Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 September 2021

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


3:05 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent) | Oireachtas source

The past 18 months have been incredibly difficult for children. Their schools have been closed and their extracurricular activities stopped. Their rites of passage, freedoms and social lives were taken from them. The Ombudsman for Children's A Better Normal initiative raised issues of grave importance and I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this matter today and to highlight the issues raised in the report, particularly as they relate to child poverty and child homelessness.

The issues addressed are not exhaustive. Indeed, all children have suffered during the pandemic. However, those who already experienced low income and underprivileged social engagement have undoubtedly felt the effects in a different way. The points raised in this report require acute attention and there needs to be a solid commitment from Government to address them and to prioritise children in their plan for post-Covid life. It is important to note that the Ombudsman for Children does not have a statutory footing. That could be addressed.

The report poses the interesting question as to whether we actually want a return to normal for these children. Was normality good enough? Can we do better? As the report states, this is a once in a generation opportunity to change the course of history and provide a better future for some of the most disadvantaged children. We have an opportunity now to make a real difference and effective change. I believe we can do much better for the children of this country.

Poverty affects all aspects of a child’s life. The ESRI report Child Poverty in Ireland and the Pandemic Recession states there could be an increase in child poverty from 16% in 2018 to 19% now. That is shocking. How can we seriously say we live in a modern country with a fair and equal society with numbers like that? This needs to be addressed urgently and in order to do this we need to look at, as Professor Aoife Nolan says, pre-existing long-term structural inequalities and social vulnerabilities.

The latest figures have shown a significant drop in children living in emergency accommodation. There is no doubt this is due to the banning of evictions which was introduced due to the pandemic. I hope the Government will seriously consider who they are affecting when they are looking at lifting the ban on evictions because the ban has had a significant impact.

To address child homelessness, the report recommends that Ireland must enshrine in its Constitution the right to housing for everyone in Ireland. I attempted to introduce this constitutional right in my economic, social and cultural rights Bill which I submitted in 2015, 2017 and in January of this year. If the Government really wanted to address this issue, they could do so through that Bill but when I submitted it at the start of the year, it was delayed yet again and proposed that the Bill be deemed to be read a Second Time in 18 months' time. That shows Government commitment to address these issues is not there. This issue is not something that can be left for 18 months. Action is needed now and that legislation could help.

Children in the direct provision system, a group of our society that are already too often overlooked and neglected, have also suffered unique distress throughout the pandemic. The loneliness, isolation and poverty that the children within the direct provision suffer show no sign of abating, despite the best intentions of the White Paper. It has been nearly eight months since the White Paper was published and it has already stalled and fallen behind in its promises. We have asked much of our children over the last 18 months, it is now our turn now to give back to them, to ensure that they are prioritised and to make sure that they are not left behind. That is what we need to do.


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