THE HOUSING MINISTER has been accused of being either incompetent or unfit for office for his handling of an issue around the miscategorisation of homeless figures.
Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin levelled the charge at Minister Eoghan Murphy as the minister appeared before the Oireachtas Housing Committee this afternoon.
Murphy was there to answer questions on the progress of the government’s Rebuilding Ireland Housing Action Plan, launched in July 2016.
However, members of the committee took the opportunity to quiz the minister on the ongoing issue around homeless figures.
Close to 600 adults and children were removed from the March homeless figures over what was called a miscategorisation error.
Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Darragh O’Brien, Solidarity-PBP’s Mick Barry and Richard Boyd Barrett all questioned the minister over the homeless figures issue.
Last month, the minister said that families had been miscategorised as homeless who were living in social housing stock or private rental accommodation with state supports, and that they had been accordingly removed from the figures.
The issue generated a lot of controversy when Louth County Council sent an email to councillors saying that it still believed 100 households it had been told to remove from the numbers were still homeless.
The minister came in for strong criticism from opposition politicians and homeless charity officials over the issue, but has strongly defended himself and the Department.
The minister revealed today that five local authorities had been asked to remove families the department didn’t consider homeless from its figures.
These are Dublin, Louth, Kerry, Limerick and Waterford.
“What we’re looking at here are people who are not in emergency accommodation,” the minister said today in the committee.
Eoin Ó Broin asked the minister what he believed constituted emergency homeless accommodation.
“Well in the first instance we’re talking about people who are in hotels and B&Bs, we’re talking about people who are in hostels… that’s emergency accommodation,” the minister responded.
It’s very different from local authority stock, it’s very different from private rental stock.
Murphy stated repeatedly that he was awaiting two reports – from the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and the Homelessness Inter-Agency Group – on the issue of categorisation of homeless numbers before he was able to give a full report to the committee.
But he said that it appeared the issue of miscategorisation of homeless figures was down to local authorities using Section 10 funding (which is used for homeless accommodation) to keep families in homes or social housing stock.
The local authorities had then categorised these families as homeless, when in fact they were in private rental accommodation or social housing, and therefore should not be called homeless, the minister said.
Ó Broin said that he had contacted five local authorities (Louth, Dublin, Meath, Limerick and Waterford) and that it was his view that the vast majority of families who the minister said had been miscategorised as homeless, were in fact homeless.
“The definition of homelessness underpinning these reports has been crystal clear for years,” Ó Broin said, before strongly criticising the minister.
“So what I’m seeing is, is either A: A minister who does not understand the difference between a tenancy and a temporary emergency accommodation arrangement – and if you don’t understand that fundamental difference then my opinion is that you’re not competent to hold the job that you’re in.
Because it’s such a basic definition in terms of homeless services.
“Or you do understand the difference.
You know very well the difference between a tenancy and a temporary licence agreement, but you’re still allowing hundreds of families to be removed from the figures and if that’s the case then I have to say… you are not fit to hold the office.
Murphy responded by saying that he was not ignoring anyone and that Ó Broin had levelled very serious charges against him.
“I’m not ignoring anyone. And the charges that you level against me are very serious. You accept the miscategorisation, you accept that this has happened,” he said.
We are undergoing a formal process by which we’re going to get a complete picture, and when we have complete picture we can discuss and debate that complete picture.
Murphy said that it takes time to gather the correct information, and accused Ó Broin of confusing the matter by gathering his own “piecemeal” info.
“Your approach has been to create greater confusion around what has happened here by going out and sourcing piecemeal pieces of information,” he said.
He stated the Ó Broin had mentioned two local authorities – Meath and Kildare – that weren’t involved in the recategorisation process.
The minister also firmly stated that no local authorities had been told to remove homeless people from their numbers without the local authority agreeing to it.
He said it was a joint decision between the Housing Department and the local authorities.
Ó Broin mentioned Kildare County Council – which in an email said it had refused a request to remove a certain number of families from its figures after a request from the Housing Department.
The minister said that if a local authority didn’t agree with a recategorisation, it was not made to do so.
The committee also discussed various issues around homelessness and housing, with the minister questioned on housing completion rates and social housing builds, among other issues.