Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (Extension of Notice Periods) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


8:50 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Simon Communities of Ireland for the work they did in drafting the Bill. I am very happy to have brought it forward, along with the other Opposition parties. It is positive that the Government is not opposing the Bill and that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has said he will look at trying to bring in parts of it as quickly as possible, possibly through Government legislation. He has told us there is no shortage of will when it comes to tackling homelessness. I have no reason to disbelieve his intent but there is a shortage of action on this issue.

I will point out a few areas in which concrete action could be taken by the Government now if it wants to show us it is deadly serious about tackling homelessness with the urgency required. It is welcome that the Government is supporting this Bill but it is in a better position to bring forward legislation and has been aware, for quite some time, of these kinds of measures. It should have brought forward these kinds of measures much more urgently.

I have one example that the Minister referenced. He said the Government had committed to the 2030 target of trying to eliminate homelessness, which is welcome. If it is to have any meaning at all, however, we must at the very least have yearly targets to get us to that elimination in 2030. So where are those yearly targets? It is all very well saying we hope to eliminate homelessness by 2030 but where are the year-by-year steps to get us to that target and give it meaning? Let the Government show us it means what it says in indicating there is no lack of will or resources. It should publish those targets that will get us to the elimination of homelessness by 2030. It is the very least that could be done and it would cost nothing to do it. It could be done straight away. Give us the roadmap to show that the Government means what it says when it speaks about eliminating homelessness by 2030.

The Government should immediately bring back the ban on evictions, especially considering our position in the Covid-19 pandemic. The single most effective measure to reduce homelessness in recent years has been the ban on evictions introduced at the start of the pandemic. It should return.

At a meeting of the Oireachtas joint committee on housing earlier today we discussed vacancy and dereliction. There are tens of thousands of vacant homes lying empty all over Ireland. There has been talk from the Government about a vacant homes tax but there is no commitment in Housing for All to introduce it or a timeline. Show us the Government is serious about tackling homelessness by introducing a vacant homes tax that we know will at least bring some of those vacant homes back to use to help address this matter. Show us the Government is serious about this.

The Government should show us it is serious about this by ensuring the derelict sites legislation is enforced so buildings can be brought back into use. We heard at the housing committee meeting earlier that the largest local authority in the country, Dublin City Council, does not actively try to get all derelict buildings on the derelict sites register. How about looking for a bit of enforcement to ensure we get more homes and buildings back into use?

If the Government is serious about helping homeless people, it should end the discrimination that takes place now against approximately half of homeless people in emergency accommodation that is privately run. We have an outrageous position in the country, where we introduced national quality standards for all homeless service providers but somehow in the past few years a load of private companies and individuals were allowed to set up private emergency accommodation operations, funded by the State and local authorities. However, national quality standards do not apply to them. Why is that? It is discrimination against anyone unfortunate enough to end up having to live in that privately run emergency accommodation. There is no explanation for it.

There have been complaints from some of those places of bloodstains on bed sheets and there has been a complaint from a privately run emergency accommodation operation in Dublin of a lack of duvets or bed sheets. We know that in many of them staff are not Garda-vetted or trained, there are no safeguarding policies or procedures in place and they are not checked for them. The Government should show us it is serious about homeless people by introducing independent inspections by HIQA. The Government should do it now and not dodge this any more. In doing that, the Government would show us it is serious about treating people with a minimal amount of dignity and respect. It could go one step further and end the privatisation of these homeless services by bringing them into the fold of not-for-profit organisations, which would at least have an interest in helping progress people out of homelessness.

One of the complaints made to me by people working in areas supporting people who have become homeless is that they frequently find people who had been living in privately run accommodation that do not have basics in place. They would not have an application in for a medical card, for example, that would allow them access to proper healthcare. They may not have made applications for social housing support to get on the housing waiting lists because they live in places without trained support workers. This is what is happening now in the country and none of this is in any way acceptable.

The local connection rule was highlighted last year and there have been some improvements, especially after the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, but it is still creating a barrier for some people moving from emergency accommodation. People have been refused emergency accommodation or asked to leave emergency accommodation because they cannot prove a local connection. To be clear, this might take in people who were originally from Dublin and moved for work reasons to Galway before losing their job there and moving back to Dublin seeking emergency accommodation. They might be refused that support because a computer system records them as having a last address in Galway. It is barbaric and there should be no tolerance of it whatever.

Many people have told me there is effectively an unofficial policy in place when people present as homeless that the accommodation made available is of the worst possible standard in an attempt to try to keep people sleeping on floors or couches. It seems to be an attempt to make it as difficult as possible for such people to access emergency accommodation by ensuring the very worst accommodation is made available. The Government should show us it is serious about such matters by taking some of the steps I have outlined.

This Bill is very welcome. Although it is a modest proposal, it is practical legislation that will, if passed quickly, help prevent some people entering homelessness by allowing more time to ensure supports can be put in place. It is a sensible and modest measure in that regard and one we can, across the House, easily agree. We just need to show it can be implemented urgently and as quickly as possible.

We must do this. The number of homeless people who have died over the past year has increased, particularly in Dublin. At least 58 people experiencing homelessness have passed away so far this year, a considerable increase on last year and 2019. There is concern that reduced access to addiction and mental health supports, particularly during the pandemic, could be contributing to this, and the matter requires the immediate attention of the Government to arrest that increase.

It is welcome that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is very much concerned by the increases in homelessness over the past number of months and he has met representatives of different organisations about it. What we should be hearing from him are the exact concrete actions he and the Government will take to arrest that month-by-month increase. If that is not arrested, we will be back at the level of 10,000 people living in emergency accommodation that we saw with the former Minister, Mr. Eoghan Murphy. We also know that other people are sleeping rough or are not counted in homelessness figures. People may have fled domestic violence and others are sleeping on couches and on floors so are not counted in our Irish figures.


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