'The housing area is the greatest challenge of our time': Former Cork TD hopes to support families in new role

'The housing area is the greatest challenge of our time': Former Cork TD hopes to support families in new role

The former Cork TD says it is “incumbent on all of us to provide a solutions-based approach" to the housing crisis. Pic; Larry Cummins

A FORMER Cork TD has described the current housing crisis as the “greatest challenge of our time” and says it is “incumbent on all of us to provide a solutions-based approach.”

Michael McCarthy, who has served with Cork County Council, in the Dáil and in the Seanad, was recently appointed chairperson of Sophia Housing, the national housing, and homelessness charity.

Sophia was founded in 1997 and supports over 1,000 people at any one time across Ireland.

The organisation has a unique model and has never operated traditional homeless services such as hostels, large shelters, or family hubs.

It says it has been guided by the needs of the people it supports who say their main priority is not just to have a bed for the night but rather to have a home for life.

To this end, the organisation aims to provide families and individuals with complex needs with their own homes and ongoing support.

Sophia has a long-term effective working relationship with Cork City Council, Cork County Council, the HSE, Tusla, and multiple other community and voluntary organisations in Cork.

Michael McCarthy is the first Cork person to head up the charity and takes over the role from Denis Doherty, who had led a major expansion of the agency since his appointment in 2015.

'A great honour'

Mr McCarthy, who is the Director of Cloud Infrastructure Ireland, has assumed his board position at a critical time for housing policy in Ireland and says he is looking forward to his new role.

Michael McCarthy has taken up the role at a critical time. 
Michael McCarthy has taken up the role at a critical time. 

“It is a great honour. I really appreciate the support from my fellow board members in placing their trust in me to lead the board. Our CEO Tony O’ Riordan is dynamic and leads a great staff that works closely with the board to deliver housing and support people. We have a strong focus on delivering results,” he said.

The Cork man said that the current housing situation and homelessness are huge topics nationally and need to be addressed.

“The housing area is the greatest challenge of our time and it is incumbent on all of us to provide a solutions-based approach. There are many families that are impacted by housing and homelessness and I believe that by working with policymakers across Government and the local authorities huge progress can be made in housing people. That’s a very strong ambition on part of Sophia.”

The new chairperson is looking forward to working in tandem with all the various stakeholders to achieve their objectives.

“Sophia looks forward to working with the Minister, his officials, and with statutory agencies at national and regional level in achieving the objectives set out in Housing For All. As an approved housing body with a proud track record of collaboration and partnership, Sophia is well placed to assist in tackling the issue of homelessness in a strategic way.”

Political experience 

The former Labour TD and Senator boasts vast political experience having served as a member of the Cork County Council for four years and was also chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing during his Dáil tenure.

He hopes to use the knowledge gained from his previous role as chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing to assist him in his new role.

“I have a strong awareness of housing policy having been chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing and will use that to good effect as chairman of Sophia. I was also chairman of the Western Committee of Cork County Council on two occasions.”

Mr McCarthy served as a Labour TD for the Cork South West constituency from 2011 to 2016, while he also served as a Senator for nine years.

He looks back on his political career with ‘great affinity’.

“I was fortunate to have served as a councillor, Senator, and TD. I look back on that part of my life with great affinity. Public life is increasingly demanding and not conducive to family life. I don’t miss that aspect of it especially as Nollagh and I have five children but I do miss the interaction with former parliamentary colleagues.

“We worked night and day in the Government for National Recovery 2011-2016 and we rebuilt the country despite the dire straits the country was in. There are many good decent people in politics from all parties and they all do the best they can. Democracy is fragile across the globe and Irish politics is still hugely fragmented from the recession not to mention the pandemic,” he added.

The new chairperson of Sophia especially loved the interaction with the general public during his time in public office.

“I really loved the interaction with people and helping them. There was a great sense of achievement in helping people at a local level. On the legislative side, I was particularly pleased when the first-ever Climate Act was enacted in 2015. As chair of the JOC on the Environment, I led the pre-legislative scrutiny that led to the enactment of the bill.”

A new challenge 

The former Labour TD said that he has fully retired from public life and will not be contesting any more elections going forward.

“I am fully retired from politics and happily invested in the private sector nowadays.”

Mr McCarthy is excited by his latest challenge with Sophia. He said he has many aims he hopes they achieve going forward.

“We have an exciting pipeline of development in Sophia that will lead to more housing stock to help families. Getting those projects over the line is of huge importance.”

Paying tribute to his predecessor Mr McCarthy said: “During Denis Doherty’s tenure as Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Sophia, the organisation expanded its response to homelessness, increasing the number of people it supported by 100%. He was a powerful advocate of the founding principles of Sophia, with our emphasis on the provision of homes not just houses. He recognized that moving people out of homelessness is not just about short term solutions or the provision of space but demands a more comprehensive response”.

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