Thursday, 12 October 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the future of Europe, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, and time can be shared, and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes in which to reply to debate.
Today I would like to raise two matters, the first of which is hidden homeless. There is a cohort of people who are relying on the charity of their siblings, parents and grandparents to live and to bring up their families. A lady came to me who, along with her four children, was living with her sister. She was sleeping on the sofa in the living room with her four children. There were ten in the house. For the purposes of the CSO figures, she is not categorised as homeless. Once a person removes himself or herself from emergency accommodation, he or she is taken out of that category. The Government needs to look at how we classify homeless people and consider how to reclassify them. Obviously, this woman is living with her sister and is not in secure accommodation and is for all intents and purposes homeless. I ask the Minister to come to the House to address how we calculate the real figure of homelessness. We know there are 8,000 people in emergency accommodation, including 3,000 children, but in fact that figure is on the low side. I believe there are many more people who are homeless and I would categorise them as hidden homeless.
Second, I wish to raise the issue of gender pension inequality. Yesterday, after the budget, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, when commenting on the gender pension inequality admitted it was "bonkers and unbelievable" that women were losing out on pension payment under the current regime. He went on to say that the way they are treated is wrong. It is pretty disingenuous that he made these comments yesterday but made no reference in his Budget Statement on Tuesday as to how he would rectify and amend the changes made in 2012. Thousands of women have lost out every year on the level of the pension payment to which they were entitled. Lipservice without action is not reasonable. I think the Minister should come to the House and explain in detail what he will do. Pension reform has been discussed. When the Taoiseach served as Minister for Social Protection there was talk about pension reform, but all we saw was lipservice to the idea of pension reform.However, we did not see any pension reform, all we saw was lipservice to the idea of it. We can do something now for these women. We could reverse the 2012 changes immediately. It would require a small piece of legislation. I ask for the Minister to come to the House to address why he cannot make that change immediately.
Ireland is in the middle of its worst ever housing and homelessness crisis. The Government has committed to opening up every unoccupied house to alleviate the growing housing list. Among the many workers on housing lists are serving soldiers. We recently saw the case of a serving soldier being made homeless in Kildare. Bearing this in mind, I wrote to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, whom I support in his efforts, asking if he would consider reopening the decommissioned or locked-up Army houses. I suggested that if it was the case that the Department of Defence or the Defence Forces did not want to become involved in the management of married quarters, it might be possible to transfer the housing stock held by the Department of Defence to local authorities or some housing agency. I understand that the Minister is looking into this.
Following a freedom of information request, I can advise that the following is the position regarding Department of Defence houses available in the State. There are currently nine houses in use for enlisted ranks and 50 vacant. There are 13 houses in use for officer ranks and 12 are vacant. Some 62 properties are locked up and decommissioned. I believe that these houses should be immediately refurbished if necessary and put back into use. Not only would this assist in reducing the waiting list for houses but it would bring soldiers closer to their place of work. I would also argue that there is an urgent need to provide suitable married quarters for mid-ranking officers within close proximity to each military installation, given the frequency of movement and transfer of these officers and the short notice given when they are transferred.
I wish to discuss the issue of the Border. I am becoming more concerned as to where we are going with Brexit negotiations. I am now convinced that the British Government has no interest whatsoever in putting a border in place on the northern side of the Border. This will put the gun to the head of the European Union to protect the Single Market. I believe that the Taoiseach expressed concern in his comments yesterday, although I was not here to hear them. I am aware of the fact that the Government cannot set out what contingency plans it has in place, but it is time that we started to talk openly about the likelihood that the British will not put a border in place. That puts the EU in the position where it has to manage the Single Market.
Almost a year ago, we promised our city and county councillors a slight increase in their income. I will be meeting a number of those councillors this evening. That increase in income has not occurred. I am putting the Leader on notice that I will bring this back to the House next week because I think these people work extremely hard. I was in Brussels for the last two dates and councillors were there from all over Ireland to address different issues. To think that some of these people struggle to survive is not good enough. I know the Leader is committed to getting some action, so I would like to see action and we will talk about this next week.