Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Role of Chairperson of Housing Agency and Related Matters: Discussion

1:30 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity) | Oireachtas source

Homeless circumstances. To anyone here who is a public representative, who has worked as a Deputy or as a councillor in a local authority, that figure would not be a shocking one. We deal with people in those circumstances all the time. There can be any number of good reasons, which would stand up, for someone in homeless circumstances to refuse the offer of a house. I had many debates on my old council, Cork City Council, when conservative politicians said a certain woman would not accept an offer because it was too far away from her mother. They would make a big issue of that. The reason they would make a big issue of it is that they live in a different world to a lone parent who is on a low income, in a stressful situation and trying to improve their situation by getting a part-time job and earning a few bob, but cannot afford a babysitter. They need support from relatives and family. People who do not live in communities like that, who live in a different and more affluent world, do not understand that these are the realities of life for many working-class people with low incomes.

I have seen people turn down the offer of a house because there is someone living across the road or around the corner who has been threatening or violent towards them in the past, or is a known drug dealer with whom they have had difficulties. These are the realities of life for many people. I suspect that there are people high up in the Government, the Civil Service and, with respect, in the Housing Agency, who do not understand the realities of life that people are struggling with in situations such as this.

I refer to the example Mr. Skehan gave involving people with difficult situations with their fathers and physical abuse. In my experience, difficult family situations show the opposite to the narrative of people gaming the system. For example, how many times have I come across this story? A relationship or family unit breaks down and people move back in with their mother or father. That house is then overcrowded. There are tensions, which become unbearable. The people present as homeless, and the reason given is family breakdown. Are they gaming the system? They have been evicted. They have been subject to huge rent hikes. In fact, they tried to do the exact opposite. They tried to avoid having anything to do with the system. What do they get? Do they get help? Do they get assistance from Mr. Skehan's comments? No. They perceive that they are at the butt of a cruel jibe.

Mr. Skehan might say that they are not the people he is talking about. He said today he was referring to a tiny percentage of people, and that it may be an issue. If I walked out onto the plinth and said that I thought there may be corruption in the Cabinet, and then I qualified my comments by saying that it may be an issue or that it is a tiny percentage of Cabinet members, I know that my qualification would not be the headline in the newspapers tomorrow. I know that because I have been around the block. I have a little bit of experience of how sections of the media operate and the way in which comments are taken up. Mr. Skehan is the chairperson of the Housing Agency.


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