Thursday, 11 December 2014
Yesterday was International Human Rights Day. It came, as Members know, a week after the tragic death of Jonathan Corrie across the street. It came on a day when tens of thousands gathered outside this House to protest against Government policy on water. Many of the protesters consider the water policy as a public rights issue. It also came in the aftermath of the frightening exposé by RTE of the inhumane treatment of residents in Áras Attracta.
I put it to the Minister, however, that one of the most dangerous places for women and children in this country is in fact the family home, and that one of the most basic rights is for people to be able to enjoy the residential amenity of their home without fear of violence, be it mental or physical. We have a significant problem in this country with domestic violence. We are told that in excess of 18,000 reports were received last year by Women’s Aid. The Garda Inspectorate reports to us a concern that while 11,000 reports were made to the Garda, only 287 arrests were made.
We are conscious as well that since 1996 a total of 204 women have died, most of them in the family home, and most of them at the hands of either their husband or ex-partner. A start in addressing that awful problem would be to address the funding crisis in Childline. The service provides support to children in situations where extreme violence exists in their home. A total of 45,000 children called Childline last year. The service was established in 1998 but the ISPCC now indicates that it cannot continue to provide a service in the evening.
Could the Minister ensure that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will move to augment the additional funding being raised by Childline to ensure that the service continues to be available? Is the Government prepared to approve the Istanbul Convention and to provide the necessary resources to ensure the State can start to combat violence against women in a real and meaningful way around the country?
I thank the Deputy for raising what really is a very important and multifaceted issue, namely, domestic violence and the related issue of gender-based violence. The Government has specific campaigns to alert people to the issue, because by its very nature, unlike violent crimes that occur on the street, a lot of it is invisible even to the Garda. In many instances people are so intimidated within the domestic setting that they feel inhibited from any reaction and the situation continues for many years.
The issue is a real one. It is multifaceted in the sense that we need to have more than one response. The availability of outreach helplines is something of importance, not only the example the Deputy has instanced, namely, Childline, which is specifically focused on children and run by the ISPCC, a very important charitable organisation in the State, but many others such as the service provided by the Rape Crisis Centre and the Samaritans that are available for people in domestic crisis.
We must ensure people can also reach out to the Garda Síochána in such instances because violence against anybody in any setting is a crime. I will discuss with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the two points raised by Deputy Ó Fearghaíl, namely, adequate funding to ensure that Childline, as one of the important helplines, is available, and also the current position on the Istanbul Convention.
I welcome the Minister’s response but it is pretty inadequate because, first and foremost, we need a pretty clear commitment at this stage to Childline. That is the point to which children at risk direct their attention and that is where they expect to receive the psychological and emotional support-----
-----they so desperately need. The sum of money involved, namely, €600,000, is not astronomical. It is not beyond the ability of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to give a commitment to provide the money.
It is through ratification of the Istanbul Convention, and its practical application, including the provision of resources to enable its ratification, that we can do something meaningful to combat violence, in particular against women around the country.
We are already in a situation where the number of women’s shelters is hopelessly inadequate. In my constituency, a hostel was built but it remained empty for two years because the resources to open it were not provided. When eventually some resources were provided, only half of the residential units were effectively open. Must we wait until a woman or child is brutalised to death in their home before action is taken, in the way meaningful action has in effect been taken by Government in the aftermath of the tragic death of Jonathan Corrie?
Many actions have been taken not only by the State directly, but by a panoply of local organisations. The women’s refuge in my home town of Wexford operates with significant HSE and local authority support, and public support, which is really important.
That model is replicated across the country. An enormous amount of focus and voluntary effort is evident as well as State support for the very things the Deputy has underlined as important. I absolutely and fundamentally agree that such importance should be afforded to domestic violence.
I wish to make two points on the matter; one of the biggest difficulties is giving the capacity to people to reach out and make the call or to walk into a shelter. For many people, psychologically that is a very difficult thing to do. That means better communication, presentation and understanding at local level.
In terms of the helplines, I will discuss specifically with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the helpline to which the Deputy referred, but it is one of many helplines that are important in this area. By definition, Childline is aimed at children but what the Deputy has instanced is primarily violence against women-----
-----and a range of other helplines focus on that issue, including the helpline provided by the Rape Crisis Centre and others, which must all be resourced to ensure an adequate communication system is available for people who are in peril or who have been abused in order that they can reach out. The most important step for people to take is to call the Garda.
-----who yesterday joined together and sang in one chorus that they have had enough.
Enough cuts, enough poverty, enough of feeling hopeless and helpless, enough of the Minister and of his Government. They have told them that these charges are a step too far. The Minister can try, if he wishes, to dismiss or downplay or distort the significance of yesterday'sRight2Water rally but that kite will not fly for him.
Did the Minister hear the voices of these people? Did he hear when they told him that partial U-turns and revised packages containing bribes and sour-sweeteners and kicking down the road the certainty of metered water charges does not cut it? The message and the demand of the people is very clear and simple, is to abolish water charges or if not, call a general election. That is the choice the Minister has to make. There is now no other show in town for Fine Gael or Labour. Will the Government finally do the right thing and scrap these odious water charges?
I agree that there was a very powerful manifestation, and peaceful manifestation by and large, on the streets of Dublin yesterday. That was a manifestation of very many years of difficult economic decisions - both the Government and I understand it was not just water charges - that were required to give us hope for the future, to put our economy back on solid ground-----
-----which we have now done. We can now begin to give people hope in planning for the future and creating jobs.
To answer the specific issue of water charges, this Government has been listening. The very clear view over many months was that people wanted certainty and simplicity-----
-----and they wanted to know it was affordable in the longer term. They wanted to know that the money was going to be used to invest in the country's decrepit public water and public sewage supply because the old system to which Fianna Fáil wants to return - to give it back to the local authorities - has plainly failed us.
We need to invest in all the water treatment plants and all the sewage treatment plants that are required. We need to do away with the boil-water notices and give quality water to people.
Most people understand that water and water infrastructure, a quality water supply and a clean water supply for families, individuals, companies and for communities, has to be provided, the same as waste water treatment plants, rather than spewing solid sewage waste into our streams and rivers. That all has to be paid for. If it is not paid for through a usage charge-----
-----it will be paid for through a further tax on workers. I know that the Deputy's party has already outlined €5 billion on additional taxes on work but I do not think that is the way to go.
I will take that reply as a long-winded "No". The Minister could just have said, "No". If he had just had said "No", at least we would have the clarification that he had heard my question and also that he had heard the voices of the people. They want the certainty and simplicity of the abolition of these charges. People want the certainty and simplicity of knowing that when they turn out in their tens of thousands in the middle of the week, on a working day, two weeks out from Christmas, in the freezing cold and give the Minister a certain and simple message, that he will certainly and simply hear it and that he will certainly and simply respond to it.
The Minister's answer is "No". He is hell-bent on these charges, hell-bent on them in the full knowledge of the widespread public dissent and in the secure knowledge that so many people cannot pay them, that this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and sinks these families into real financial difficulty and, indeed, poverty. Búla bos for the Minister and for his Labour Party colleagues.
The truth is the Minister will not abolish the charges so what we need is a general election. The Minister cannot waltz in here, as delusional as all of the members of the Government are, and pretend that the Government's mandate is still intact.
I know the Sinn Féin Party wants a general election because its members tabled a motion to that effect earlier. In terms of policy-making, it is not a general election so much as a by-election that determines Sinn Féin policy. Up to the most recent by-election, they were minded to pay water charges - as was the Deputy herself - and minded to support them.
Clearly, making fundamental policy by opinion poll in a time of economic crisis will not serve this country well. Decisions on policy are made by the sovereign Parliament elected by the people of this country. I ask the Deputy to have regard for that. This is an assembly of elected politicians, each of us who have put our names on a ballot paper and each of us have the same mandate.
We have now restored it and the least Deputy Dooley could do, in modesty, is to allow me to answer questions for people who are asking serious questions.
In reply to Deputy McDonald, the Government has been listening to the voice of people. We understand the impositions of the past number of years but we also look at the consequence for countries - I refer in particular and very carefully and in a very worried fashion at what is happening in Greece now.
If Sinn Féin and the Socialist Workers' Party, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit and whatever-you-are-having-today party, had their way, we would now not be paying 16 cent a day for a water charge or 43 cent a day for a family of more than two adults, we would be in ruin without being able to pay for any basic services.
Last Saturday, Professor Diarmaid Ferriter wrote an article in which he mentioned that 40 years ago to that day, Alice Leahy produced a report because there was a serious homelessness crisis in Dublin. At that stage, 1,000 men and women were either sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation. Her report led to a task force which highlighted major gaps in approach and it stated that this issue was a matter of urgency. If I fast forward to 2006, the same Professor Ferriter was chairing a political debate in Trinity College.
This was addressed by representatives from all of the political parties and Independent Deputy Finian McGrath. It was called the MakeRoom campaign and the topic discussed in 2006 was how to end homelessness by 2010. This did not happen.
The Minister, Deputy Kelly, has taken a collaborative apolitical approach and has acknowledged that no one person or organisation has all of the answers. The key is persistent action because otherwise Mr. Corrie's tragic death last week will be just last week's story and will not go any further, and we will see further tragedies. The question is how do we go about preventing homelessness. As part of this I ask the Government to examine legislation I worked on with Focus Ireland, which identified a gap in the legislative framework. This legislation would ensure that local authorities and local government would have the necessary legal framework from which to develop the multi-pronged response required. The Minister will agree that unless we have this co-ordinated collaborative approach to homelessness, we will face further tragedies. Will the Minister look at this and pursue it with the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and Focus Ireland? I am told it would prevent what happens now, which is individuals or families telling their local authority that they will be homeless in a number of days or the next week and the local authority telling them to return when they are homeless. The legislation, of which Focus Ireland is very supportive, could prevent this happening.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for her question and her acknowledgement of the fact this is a very complex area which requires a multifaceted approach. This has already been embraced by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, in what Deputy O'Sullivan has characterised as a collaborative non-party way. It is a priority, and the centrepiece of my Budget Statement was the twin issues of providing social housing and ending homelessness. During the budget speech I announced a €2.2 billion budget investment for the next three years to deal with the lack of social housing provision.
We have set to end homelessness by 2016 and this is an absolute priority for the Minister, Deputy Kelly. It is one of the reasons he moved to the Department. He meets all of the social housing groups regularly. There is a meeting every Monday at 9 a.m. with Dublin City Council to deal with this issue. I will not rehearse again the short-term initiatives, which are bringing beds immediately into play and providing night facilities for those who will not go into shelters to ensure nobody is out in the cold. All of these are being done. In response to the specific question raised by the Deputy I will certainly go to the Minister, because she is absolutely right that nobody has the absolute answer to this and all of the organisations, particularly those she mentioned such as Focus Ireland, are important players and any suggestions, proposals or policy statements they have will be embraced and taken into account. I will raise this issue particularly with the Minister, Deputy Kelly.
I thank the Minister and I will pass on this information. It has been said before that ending homelessness is a priority but it has not happened.
I wish to consider another aspect of this, and I am glad the Minister for Health is present. We all know there are strong links between homelessness, mental health issues, addiction, prison and probation. Figures from some organisations show that 72% of people who are homeless are so because of their addiction. For many the exit from homelessness is through tackling addiction issues, and they do this through residential rehabilitation supported programmes. Through this they get the confidence, life skills and self-esteem to turn their lives around. When this happens they are less likely to become homeless. What is happening, and cannot be allowed to continue happening, is these young men and women, many out of prison but in recovery in supported drug-free accommodation, are being asked to share accommodation with those who are homeless but in active addiction and living chaotic lives. It jeopardises the recovery of the first group.
I want to mention two projects I visited recently, one in Wicklow and the other in Meath. One works with young men and women and the other with young men. Most of them have come out of prison and the majority have been homeless. One organisation gets some funding from a task force, but it only covers one quarter to one third of the total cost of running it. This organisation has room for more people. The other organisation started a programme last November with 12 young men, many of whom had come out of prison and the majority of whom were homeless. They had to turn down 30 young men and I do not know where they are now. Organisations such as these could be examined as examples of excellent practice in dealing with those people who have addiction and homelessness issues.
She has made very sensible proposals and I am anxious to embrace them. The scale and nature of the drug problem in Ireland is evolving. It is not a constant issue. There are issues we now need to begin to address again. When I was the Minister for Health, a very long time ago, the issue of providing injecting heroin users with methadone was first highlighted. I am not sure this is a permanent solution. I should not speak without discussing it with the Minister for Health, but there are issues we need to begin to re-address.
With regard to resources, it is an area we have identified in the most recent budget, and an additional €2.1 million has been allocated to the HSE for social inclusion programmes which will deal with a number of addiction programmes, including the provision of detox beds. We need to get a situation where people who want to detox are provided with the facilities to do so.
My next point is related to the other issue of homelessness. Many people were surprised to know, when the homelessness summit was called and all of the organisations were called in, that 37 different organisations are involved in dealing with the issue of homelessness. A huge range of bodies deal with the drugs issue but there is not a great deal of co-ordination. Something that should come out of addressing it in a holistic way is to have much better co-ordination between bodies providing services in order that their common awareness, facilities and understanding of the problems can be brought to bear. The specific suggestions Deputy O'Sullivan has made will certainly be brought to the attention of the Minister.