independent

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Charities say 'red-line' issue needs new Minister for Housing

Mike Allen: Cabinet role would just be ‘window dressing'. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Mike Allen: Cabinet role would just be ‘window dressing'. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

Barry Lennon and Ciara Treacy

The next Government will face pressure to create a new senior Minister for Housing after a number of homelessness charities demanded the housing crisis is tackled with a voice at Cabinet level.

Currently, Fianna Fáil supports such a role and Sinn Féin is understood to be considering the idea.

The Simon Community has also called for a minister at Cabinet level, saying the housing crisis needs to be a "red-line issue".

A spokesperson for the charity said an "additional voice at Cabinet table" is needed, after the Super Junior Housing Ministry brief was merged into the Environment Minister's during the last Dáil term.

"There are over 1,700 families without a home," said Niamh Randall, Simon Community spokeswoman.

"We're talking about real families here. This (a Cabinet Minister) is something that could have a real difference on homelessness.

"Government reaction to the housing crisis has been too slow to something that is the issue of the decade."

However, Focus Ireland's director of advocacy, Mike Allen, described the creation of the role of a Cabinet 'Minister for Housing' as "window dressing".

He insisted a dedicated team of civil servants - working solely on the issue of the housing crisis - was also needed to help tackle the crisis.

"We're not criticising the current team which looks after the issue," Mr Allen said.

"They are very professional at what they do but they also have to deal with a range of other issues alongside housing."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny met senior civil servants dealing with homelessness yesterday after speaking with Mr Allen on Friday.

Mr Allen was "pleased" with the talks with Mr Kenny, but said it would have been better had he met him "two or three years ago, when the issue was emerging".

"We know what the Taoiseach's plans are, they have been in Government for five years, and some are quite good but not adequate to the scale of the problem," he argued.

Mr Allen added he remained open to meeting other political parties on the issue as groups look to draw up a Programme for Government.

A statement from the Taoiseach said he remained "committed to relieving hardship for homeless families".

Meanwhile, Saint Vincent de Paul supported the idea of a 'Housing Minister' but said it was "secondary to the issue of homelessness".

"For us, housing provision has been the poor cousin for years," said the charity's head of social justice and policy, John Mark McCafferty.

"Housing has been the biggest failure of this Government," he said.

"We don't just need supports to the private rented sector, we need new houses to be built around the country."

Irish Independent

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