Scandal of Irish homeless must be tackled

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, known as Sr Stan, founder of Focus Ireland and the Immigrant Council of Ireland, discusses her work with people on the margins and her belief that Ireland remains a deeply unfair society.
Scandal of Irish homeless must be tackled
Picture: Marc O'Sullivan

“THERE are, in Ireland, many people who don’t know there was a recession at all. It had no effect on them. Many people — it’s not just the top people who are well off, and got richer.

But there are many people that it didn’t affect at all, at all. And people would say that to you, better off people who it didn’t affect.

And then, there are other people, like the low-paid worker, the unemployed, the poor people, the one-parent families, all those —they have suffered enormously. And the poverty that exists in some parts of our country is incredible. It’s unbelievable, in this day and age. And, not only that, but it’s never talked about now.

You have the awful situation of homelessness, that has increased year upon year upon year upon year for the past 15 years. And now it is totally out of control. Now it is an absolute crisis.

And yet, we hear the plans and the plans and the plans, and now we have a lot of demands looking for increases in wages and salaries. And you have people with no homes, you know? You have thousands of children in bed and breakfasts — in bedrooms in hotels and in B&Bs. And it’s not just here and there — they’re everywhere.

I was talking to a person yesterday who is doing some work with people in B&Bs. And she works in a bed and breakfast in Dublin city centre where there are 90 families, in 90 rooms — 90 families! There might be three or four children in that family, in one room. And then there’s another family, and another family. 90 of them, in a bed and breakfast in the middle of our city.

That’s only one example. Because people get the impression: “Oh sure, they’re in hotel rooms, they’re grand.”

“And the children are going to be damaged. Can you believe, some children are born into that? Literally, I know of women who were in B&Bs — they went from there to go into the hospital to have their baby, and brought their baby back to the B&B. So the children are born into it, and reared into it.

So, I mean, that is scandalous, in this day and age in Ireland. But that’s the kind of divisions you have in Ireland.

Now, it’s hardly talked about. It’s talked about because we’ve been highlighting the fact that people are in hotel rooms — but it’s the awfulness of the hotel rooms. And it’s also the fact… it’s worse than the tenements, where you had the big houses in towns where there were many families. But there it was kind of a community. They knew each other. In hotel rooms, they don’t mix. They’re not allowed to mix.

MESSAGE: Members of IMPACT trade union at a protest on the plight of homeless people last month
MESSAGE: Members of IMPACT trade union at a protest on the plight of homeless people last month

A lack of leadership remains a huge issue. Well, problems can be fixed. I think there’s a lot of bureaucracy. There’s huge bureaucracy that prevents things happening.

I think politicians can over-rule that. If they want to. Of course they can.”

I think they’re tied into the system. They’re tied into the system that is… the structure that exists. They’re connected— they’re not really for bringing about justice and equality.

If they give the €5 extra in the pension, or whatever they did in the last budget — they think they will keep that group happy, for the moment. So they’re trying to keep a lid on that… It’s all, really, about political expedience.

It’s absolutely, absolutely not about bringing about a fair and just society.

On top of that, we have a political system that really isn’t working. And a political system where we have politicians in for a certain length of time — they know they have so many years, they know that they want to do this much in that year, and to hell with what happens afterwards.

So they don’t have, kind of, a statesmanship or womanship approach where they’re thinking of this issue and how long it will take.

So we need people in political life who have the long view, and who are prepared to work towards that long term.

When I hear all the civil servants and public servants out looking for this and that and the other, I really think the government should say: ‘No, I’m sorry — we’re going to do something about housing and homelessness right now, and that’s where we’re going to put our resources.’

Because it is — it’s an emergency, it is a crisis. All I know is that these problems exist, these divisions exist, this terrible suffering exists. And it drives me on. It just drives me on.

So I…there certainly are times I feel: ‘Oh, I wish I wasn’t saying that over and over again.’ But I don’t really think too much about what people think of me, and what people… Because you couldn’t stop. You’re compelled to go on saying it.

This interview was taken from Ruairí McKiernan’s new Love and Courage podcast, which features in-depth interviews with thinkers, innovators and activists including Professor Ivor Browne, Frances Black, Christy Moore and more.

You can download it for free on iTunes or any Podcast smartphone App or listen via SoundCloud.

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You can see the Sr Stan podcast at

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