number of questions from TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said:

“In general, such a request from a housing authority is made to the local district officer, who would assign a member, usually a designated person, to compile a report.

“Garda policy is that any report should be factual, and be explicit to the person in question and their activities in line with the legislation. There should be no reference to extended family, relations, common law partners etc. Pending prosecutions can be cited, but with appropriate caveats. Soft intelligence and assumptions should not be included.”.

The spokesperson also said if any organisation or individual wishes to make a complaint about the actions of gardaí they can do so via GSOC.

They said An Garda Siochana works closely with homeless organisations and authorities and liaises with local authorities in respect of homeless people sleeping rough.

“Local garda management closely monitors the allocation of all resources in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a district, divisional and regional level, to ensure optimum use is made of garda resources, and the best possible garda service is provided to the public.

“Because of the nature of their work gardaí deal with many on the margins of society and together with other State agencies and NGOs we work to ensure positive outcomes for many vulnerable people. Our primary role is always the protection of life.”

Last year Flac received 25,164 requests for legal information and advice on its telephone information and referral line and in its network of legal advice clinics at 71 locations around the country.

According to the annual report, housing and discrimination cases were the predominant areas of work in its 108 casefiles.

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