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
Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source
I would reflect on the points Deputy Higgins made about the scale and the numbers involved, for both those in receipt of temporary protection and those seeking international protection. Ireland has no control over those numbers. We are in receipt of those people. They come to our shores and airports and they seek international protection. In the case of those coming from Ukraine, they are entitled to temporary protection as a result of the EU directive. For many communities that often believe the Government has maximum control of everything, it can be very difficult for them to understand why we are not restricting, limiting, or discouraging them and so on. People are coming here and turning up on our doorstep, in the same way somebody in need would turn up at anyone's doorstep, and they are seeking protection. That puts a huge burden on Ireland in terms of the obligation and responsibility to house those people. We do have a responsibility here. These are people who are literally fleeing an unjust war - many unjust wars - and they are asking for our help.
I acknowledge the emergency nature of this situation and I acknowledge the actions the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has had to take. Its resources are incredibly strained and under pressure. Fianna Fáil Deputies met with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, last week and this was one of the points we put to him. When you do not have the resources and staff in place, it makes it more difficult to manage the emergency element. The emergency element of it is that people are not entitled to go on the social housing waiting list or to get the housing assistance payment and therefore the obligation is on the State to provide that temporary accommodation. I have been in one of the proposed facilities and I have to say it is a fairly grim affair. It is grim by nature of the speed at which we have had to turn around many of these locations.
I welcome the regulations in that they provide some certainty and clarity. I agree with Deputy Ó Broin that acting in an emergency capacity often involves us cutting out some of the normal standard procedures. What we should not remove is clear communication with communities and clarity of information. In this debate about centres opening or closing, there are people with very genuine and legitimate concerns. They need to have a route or mechanism to find out that information and they must be able to rely on the information that comes back. Public representatives need to have access to clear and reliable information so they can communicate that back and so it is not a case of shifting sands. There are people out there who are only waiting to jump on this issue and exploit it for party political reasons. We need to be very conscious of that.
That said, there are legitimate concerns. Somebody struggling to get a GP appointment might ask how the community can manage additional people. People want to be generous and they need to have confidence. The Minister of State is in a difficult position because he is here from a planning perspective and we have put a whole range of questions to him. There needs to be a wider Government response in the communication and consultation with communities. The HSE and the Department of Education must be part of that broader communication with communities so those concerns can be met. In my community, there are schools with quite low numbers that would welcome students coming in. With regard to the broader point about the services that are impacted by the arrival of new communities, and the clarity around the obligation on us to house people because they are not eligible for either the housing assistance payment or the council waiting list, all of that requires people. There is no substitute for somebody standing in a room speaking to a group of people and explaining to them what the situation is. My experience is that when that happens, those reasonable people in the community are often the first to try to help out or take whatever steps are needed.
These regulations deal with the planning issues. The fire safety issues are incredibly important as well. I have had some reassurance from the Minister that fire safety certificates will be in place in advance of people moving in and that if they are not, fire mitigation measures and so on will be. It is important that the community knows that and has confidence in it because we all have knowledge and experience of very tragic fires. Nobody wants to see people who have been through a huge amount of difficulty already be exposed to that sort of threat.
I return to the point Deputy Higgins made. The numbers are unprecedented. I have to keep looking at them every day because they change so much. Taking a ballpark figure of 60,000, my understanding is that nearly 44,000 of those have secured school places. We have issued personal public service, PPS, numbers and social welfare payments for a similar number. Nearly a quarter of people who are eligible have secured employment. That is a good story as well. On the basis of international comparisons, Ireland has reacted really well. There have been occasions where small numbers have been without accommodation. Nobody wants to see that but that involved numbers of around 40, 47 or 52 and we are talking about more than 60,000. Overall, the Irish people have responded to this crisis well, particularly when you look at Britain and the absolutely pitiful response from a country that could accommodate far more. There are other countries that have done far more than Ireland, which are closer to Ukraine. I have gone beyond the regulations. I welcome the clarity. Communication and consultation is our next challenge.