Republican News · Thursday 14 December 2000

[An Phoblacht]

He may be a hero, but he's still homeless

Three weeks ago this Sunday, a CIÉ bus plunged dramatically through the perimeter walls of the River Liffey at Butt Bridge in Dublin.

Some of the bus was quickly submerged below water level and the bus driver, now unconscious, faced death beneath the water's surface.

To his rescue came two courageous men. Dimitrios Paraskevakis, a civil engineer from Scotland, was accompanied by Tony Pagett, one of the many homeless people inhabiting Dublin's streets. Both men managed to lift the driver to safety.

Tony Paget returned to the streets that night, to sleep out in his wet clothes, in the midst of a city overflowing with affluence and abundance - but only for the few.

The two men's courage saw them honoured this week as recipients of Irish Water Safety's `Just In Time' award, and as local heroes in the eyes of the people of Dublin.

But Tony Pagett's courage and daring belied an everyday existence of sadness and despair. On Monday morning, as Irish Water Safety prepared to honour their selfless actions, Tony was found living in a laneway near Moore Street by Dublin Central Sinn Féin Councillor Nicky Kehoe.

Some 6,000 people now sleep out on the streets of Dublin, and there are many more homeless people throughout the country. Many have emotional, familial or other personal problems that precipitate their homelessness. Many cannot afford to rent accommodation and cannot get a job to afford it because they have no accommodation. It is Catch 22.

The problems encountered by homeless people are endless, and are not just about housing itself, but housing is the most obvious place to start.

While Tony Paget, the man who saved a bus driver three weeks ago, walks the streets of Dublin, a small minority of property speculators control most of the available land and housing in Dublin. The trick is to keep properties off the market, watch house prices rise and then sell them on for an immense profit. After that, you're laughing, but nobody else is, particularly those trying to get that all-important first foot in the accommodation door.

The fact is that the `Celtic Tiger' society offers little or no protection for those who fall on hard times. Indeed, if we are to judge it against the benchmark of the old adage - that a society can be judged by its treatment of its weakest members - the 26-County state is a much harsher place than economists' jargon and government rhetoric would suggest.

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