Opinion: Housing and Homelessness - Evan Duffy

It is apparent to people across the island that the Irish government’s plans to 'combat homelessness' are just not working. Watching the crisis unravel has been like watching a car crash in slow motion, with policies and attempts only getting worse.

In January of this year, the number of those homeless reached over 7,000 for the first time ever, with a broken system as the root cause of the problem. Sadly, Ireland does not have a sufficient public housing system to meet the needs of society. The existing services seem only to focus on the basic and urgent needs through a provision of short-term accommodation and in fact, not permanent housing. It is simply not enough. High housing prices and rent are the greatest dangers to our social and economic wellbeing and the Government’s incompetence at dealing with these issues should allow for change to occur. By now, we have seen that so-called ‘Leo-nomics’ have been unsuccessful at dealing with many issues in Irish society.

Only last month, the new Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy had to admit that the target of removing all families from emergency accommodation by July, set by his predecessor Simon Coveney, would not be met. In my opinion, this would only serve to strengthen the distrust felt by many families and citizens. To make matters worse, experts have warned that the problems with housing are to escalate over the next five years. I find it appalling and sickening that around 200,000 homes lay vacant in Ireland while thousands of citizens are homeless or sleeping rough.

The Fine Gael Minority Government’s failure with the help-to-buy scheme for first time buyers and reluctance to increase taxes for landlords of vacant houses should only vent further anger from the public. Together, we should take the opportunity to mobilise with those caught up in the uncertainty alongside numerous charities, who are also putting further pressure on the new Government. The likes of Leo Varadkar’s uninspiring leadership and Minister Murphy’s uncertain policies should be taken advantage of and be used to bring about a change that is to be promising and for the many.

While we should welcome Mr. Murphy’s past decision to grant extra funding of around €10 Million to alternatives other than emergency accommodation with the likes of renovated buildings, it is once again not enough. And with the added uncertainty of Brexit’s impact in Ireland, it will only serve to further the disaster even more. Personally, I believe that the Government should also allow for extra funding for charities such as Barnardos and the Simon Community who seem to have a better sense on how to deal with the issues Ireland is facing. Barnardos strongly believe the Government should “redouble their efforts” and prioritise construction of social housing, while the Simon Community agrees with the “right to housing.” Housing is certainly a right, and Fine Gael  needs to recognise this in law.

Unfortunately, no matter what services are implemented, many challenges such as mental health and substance abuse mean that a small portion of the population are destined to be homeless. However, this does not cause or excuse a huge increase in those sleeping rough since Ireland’s economic crisis. We should organise on a local and certainly national scale to ensure that there is necessary support in health, education and counselling to prevent further turmoil.

Evan Duffy, Sinn Féin Republican Youth, Derry

Ógra Shinn Féin