Monday 19 February 2018

Housing chief defends comments claiming some in emergency accommodation are 'gaming the system'

Conor Skehan’s comments provoked an outcry. Photo: Maxwells
Conor Skehan’s comments provoked an outcry. Photo: Maxwells
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Outgoing chair of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan, has defended comments he made that some people might be “gaming the system” and declaring themselves as homeless in order to secure a council home.

In an appearance before the Dáil Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government this afternoon, he stood over his comments, saying that further investigation was needed to ensure that people were not finding ways to secure a council home quicker than those languishing on waiting lists.

Mr Skehan found himself embroiled in a major controversy earlier this year after suggesting that people were attempting to jump up the social-housing list by presenting as homeless.

Today, he said it was important that housing policy was based on evidence, and if there was a suggestion – as some local authorities had indicated – that people were attempting to fast-track the system, it warranted investigation.

Independent Senator Victor Boyhan said he found the comments to be “offensive”, and asked did he still stand over them.

“If you read what I actually said, I said there may be an issue and that that should be investigated,” Mr Skehan said.

“I have been extremely careful to say these may be happening and should be investigated.”

Mr Skehan also said he dealt in “facts” and not “views”, and said he had been informed through social media and contacts with a councillor that people were attempting to declare as homeless.

In one case, a family had refused the offer of a home because it was ten minutes by bus away from where they wanted to live, he alleged.

But committee members said while he was entitled to his opinion, there was “no evidence whatsoever” that it was occurring, even based on a social media posts and email correspondence.

People before Profit TD  Mick Barry accused Mr Skehan of pushing a “right wing” narrative which added “fuel to the fire of prejudice” against those in a “difficult position”.

Mr Skehan said his job was to ensure that the 85,000 on social housing waiting lists were treated “fairly”. He has been reappointed as chair of the agency, which advises the government on housing policy, on a temporary basis until a replacement is found.

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