Tuesday, 14 May 2019
An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (An Ceart chun Teaghaise) 2016: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]
Catherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
I fully support the Bill. It is almost 71 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25.1 of which sets out that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself or herself and of his or her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care. We are failing utterly on all of these issues. With regard to housing, the proposed amendment is minimal. It simply seeks that the State would recognise the right of all citizens to adequate, appropriate, secure, safe and affordable housing 71 years after the declaration of human rights. We were asked to do this by the convention five years ago, as my colleague pointed out, and we have been asked to do it by the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, who called on us to make housing a constitutional right. She stated what was unfolding in our housing crisis was tragic and serious but solvable.
We are not here to shout and roar. We are not here to be negative. I agree with the UN special rapporteur that it is solvable. The way to do it is to look at what is happening. If the Minister of State is tired of listening to me, I would not blame him because sometimes I tire listening to myself because it is like an echo chamber. We must remember that we should not be dependent on charity but let us look at what COPE, a charity in Galway, is doing. It is asking all of the local election candidates to pledge that if elected, they will ensure that Galway City Council meets its housing targets through the building of new social housing. It also asks them to make three other pledges. It bases this on a comprehensive document. This tells us that the housing assistance payment, HAP, on which we pay almost €500 million per year, is not working. The amount has doubled within one year. It tells us the HAP does not produce additional social housing stock and does not represent good value for money for the public purse in the long term. It also tells us the housing and homeless crisis continues to increase unabated despite the best efforts of all to impede the increasing number needing support.
We can also look at daft.ieand daft is a good name when we think about it. I do not know what word could apply to the housing crisis. We have left and right in both parts of government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I was going to criticise the speech of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and wonder who wrote it and I was going to invite that person to Galway for a little tour but then I heard the prepared speech from Fianna Fáil and the Minister of State's speech seemed like a work of art. The daft.ierental report tells us we have the lowest number of properties available for rent. It looked at rents in Galway, where they are now 91% higher than when they bottomed out in 2012.
I will repeat the figure, because it is important, that 10,305 people are homeless, including 3,821 children. We are normalising this homelessness. I find this to be repulsive and unacceptable. In Galway, 309 people are homeless and the very same charity that is asking us to make pledges - it is right to do so - must rely on bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels to house homeless persons. Within bed and breakfast accommodation, people are not allowed visit one another in their rooms. If they break the rules in a private bed and breakfast they are told they will have to self-finance for a number of days. Listen to this new language. We are listening to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael telling us that rights should not be placed in the Constitution. We are placing charities in terrible positions where they must fight for accommodation and introduce appalling rules. We are relying on charities but all the while we have solutions. We have public land on which we could build.
Earlier today, I asked that Galway be chosen with regard to climate change. Intimately connected to climate change are housing, public transport and biodiversity. They are all tied in. We have lots of land in Galway. We have the docklands, Ceannt Station and an area out at the airport all sitting there waiting to be developed but no master plan.
I absolutely support the motion. It is the most basic requirement if we want to call ourselves a civilised society. I despair of the type of speeches that have been read out in the Chamber this evening particularly, as my colleague has said, with regard to the Minister of State telling us the recommendation made five years ago by the Constitutional Convention will be referred to a committee.
Government policy is responsible for the crisis. We have relied on the marketisation of social housing and public land. The Government continues to do this unabated and the most unacceptable part is the twisting of language to call it social housing.