Homes crisis causing 'serious distress'
Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry says he believes more than half a million people are living in a "housing situation causing them serious distress".
Speaking at the Women in Media conference in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, Fr McVerry said the housing crisis affects far more than the 10,000 people in emergency accommodation.
Those in "distress" include people "living in crowded accommodation, poor quality rented accommodation, and people living in good quality rented accommodation but worried about their rents".
Fr McVerry was taking part in a panel discussion on the housing crisis which also featured Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development Damien English, journalist Justine McCarthy and Labour spokesperson on housing Jan O'Sullivan.
Fr McVerry said the current crisis came about as successive governments stopped building social housing stock. Building more social housing units needs to be a priority, he said.
"We've got to see investment in council housing as just as important as investment in broadband or investment in transport or investment in motorways. Investment in council housing is the only solution for this housing crisis," he said.
Fr McVerry warned the Government is heading into "catastrophe", saying some 40,000 mortgages are in arrears, with 28,000 of them owner-occupied.
If further housing repossessions occurred, this country "could not cope", he said, and we would be treated to the sight of families staying "in garda stations, in parks and streets".
He also called for more action to be taken to address empty houses sighted throughout the country, with greater use of Compulsory Purchase Orders. Labour's Jan O'Sullivan told the conference that when she was junior minister for housing, "under the Troika, we weren't allowed to build houses".
The only thing they could do at the time was restore social housing units and get them back in use. "The reality is these things take time," she said.
Ms O'Sullivan told the conference a bill is currently working its way through the houses of the Oireachtas which aims to give people living in rented homes greater rights.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, broadcasters Miriam O'Callaghan, Katie Hannon (who won the Mary Cummins Award for outstanding achievement in journalism last night)and Keelin Shanley, MEP Mairead McGuinness and event sponsor's Vodafone's CEO Anne O'Leary were among those who featured in the discussions over the weekend.