Thursday, 13 June 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna (Atógáil) - Commencement Matters (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and thank him for appearing in the House, although I acknowledge he is not the Minister of State with responsibility for the matter. I ask that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government consider the establishment of a statutory independent inspectorate for emergency housing accommodation. That is not something unique or special I have thought up. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. Yesterday morning, representatives of Focus Ireland, the Mercy Law Resource Centre, the National Children's Alliance and the Ombudsman for Children addressed us. Central to all their presentations was the desire and need for statutory legislation to provide for an independent inspectorate for what we call emergency accommodation or family hubs. It is reasonable and fair.
I will not reiterate everything stated at the meeting because it has been published on the Oireachtas website. We heard harrowing personal stories of families and children. The Minister of State will be aware that Dr. Niall Muldoon is the Ombudsman for Children. He has two principle statutory functions, namely, to promote the rights and welfare of those under 18 years of age and to examine and investigate complaints made by or on behalf of children about the administration or actions of public bodies, schools and voluntary organisations in respect of the adverse effect there may be on children. In his statement to the committee, he strongly argued for a statutory independent review and inspectorate for family hubs and emergency accommodation. I have always taken a keen interest in the rights and welfare of children and their experiences interfacing with homelessness agencies, and I will continue to do so. It is right, proper and reasonable for the State to have an independent inspectorate to administer such matters.
The No Place Like Home document, drafted by the ombudsman, gives an account of children's personal experiences through graphics, art, drawings and script. The other witnesses before the committee echoed the need for some sort of independent inspectorate, because there are major issues. I would like to hear the Government's proposals. Is it the intention to give the matter serious consideration? As I said, the agencies I outlined, all of which are involved in the welfare and protection of children, and especially the Ombudsman for Children, have made the call. I would like the Government to give serious consideration to the proposal and to indicate a timeframe to give it the necessary legal and statutory effect.
I apologise for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on whose behalf I am taking the question. The Minister and his Department consider all the issues raised in the Seanad.
Statutory responsibility for the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless households rests with individual housing authorities. The responsibility of housing authorities includes that of ensuring that contracted services are delivered in a professional manner, in line with any service level agreement in place. Supporting individuals and families experiencing homelessness is a priority for the Government. To promote high standards of service delivery, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, has developed a national quality standards framework on behalf of the Department to ensure a more consistent approach in how local authorities and service providers respond to the needs of those experiencing homelessness, about which the Senator asked. The objective of the framework is to ensure that services for people experiencing hornlessness are well organised, co-ordinated, integrated and focused on moving people out of homelessness, as quickly as possible, into long-term sustainable housing, which we all want. This will be done by promoting safe and effective service provision to households experiencing homelessness, supporting the objectives of the national homelessness policy and establishing consistency in how households experiencing homelessness are responded to in different regions and models of service delivery, which addresses another of the Senator's points. The framework was implemented on a phased basis in Dublin, with site visits commencing in February this year. The experience gained from the recent completion of the roll-out in Dublin and the commencement of site visits has allowed the DRHE to evaluate how the framework should be implemented nationally and to advise the Department accordingly. Last month, the Department wrote to all local authorities to instruct them on the process for the implementation of the framework on a nationwide basis over 12 months, commencing on 1 July 2019. Upon completion of the implementation phase, local authorities will commence site visits to ensure compliance with the framework.Management of these site visits will be a matter for each of the local authorities. The implementation of the national quality standards framework will ensure the State provides safe and effective services to households experiencing homelessness. It will ensure that services are delivered consistently across all regions of the State, with a focus on ensuring that households experiencing homelessness are enabled to access and sustain housing with appropriate levels of support. The implementation of the framework will also promote stronger governance and monitoring of third party delivery through the integration of the standards contained in the framework. While the Department has no plans at present to introduce an alternative inspection regime the implementation of the framework will be kept under ongoing review by the Department.
I thank the Minister of State for the report but it is exceptionally disappointing. The Minister of State confirmed to me that the Government has no intention of bringing in an independent inspector to monitor vulnerable children and their welfare in these State hubs. I have in my hand the written submission of Dr. Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, from yesterday's committee meeting in which he clearly sets out the rationale and the reasoning for it. Dr. Muldoon was very complimentary of the Minister and said he has an ongoing, positive working relationship with him and that he plans to meet him in the next few weeks. It is, however, disappointing that we are here today despite Focus Ireland, the Mercy Family Law Centre, the National Children's Alliance and now Dr. Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, all calling specifically for an independent inspectorate of State run, administered, backed and supported hubs. One has to ask why the Minister is running away from an independent inspectorate. I have not even discussed direct and indirect provision. I am only referring to hubs the Government put in place as a substitute to ending the scandal of housing people in bed and breakfast accommodation, which continues despite it being two years ago since-----
Senator Boyhan said Dr. Muldoon will be meeting the Minister. It is appropriate that the Minister consider proposals put forward at an Oireachtas committee. I am not a Minister in the Department so it is not appropriate for me to announce something the Minister probably has not had sight of, in the context of the committee proceedings yesterday. Considering what Senator Boyhan already said in regard to how Dr. Muldoon feels about the Minister, and the Minister's dealings in this regard, it would be appropriate to listen to what the Minister with responsibility has to say, rather than getting a bit heated here today.
At the outset I apologised for the Minister's unavailability but if the Senator communicates directly with him on what was said at the committee yesterday - Dr. Muldoon will do that also - then I am sure it will be considered. The Senator has said that I have in some way rubbished the suggestion but I have not. I am acting on behalf of the Minister from a different Department and it should be taken in that context.