Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Children's Rights: Motion [Private Members]
We have brought forward the motion, whether some people like it, and are happy that many in the House have stated they support it. Its most important element is probably we want child poverty to be measured. We want timeframes and quarterly reports to ensure we will gradually move toward a situation where the incidence of consistent poverty will be steadily reduced. I have to give credit to the Government because it is reducing the incidence of consistent child poverty. It was reducing when we were in government also but not fast enough. The reduction was very slight. We need to reduce the incidence of consistent child poverty and the way to do it is to measure it with timeframes and trace it to ensure it will happen. All Departments must be involved. Deputy Rabbitte referred to other Departments being involved, not just the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. That is the main thing we want to achieve with the motion and we seek support for it from across the Dáil. It is about reducing the incidence of consistent child poverty, not throwing names at others.
I want to address the particular issue of child homelessness. There are nearly 4,000 children who do not have a roof over their head. Incidentally, in respect of the statistics, there has been a 14% increase in child homelessness in the past year. It has increased consistently in the past three years. There should be a basic right to a home, particularly for children.
While we did insert children's rights into the Constitution, we did not put in place the kind of legislation necessary to implement them. One concerns child homelessness. We presented the Housing (Homeless Families) Bill 2017 which was passed through the House. It is now on Committee Stage and a Government response is awaited on a money message. I trongly urge that the Bill be implemented because it will mandate housing authorities and the Government to ensure the needs of children within a family are prioritised. That will ensure children will not be taken to Garda stations when they become homeless. The Bill needs to be implemented.
More importantly, we can actually address the shortage of housing. Last week I attended the Raise the Roof conference, at which Mr. Mel Reynolds, a respected architect, indicated that there was enough land owned by local authorities and zoned for housing to build 50,000 units of accommodation nationally, 30,000 of them in Dublin. We could, therefore, address the housing problem if we used State-owned land to have publicly-led social and affordable housing built, for which the Labour Party is calling. We have costed proposals to have 80,000 social and affordable homes built over five years. We need that scale of delivery, but we also need the will to do it. We can do it, which is the important message today. We can and need to address the address of child homelessness, but we also need to prevent homelessness. This morning I attended another conference on youth homelessness, at which a gentleman from Wales spoke about how there was an obligation in Wales and England to inform local authorities well in advance of people becoming homeless. We can also prevent homelessness by ensuring people will not be kicked out of their homes because of unreasonable hikes in rent. We must also ensure a landlord will no longer be able to state he or she is selling the property, that it is needed for a fairly distant relative or it is going to be done up. We need to close all of these loopholes to keep people in their home.
The other day I spoke to a woman who was living in a hotel with her two children. She told me that she was really concerned about her children in school. Her son who is older is trying to pretend to his friends that he does not live in a hotel because he is ashamed. The behaviour of her daughter who is much younger has completely changed in school. She was a quiet child but is now disruptive. These are the terrible changes that come on children when they do not have a secure home. These are the issues that we want to highlight.
We also want to highlight the issue of children with special needs. Others have done so in the context of the gaps in services. There is also the issue of children with mental health issues. The child and adult mental health service, CAMHS, teams are not fully staffed. There are many other children in particularly difficult situations, including those in direct provision centres or Traveller accommodation, all of whom have particular problems and do not have an opportunity to reach their full potential. They need the supports we are advocating in the motion. We are also concerned about helping children who cannot even access knowledge on their parents, an area in which Deputy Burton has published a Bill. There is the issue of same-sex couples who equally do not have full rights in seeking knowledge of their parenthood.
These are the various areas covered in the motion which is about fulfilling the aims of the First Dáil and its Democratic Programme. We owe it to people in our republic to ensure we will focus on these issues to fulfil the vision and intentions contained in the Democratic Programme. There have been many difficulties throughout our history since. There are many reasons we have not fulfilled that vision, including because of conservative Ireland and sometimes, as was the case in more recent history, when there simply was not enough money available because of the economic collapse. However, we are now in a position where we can address these issues and focus on all of the children of the nation in having the opportunity to develop to their full potential. We need a whole-of-government approach in achieving this in the areas of education and health, as well as in the children's ministry and, particularly, the housing ministry. In many ways, the worst deprivation a child can endure is not having a secure home of his or her own, but we can address that issue if there was the will and the funding was provided. That is what the motion is about.
I welcome the positive contributions made by many Members. It is very unfortunate that the entire intention and spirit of the motion were thwarted by some Members who chose-----