Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


4:20 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú) | Oireachtas source

I want to raise a specific issue. It relates to something the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage said in recent days. His statement in respect of homeless deaths in this State was tone-deaf. It was an incredible statement for the Minister to make from a political perspective. It was also an incredibly cold reaction to the sad fact that 79 people died in homelessness, in Dublin alone, in 2020. The Minister of State can correct me if I am wrong, but it appeared that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, tried to undermine the seriousness of this shocking figure by suggesting that some of these people may have died in traffic accidents while they were homeless, and as a result, were included in these figures. It seems that the Minister was doing something that his predecessor sought to do by trying to change the statistics, rather than rectifying the situation affecting people on the ground.

The fact that the report the Minister sought only came after we, in Aontú, raised this issue in Leinster House is also shocking. It is also shocking that the Minister in charge was not blown out of the water when looking at those figures and the increase in the figures over the last while. There was no human reaction on the part of the Minister when he noticed that the figures for 2020 had skyrocketed by July. By July 2020, the number of people who had died in homelessness was already higher than in the previous two years. That this did not motivate the Minister to decide to hold an investigation into what was happening is also amazing.

I became extremely concerned about the high numbers of deaths among homeless people back in July. I requested a breakdown from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. The breakdown showed that the peak of the death rate coincided, believe it or not, with the Dáil voting on whether or not to give Ministers of State a pay rise. I think the Minister of State will accept that there is something deeply tragic about the fact that 79 homeless people died in Dublin in 2020, and the peak occurred while the political establishment in here was lining its own pockets.

The deaths of these people were not caused by traffic accidents. If the Minister responsible is in denial mode, it is very hard to see how we can really get to the kernel of the problem. I will provide examples of some of the people who died. A young woman in her 30s appeared to have tragically taken her own life. Another woman, aged just 19, died in emergency accommodation managed by a private operator. A young man in his 20s was found dead while sleeping rough, having been released from prison the day before. A man in his 30s also appeared to have tragically taken his own life. These are no road traffic accidents. These are homeless deaths. Those who died are real people, not statistics to be moved around on a sheet in the hope that it will reflect better on this Government.

I repeatedly raised the practice of the local authority in Dublin of refusing assistance to people who are not natives of Dublin, while at the same time, NPHET was advising these people not to leave Dublin because of Covid-19. The Minister pleaded ignorance on this issue right up until "RTE Investigates" exposed the situation. The Minister of State can argue about the figures for 2020 and what happened to those people, but the sad fact of the matter is that the 2020 figures are radically higher than those for 2018 and 2019.

I want to raise my voice in concern at the Government practice of selling off or giving away public land to private developers on which to build houses. Why is it happening? Why can the State not build houses on those blocks of land, or at least commission the housing agencies to operate in this sector? It is not because of a lack of skilled workers. It is the same pool of skilled workers that is used to build private and public housing. Is it because of funding? The truth of the matter is that this Government has not exhausted the European Investment Bank funding for social housing. Housing is the ideal investment for the European Investment Bank because it pays back over the years.

When I submitted a series of questions to my local authority, I found that during the summer 130 council-owned properties in Meath were vacant. At the same time, 1,168 people had applied for homes, but only 440 of them got homes. How can 700 people on a local authority housing list be turned away at a time when there are 130 vacant homes in that area?


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