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FactCheck: The truth and the lies from TV3's Deputy Leaders' Debate

TheJournal.ie’s GE16 FactCheck has sifted through the claims made by Kelly, McDonald, Reilly and Cowen.

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AS PART OF our GE16 FactCheck series, we’re testing the truth of claims made by candidates and parties on the campaign trail.

If you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, or see a claim that looks great, but you want to confirm it, email factcheck@thejournal.ie.

In the shadow of RTE’s seven-way contest last night, TV3 had the deputy leaders of the four main parties in studio for a debate chaired by Mick Clifford. 

As you might imagine, the presence of Labour’s second-in-command Alan Kelly led to an extensive discussion on housing and homelessness, and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald was forced to defend her party’s record in Northern Ireland.

Here’s a selection of some of the claims thrown across the table, and how we separated out the truth from the lies.

tv3depleaders Source: TV3.ie

Housing and Homelessness

CLAIM: The government “handed out 13,000 keys” for social housing last year – Alan Kelly
Verdict: Probably TRUE, but there is no system in place to precisely measure the number

What was said:

During a discussion on social housing, there was this exchange between Kelly, Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, and host Mick Clifford:

AK: Last year, we handed over 13,000 keys…
BC: No, no you didn’t…
AK: This year, we will hand over 17,000 keys.
MC: There’s disputes over that, Alan.

The facts:

socialhousingbreakdown2015 Source: Dept of the Environment

The claim derives from the number of social housing units delivered (not built) by the government in 2015, which was 13,141, according to the Department of the Environment’s report in January.

However, as we established in this article on the issue, there is no systematic way of verifying the exact numbers involved.

A spokesperson for Kelly’s department told us: “Once the units have been delivered, we would assume that the majority are tenanted.”

Anything included in the output statement [the 13,141 units] means the local authority has submitted the claim and drawn down the money.

So the specific claim about “13,000 keys being handed over” appears to be based on an assumption that, given the very high demand for social housing, a newly-delivered unit does not stay unoccupied for long.

Although, there is, according to the department, no systematic way of verifying the exact numbers involved, it is probably TRUE that the social housing units tenanted out by local authorities last year were also occupied.

CLAIM: There were 28 local authority houses built in the first three quarters of 2015 – Mary Lou McDonald
Verdict: TRUE

What was said:

In the first nine months of 2015, 28 units were built by local authorities.

The facts:

socialhousingcompletions2015 Source: Dept of the Environment

Expect to hear this figure from the opposition again before Election Day arrives. The claim has been made by Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams, and Mary Lou McDonald joined in last night.

According to the Department of the Environment’s official figures, 28 local authority houses were built across Ireland up until last September.

A further 218 voluntary and co-operative units were built, leaving a total of 246 social housing units in 2015.

The full year figures aren’t available yet, but see this article for more on a possible estimate.

CLAIM: The number of people on housing lists has gone from 90,000 to 140,000 since 2011 – Barry Cowen
Verdict: Almost entirely TRUE

What was said:

The waiting lists have gone from 90,000 to 140,000 over the last five years.

The facts:

The Department of the Environment issued reports on housing need in 2011 and 2013.

In 2011, they found 98,318 people qualified for social housing and were waiting for it.
In 2013, that figure was 89,872.

Earlier this month, in the absence of a departmental assessment until later this year, RTE’s Prime Time contacted every local authority in the country, and found 139,359 on housing waiting lists. 

So Cowen is right about the increase, but it has taken place over the last two years, and not five.

alankellytv3 Source: TV3.ie

CLAIM: The number of people homeless in Northern Ireland is four times higher than in the Republic – Alan Kelly
Verdict: Mostly FALSE, compares two numbers that are very differently counted.

What was said:

Sinn Fein, who are in charge in the north, who are in government, where there is four times more people homeless in a small population, under a government which you’re part of. Four times more.

The facts:

The most recent figures available for Northern Ireland show that 19,621 households “presented” as homeless in 2015, and 11,016 of those were “accepted.”

If those terms are unfamiliar, it’s because homelessness in the UK is measured very differently to the way it is here.

In Northern Ireland, a person “presents” herself as homeless by, in short, notifying or making a claim of homelessness to their local authority.

Again, roughly speaking, a decision is then made as to whether that claim is valid (“accepted”) and the individual is eligible for social housing and other supports.

In Ireland, the Department of the Environment only officially tracks the number of people in emergency accommodation.

As of December, that number was 5,241, which gives rise to the claim that Northern Ireland has “four times” more homelessness.

However, included in that 19,621 figure are individuals housed in temporary accommodation, rough sleepers, people living in insecure or “unreasonable” accommodation, under the threat of eviction or in overcrowded accommodation, and those living in women’s shelters, for example.

ethos Source: Crisis

Extending the criteria in these ways in Ireland, the official number of homeless persons would increase far beyond the 5,241 individuals in emergency accommodation.

Conversely, restricting the tally for Northern Ireland to individuals in emergency accommodation would similarly lower the total significantly.

The most recent such breakdown was the 2013 Homeless Monitor Report by the University of York. That year, the total number presenting as homeless was 19,354, very similar to the figure for 2015.

Of those, 1,674 were in homeless or emergency accommodation.

There is significant difficulty in using different methodology here, so that figure is not intended to be an estimate, but to illustrate the vastly different totals that can be arrived at, depending on which measure you use.

For this reason, we can’t give an accurate number of those in homelessness in Northern Ireland (by our Department of the Environment criterion), or make a comparison.

But, for the same reason, neither can Minister Kelly, so we rate this claim Mostly FALSE.

Health

reillytv3 Source: TV3.ie

CLAIM: In 2011, Fine Gael pledged to “dismantle” the HSE – Mick Clifford
Verdict: TRUE

What was said:

During a conversation on health, Clifford challenged Children’s Minister James Reilly on his party’s pledge to get rid of the HSE, before the last election.

MC: James Reilly, you want to dismantle the HSE AGAIN. As I recall, that was also on the plan five years ago – another promise that never came to pass.
JR: It can’t be dismantled overnight, it has to be done over a period of time.
MC: Five years already gone?
JR: Yes, and the plans for dismantling it are progressing.

The facts:

Fine Gael’s 2011 Manifesto states:

FairCare will gradually dismantle the HSE and replace it with a system of Universal Health Insurance (UHI) starting in 2016, based on the very efficient Dutch model of healthcare.

Obviously, this hasn’t happened, but last October Health Minister Leo Varadkar pledged to forge ahead with the dismantling of the service, again over the next five years.

In a press release last week, he stated:

Fine Gael’s plans to dismantle the HSE and replace it with new Hospital Groups and Community Health Organisations are well under way.

ECONOMY

CLAIM: Northern Ireland has a lower unemployment rate than the Republic – Mary Lou McDonald
Verdict: TRUE

What was said:

The reality is, the level of unemployment in the North is lower than in this jurisdiction.

The facts:

According to the UK Office for National Statistics, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in Northern Ireland for the final quarter of 2015 was 5.9%.

According to the CSO, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in January was 8.6%.

Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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