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Alarm over poverty, homelessness

David Cullinane (SF, labour) demanded a debate on poverty (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 16th December 2013, 552-3; 18th December, 749-750, 555; 19th December, 843). Many people had suffered during the past seven austerity budgets and he drew attention to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report the previous week which had found that it was the low paid people in society who had paid the disproportionate price.  More, a report Hungry for action – mapping food poverty in Ireland by Mandate and UNITE had shown that far too many people were living in poverty, be that fuel poverty, food poverty or, if the government had its way, water poverty as well.  At a time when the government was clapping itself on the back for exiting from the bailout, it was important to be mindful of the huge levels of suffering that continued to exist.  


He was supported by John Kelly (Lab, administrative) who spoke of how when he came to work each morning, he was struck by the numbers of people begging and lying in doorways.  Likewise, Martin Conway (FG, administrative) drew attention to the increase in numbers of homeless people, but regardless of the state of the economy, we had a responsibility to ensure we eliminated homelessness.  There should be no need for people to beg.  The house should challenge the government to come up with better ways of eliminating homelessness.  Aideen Hayden (Lab, Taoiseach nominee) said she did not wish to be the prophet of doom, but she believed that by this time next year we would be tackling the most serious housing crisis the country had ever experienced, including those of the 1930s to the 1960s.  There were 90,000 families on the waiting list and organizations such as Threshold found that the numbers presenting had doubled, due to their inability to obtain appropriate housing.


Meantime, in the Dail, Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dun Laoghaire) demanded action on poverty and homelessness (Dail Eireann, Debates, 17th December 2013, 854-7).  Would the government admit it got it wrong and do something about it, as voluntary and community organizations were begging it to do?  All, like Focus Ireland and Threshold, had told the Taoiseach that he must build council houses.  The Taoiseach told him that  he heard him and did listen to him and those organizations.  The minister of state, Jan O’Sullivan would report to a cabinet committee in early January and he expected to engage with voluntary organizations himself.  It was a serious issue and nobody wanted to see anyone on the streets.  It was government policy to eliminate homelessness and he would like to think they could have a social housing programme.  They used to have council programmes years ago: some were successful, others not.  The minister of state, he added, was working on social housing.  NAMA was to make available 4,000 units, but that had not been concluded yet.  At that morning’s cabinet meeting, the government approved a substantial allocation to voluntary agencies, such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul.  He did not accept that we were facing a housing bubble, but there was a shortage of housing and we needed to build 20,000 to 25,000 houses a year.


In the final set of Dail exchanges before the break Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) accused the government of failure to address housing need and homelessness (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th December 2013, 653-7).  The government must address the issue seriously, with no excuse for a piecemeal approach and piddling little efforts here and there.  The director of advocacy for Focus Ireland had described the government’s response as ‘totally inadequate’.  For the government, the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn told him that he shared his concern about what had happened to the public housing sector.  He expected 5,000 units to be made available this year, a small sum compared to the figures quoted.  Representatives of Dublin constituencies were appalled at the units boarded up and awaiting maintenance when people could occupy them.  


Seamus Healy (ind, Tipperary S) spoke of 30,000 families being bullied out of their homes or compelled to leave by banks bailed out by the Irish people.   Ruairi Quinn accepted that people were living in fear and struggling.  There had been a de facto moratorium in house building for several years.  The government had put in place a comprehensive programme of action to assist householders and had rebalanced the rights of borrowers and lenders under the biggest shakeup of insolvency law.

> Child poverty: Dail Eireann, Debates, 17th December 2013, 103-4, 312.