Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 17 November 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Planning and Development Regulations: Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for the presentation. I acknowledge the very considerable volume of work that has been done by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and IPAS with respect to providing emergency accommodation to people fleeing the war in Ukraine and the growing crisis in our direct provision and international protection system. It is a very considerable increase in the volume of work. People are working around the clock and it is right that we acknowledge that here.

I will make the point that we are in an emergency. In an emergency, we need emergency regulations. We also need to ensure, both in the case of people fleeing war and persecution from other countries and the host communities who want to welcome those who, for whatever period, will live among them, that we do this right because that it is in everybody's interest. One of the things we really need to improve is the way in which, particularly the Departments responsible, communicate with local communities. I acknowledge there has been good engagement with political representatives but there needs to be greater communication with local community network organisations. Ultimately, we are relying on the goodwill of communities to host people, whether they are from Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan or wherever. Most people just have simple, reasonable requests, namely, to know what is going on, and to know how the needs of the refugee communities and the wider host community will be met in terms of services, facilities, etc. I urge the Minister of State to take that back to his colleagues in both Departments, if he can.

It is important to understand that one of the reasons this particular emergency regulation is being brought forward is because of the 17,000 adults and children in the international protection system, 26% of whom should not be there. There are 4,500 men, women and children who have a legal right to remain in this country and who are trying to get out of direct provision, which is essentially being used as a form of emergency homeless accommodation. In many cases, these people are on the social housing waiting list and are eligible for social housing support and the housing assistance payment. If the two Departments whose officials are before the committee today could work more closely to try to resolve that issue, it would free up slightly better quality accommodation in direct provision than some of the temporary accommodation this regulation will cover. We need to keep in mind, when we talk about the 17,000 people in international protection, that a very large number of them should not be there. We need to get them out as quickly as possible. I will also say, and this is especially the case, for example, in Dolcain House in my constituency, which I share with Deputy Higgins, that the original communication from the Minister indicated this was to be a three-month arrangement. If that arrangement is to be extended, and there is a very strong chance it will be, the earliest possible communication with elected Members and the wider community is essential. I urge the Minister of State to do that.

I have three very specific questions to put on the record in order that anybody watching will have no doubt about what we are doing here. Will the Minister of State confirm that these emergency regulations on temporary provision of emergency accommodation will expire on the date on which they are supposed to expire? I ask for clarity on that. Will he confirm that if there is a desire, either on the part of the owners of these buildings or the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and IPAS, to turn these temporary arrangements into permanent arrangements, formal applications for planning permission will be required in all circumstances? Will he give us a commitment that he will discuss, both with his line Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and his party colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, the desire he will hear from all of us today regarding maximum engagement? I said previously that in an emergency, we do not get to have a veto on some of these arrangements, but we and the people we represent have a right to be spoken to, listened to, and involved in the process of dealing with what is a very exceptional set of circumstances. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could give us the assurance that he will bring that back to his two senior Ministers.


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