The position of the 26 County Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy is under increasing threat after a shock increase in the number of homeless people, particularly children, which has rocketed by almost 50 per cent in the last year.
There are now almost 10,000 people homeless across Ireland, including 3,755 children in 1,739 families. Two rough sleepers died within a 48 hour period last week.
The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who has previously claimed Ireland has one of the lowest homelessness rates by international standards, has finally admitted the situation is a “crisis” and described it as “frustrating”.
In an exchange on a parliamentary committee, Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty pointed out that homelessness for children has now doubled since the last election, and said Minister Murphy’s position was “untenable”.
Mr Varadkar responded by saying that opposition policies would “make a bad situation much worse”. Mr Doherty hit back, accusing Mr Varadkar of “having some cheek on you”.
The Housing Minister has developed a reputation for incompetence since last August, when he said he was trying to “get a proper handle” on the issue. In December, he complained of receiving “painful phonecalls” in the wake of the deaths of homeless people.
Since then, Murphy’s chief policy has been to spend tens of millions of euro to house homeless families in tourist accommodation, a strategy which is in jeopardy amid rising tourist numbers over the summer months. The Minister has ignored the hundreds of thousands of properties which lie empty across the state, including some fully equipped ‘ghost’ housing estates which have lain empty since the 2008 financial crisis and which are currently in state ownership.
Murphy has insisted that a lack of supply of new housing is the driving factor in the homelessness crisis, and suggested the matter was outside the government’s control. In a statement, he admitted the figures indicate a “very worrying trend” but that there would be more people “presenting to our homeless services until significantly more homes are built”.
Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry says Murphy should be issued with sleeping tablets “as I don’t know how he’s sleeping at night.” Fr McVerry called for emergency legislation making it illegal to evict tenants who have been paying their rent.
“It should be made illegal to evict people on to the streets. We need emergency legislation. This is a state of emergency. The majority of people being made homeless are coming predominantly from the private sector,” he said.
“We’re looking at protection for people being evicted for renovations. [Landlords] can’t take advantage of loopholes.”
Focus Ireland CEO Pat Dennigan described the increasing numbers of homeless as “shocking” and “unacceptable”. He said: “These figures clearly show that the government Rebuilding Ireland strategy is failing to get to grips with the crisis.”
CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless Anthony Flynn said that “this isn’t good enough and can’t be allowed to go on anymore”.
“I think [it’s a case of] if it’s not affecting you, it’s not an issue and what we need is public outcry in regards to this issue, and we need the public to respond to what’s going on on the ground at the moment.”