Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Ombudsman for Children's Initiative on Eliminating Child Poverty and Child Homelessness: Statements


2:25 pm

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the debate on the report by the Ombudsman for Children. It is an in-depth critique of child poverty in the context of the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic world in which we live. It lays out a policy to address the historical legacy of the deprivation of children in this country.

The pandemic has done some terrible things but it has revealed the chasm or fault lines in society and what we really are. It has opened up that chasm of disadvantage in how children are treated in our society in respect of social injustice. The ironic thing about this debate is that it has taken a virus that has killed millions of people and caused absolute chaos across the world to have an impact on homelessness in this country. Prior to the pandemic there were over 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. Now there are approximately 6,000 and, with regard to children, the number has gone down to about half of what it was. That is more than it should be, but it is incredible that it has taken an invisible virus to do that. The barometer of any society is how children are treated. We speak for children. We have children and we are the voice for children. It is a very proud thing to speak in this Chamber on behalf of children. With regard to homelessness, that is a legacy that the Minister and his colleagues in the Cabinet must address. It is just not acceptable that children in Ireland in the 21st century do not have a home to go to, but they go to a hotel. If anybody can stand in this House and say with a straight face that this is acceptable, he or she is in the wrong game.

With regard to children in poverty, it is not that long ago that the Labour Party and former Deputy Joan Burton had policies which were Thatcheresque for single parents. Her policies have had a legacy issue, and I refer back to the historical legacy issues relating to child poverty. The Labour Party will not be forgiven for many things in working-class communities. One thing it will not be forgiven for, particularly for single parents, is what Joan Burton did to single parents. That is on the record.

The report is very good but we see many reports in this House. Some of them never see the light of day and some of them gather dust. This report has to be implemented in full to address the legacy issues. Children will be adults one day and they will go out and work and so forth. However, families face poverty where there is a family member not working.

They may be on a very low income, which has an insidious effect on children's educational disadvantage. In a particular postal area in Dublin, nine times out of ten a person will go to third level education whereas for people from another part of Dublin the chances of going to third level education reduce dramatically. There is no difference between the two children living in different parts of Dublin. What is wrong? It is not about intelligence; it is about opportunity and income leading to the social inequalities we all experience. I do not doubt the Minister's bona fides in trying to address historical societal issues relating to child poverty.

The main thing in the report is the critique. It looks at the post-pandemic world; hopefully we are coming out of it. It provides an opportunity for governments across the world to look at what they have been doing wrong. They may not be able to correct what they have been doing wrong because of their policies. It is important for this critique to look at a different mindset.

The general election was 18 months ago months ago but it seems like years ago. It focused on a number of things, but the main thing was the lack of public services. That is why Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil went backwards not forwards. Fine Gael has been in government for last ten years. That is why they went backwards and other political entities went forwards; they were saying things that were obvious to try to correct. I hope the Minister can correct them over three and a half years. I am not being partisan. Nobody in this Chamber wants us to have homelessness. Political policies are the reason that people are in homelessness, and that poverty and inequality exist. These things do not just exist for the sake of it. They exist because of policy and it is up to the Government to change it.


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