Taoiseach defends Minister for Housing amid record-high homeless figures

Micheál Martin said the Government's Housing for All policy 'is the only substantive policy document' on how to tackle the State's housing crisis
Taoiseach defends Minister for Housing amid record-high homeless figures

Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien and the Government's housing policy after the State's homeless figures hit a new record high.

The Fianna Fáil leader said more emergency accommodation would be provided to deal with the increasing numbers.

According to the Department of Housing’s monthly tally, there are now 10,805 people homeless across the country, with charities warning that they face an “ominous” winter.

This is the second record high figure in a row, with a previous peak of 10,568 recorded in July.

Speaking to reporters from the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin, Mr Martin said that “of course” he has confidence in his party colleague Mr O'Brien, and that he would remain in post – despite a Cabinet reshuffle due in December.

“He’s been working flat out,” Mr Martin said.

Asked about the rising homeless figures, he said: “On an emergency basis, we will be providing more accommodation now fairly quickly to deal with the increase in homelessness figures.

“We’re not happy about it, we’re going to continue to do everything we possibly can in terms of dealing with increasing numbers.”

He acknowledged that some factors had slowed down implementation of the Government’s plan, mentioning the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and people objecting to local developments.

Mr Martin said the Housing for All plan “is the only substantive policy document” on how to tackle the State's housing crisis.

“It is the only detailed, comprehensive strategy for housing in this country. It’s detailed, it’s resourced.”

He added: “I would challenge anybody, any other political party for that matter – what’s the alternative that they’re producing?

“I’ve seen nothing of any substance from any political party outside of government in this country in relation to housing.

“I’ve seen slogans, I have seen sound bites, but I haven’t seen substance. I haven’t seen real breadth of initiatives, that Darragh O’Brien has taken to be fair to him, in respect of affordable housing, in respect of social housing.

“We will build a record number of social houses this year, we’re beginning a new era of social housing at scale.”

When asked whether more could have been done in the budget to prevent landlords from leaving the market, Mr Martin said there had been “unintended consequences in terms of some of the policies that we weren’t considering in relation to that”.

When asked whether another ban on evictions should be considered, Mr Martin said it is “not as clear-cut in a non-Covid situation” to ban evictions, as there is not a restriction on people’s movements.

The Department of Housing’s August report on homelessness, released on Friday, showed there were 7,585 adults and 3,220 children in emergency accommodation across the country.

This is up from the 7,431 adults and 3,137 children recorded in emergency accommodation in July.

It represents a 32 per cent increase overall compared with a year ago, and child homelessness is up 47 per cent compared with the same time last year.

There were 1,483 families recorded as homeless, of which 55 per cent (814) were single-parent families.

Sam McGuinness, chief executive of Dublin Simon Community, said the picture is “ominous” going into the winter period.

“This news comes at a time when single homelessness is at an all-time high and exits from homelessness are at an all-time low as the availability of rental properties, as a social housing supply, continues to dwindle,” he said.

“Behind these numbers are people who are losing hope for a life beyond homelessness. As the record-breaking levels of people in emergency accommodation experience endless waiting, their mental health and physical health is declining.

“The picture is ominous as we face into the cold, dark winter months ahead and no real clarity or hope in Budget 2023 to support exits out of homelessness.”

Focus Ireland chief executive Pat Dennigan said that it was “unforgivable” that the Government’s budget did not include measures to prevent people from becoming homeless.

“As the numbers keep going up, there is a risk that Government comes to treat homelessness as inevitable, but it is the result of bad political choices and can be solved by the right policies.

“It is unforgivable that this week’s budget failed to offer a single measure to help prevent these households from losing their homes.

“Focus Ireland will continue to help people find homes, but it is difficult to see homeless services being able to cope with the sheer demand of people that need our support.”

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