Belfast Telegraph

Homelessness charity attacks politicians over anti-eviction law

Two hundred families could have been saved from homelessness this year if politicians had backed an anti-eviction law, a leading charity has claimed.

Focus Ireland said the Fine Gael minority Government and Fianna Fail refused to support a wider ban on the forced removal of tenants from properties being repossessed or sold by landlords.

The charity hit out as Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy held a crisis summit in the Custom House in Dublin under the shadow of the worst homelessness figures in living memory.

Council chiefs have been asked for immediate responses to the record 8,160 people, including almost 3,000 children, forced into emergency accommodation like hotels, hostels, B&Bs and so-called family hubs.

That does not include the on-average 200 people thought to be sleeping rough in Dublin every night, and another 70 in the Merchants Quay night cafe.

There have also been several deaths of homeless people in the last fortnight.

Focus Ireland's advocacy manager Roughan Mac Namara said they appealed last December for the Government to ban evictions from all buy-to-let properties being sold or repossessed. Fianna Fail abstained in a vote on the legislation.

"This would have eased this crisis and allowed considerable headway to be made on this issue as well as preventing these families from ever experiencing the trauma of losing their home and becoming homeless," Mr Mac Namara said.

"This is a question of ideology, not resources, as by not supporting this amendment last year both of the main parties in the State are putting property rights ahead of the rights of tenants."

A number of homelessness and housing charities have made repeated calls for the Government to tax empty homes and building land to force more houses on to the market.

Fianna Fail, which this week proposed tax cuts for builders to speed up housing projects, said the approach of successive governments was a national scandal, spin, bluster and a total failure of policy.

Party leader Micheal Martin said: " There is no doubt that this is a complex issue, but at its core the solution is very simple.

"We need to build significantly more houses and apartments, and quickly."

Meanwhile, Tony Geoghegan, chief executive of Merchants Quay Ireland and a government adviser on drugs and alcohol strategy, said it appears that drug addicts or homeless people living and dying on the streets has been accepted.

Some 6,539 people used its homeless and addiction services and 186 people went through its detox programme, half of whom were homeless.

Mr Geoghegan warned about a hierarchy for homeless people, with those who are single, using drugs and sleeping rough pushed to the bottom of the pile.

"The fact of the matter is, we have accepted that," he said.

"It seems now almost that people dying on the street and people being on the street is somehow just passe."

Mr Murphy has insisted that money is not an issue for solutions to the homelessness crisis and has called on council chiefs to come up with immediate action that can be taken in their areas to combat it.

Protests were held outside the Custom House as the meeting opened.

Former lord mayor Christy Burke and two others chained themselves to the railings while Solidarity TDs demonstrated over the lack of funding to solve the crisis and branded it the "elephant in the room".

Paul Murphy TD said: " Unfortunately, it looks like the summit will amount to only a fig leaf to cover up the Government's inaction."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also attended the summit and said 80 people or families are being found new homes every working day, but more needed to be done.

He also said information from local authorities suggested the true number of vacant properties in the state was not as high as the 183,000 recorded in last year's census.

Mr Varadkar said homeowners in care, properties in probate and other vacancy reasons had to be taken into account.

"There's no quick fix to this," he said.

"There's no single solution that's going to work. It's going to require a whole range of solutions."

Sinn Fein housing spokesman Eoin O'Broin called on the minister to reconsider the Government's refusal to support the ban on evictions.

"We know at the crux of this issue is the lack of supply and while the pace of delivery of homes needs to increase, the Government must urgently adopt measures to keep people in their homes," he said.

The Green Party called on the Government to declare the crisis a national emergency and broaden compulsory purchase powers.

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