No, Minister: Your policies on housing are clearly a failure...

Is the Minister all fur coat and no knickers when it comes to dealing with the housing crisis, asks Ailin Quinlan
No, Minister: Your policies on housing are clearly a failure...
Eoghan Murphy, TD, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Picture Colm Mahady / Fennells

I WASN’T the only one who was gobsmacked by the Minister for Housing’s assertion this past week, that the government’s homeless policies were working.

This was followed by a declaration that an expected rise in the number of homeless people to a total of 10,000 wouldn’t tell us anything more than the figure of 9,000 homeless people did.

Have we suddenly crashed Through The Looking Glass here?

Are we experiencing a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

Because if homelessness figures continue to rise until they reach 10,000, it actually tells us two things that staying at 9,000 wouldn’t tell us.

First of all, this would (obviously) signal that homelessness in this country is continuing to rise.

And secondly, if homelessness figures continue to rise, this means the Minister’s homelessness policies are not, er, working.

So while the Minister is a very intelligent person — far cleverer, no doubt, than you or me — along with being well-presented, well-spoken, and highly articulate when it comes to putting his message across, is he a case of all fur coat and no knickers when it comes to dealing with homelessness?

We have a situation where homeless families with children were being referred to garda stations —last April the Focus Ireland Housing Action team referred families to garda stations on 46 occasions.

In response to the Minister’s comments, Barnardos called on the Government to acknowledge that its policies were not working “as more and more families become homeless right across the country”.

There were 3,867 children living in emergency accommodation in July, the highest number ever, according to Barnardos, which says one in four of these are living outside of Dublin.

June Tinsley, the organisation’s Head of Advocacy, said it was “clear” that the comments by the Minister for Housing, that Government policies are working, were untrue.

“The Government must build more social housing immediately and stem the flow of families into homelessness by enforcing stronger rent controls and providing greater protection for tenants,” she declared.

“We know rents are at the highest they have ever been and are continuing to rise,” she warned.

The situation is grimly reflected in the tale of a family with two children which was reported during the week.

The family became homeless due to what housing charity Threshold claimed was a failure in the Garda system and ‘tardiness’ by the Residential Tenancy Board (RTB).

Threshold is supporting the family, which constitutes a couple in their forties and two children aged six and eight.

The story began in August, when, after receiving only a month’s notice to quit their rented home, the couple sought the help of the RTB and gardaí. The landlord was increasing the rent by around a third in a rent-pressure zone, where increases in rent are actually limited to four per cent.

The rise was later reduced to 25% but the couple was still unable to pay. In the end, despite the fact that the notice to quit was invalid because they were actually entitled to 112 days’ notice, the couple and their children left with what they could fit into the family car.

The family told the reporter that they had had to leave their accommodation every morning. They had to call a freephone number every afternoon to find out where they will sleep that night and sometimes they don’t know where they will lay their heads ’til 9pm. The children, the mother told the reporter, were “very tired”.

It’s heart-breaking. It’s difficult to imagine the long-term effects on children of this ongoing insecurity, fear and sense of threat.

Children desperately need security and stability, and homeless children are not getting it.

I was interested to see the minister has also levelled criticism at some county councils for failing to build adequate social housing. Had they done so, he said, the country would not be in the crisis in which it now finds itself.

Would it be entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that during the recession the often cash-strapped, under-resourced and over-burdened local authorities were unable to afford this sort of construction? And were, quite possibly, not getting enough support from central government to do so?

The question now being asked is whether Minister Murphy is the right person for the job.

Concerned sources from within Fine Gael have expressed disapproval of his ‘posh boy’ image which is very unfair, given the immensely difficult task that confronts him.

More worryingly, however, a party source also criticised the Minister’s failure to keep highly respected homelessness campaigners and stakeholders like Fr Peter McVerry and Sr Stanislaus Kennedy on board.

This is a concern, especially when the Minister admitted that in the midst of this howling hurricane of homelessness, only 2,500 actual social houses were actually built last year.

What planet is the man living on?

More in this section

Sponsored Content