Monday 25 March 2019

Simon Harris 'upset' to see photos of children sleeping in garda station

Children sleep in a Dublin Garda station (Handout image)
Children sleep in a Dublin Garda station (Handout image)
Stock picture

Rachel Farrell and Kathy Armstrong

Health Minister Simon Harris was "upset" to see photos of young children sleeping in a garda station as their family was unable to secure emergency accommodation.

Photos of Margaret Cash's young sons sleeping on chairs emerged in Tallaght Garda Station on Wednesday night have sparked outrage and Minister Harris has vowed that tackling the social housing shortage is the government's priority.

RTE News reports that the Fine Gael representative said this afternoon in Arklow: "I don’t think there was anyone in the country who wasn’t upset to see those scenes in Tallaght Garda station.

"For any mother to feel that she needs to go to a Garda station with her own children to seek emergency provision is obviously something that isn’t right.

Minister for Health Simon Harris at the Publication of the Slaintecare Implementation Strategy
Photo Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Health Simon Harris at the Publication of the Slaintecare Implementation Strategy Photo Gareth Chaney Collins

"I don’t think anyone could suggest that it is in any way right. But the Government’s priority is on working to address the social housing shortage in this country."

He said that Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is doing his best to help alleviate the crisis and he said that the Government plans for social housing supply to soar to 50,000 by 2021.

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Homelessness champion: Fr Peter McVerry. Photo: Frank McGrath

This comes after campaigner Fr Peter McVerry warned that we could have an "avalanche of homelessness" if we don't act fast.

"The fact is, families sleeping in garda stations is a relatively frequent event these days. The situation has been going on for months," Fr McVerry told Miriam O'Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One.

"The majority of people who are presenting as homeless are coming from the private rented sector. They're being evicted from the private rental sector either because the rent has gone to a level which they are no longer able to afford, or the landlord says they're selling the house, or the landlord says they want to do a major renovation.

"Until we tackle the flow of families going into homelessness from the private rental sector, we’re trying to empty the mass water with the tap still turned on."

When asked if the papal visit will have an impact on homeless families in the city, Fr McVerry said he believes the arrival of Pope Francis may only be a "test run" for what's to come.

"It's not the pope's fault, it's the government- they're responsible for dealing with this crisis. I think we could have an avalanche of homelessness coming down the road and maybe the pope’s visit is just a test run for what’s going to happen in the next year or two," he said.

"It's gotten much worse than ever. I remember about 6 years ago, I predicted a tsunami of homelessness. At that stage I was thinking of 5,000 people being homeless, and I was told this is ridiculous, you’re fear mongering, you’re exaggerating the problem. 

"Today we have 10,000 people officially homeless. This problem is just getting worse and worse, it is absolutely beyond crisis at this stage and it's out of control, the government don't know what to do." 

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said that garda stations are "wholly unsuitable" sleeping areas for families and children who present themselves as homeless.

GRA spokesperson John O’Keefe said their members were "horrified" to hear that a mother and her six children slept in Tallaght Garda Station last night amid the homelessness crisis.

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The GRA’s spokesman John O’Keeffe

Images of 28-year-old Margaret Cash and her six children sleeping on chairs in the garda station made headlines yesterday after they failed to secure accommodation for the night. 

Mr O’Keefe said that gardai have to "go on instinct" when a homeless person presents themselves to a garda station.

"Gardai have no training in how to deal with homeless situations naturally enough, they’re there to police,” he said on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

"There’s another discussion that they don’t have training in what they’re supposed to be doing, let alone looking after the homeless people, so they have to go on instinct. 

"They have to do exactly what you or I would and do the best they can, to ring the lines, to try get them accommodation, but they cannot throw these people out on the street."

Mr O’Keefe added that while garda stations are mostly safe places, they can turn "hostile" during the night, making them unsuitable for young families.

"While garda stations may appear relatively benign during the day, at night they can turn into places that become populated with rowdy, drunk and sometimes violent detainees and the atmosphere can turn hostile at any moment," he said.

"Clearly this is a most unsuitable climate for young children already suffering the horror of homelessness.

"You've got prisoners and detainees coming in and out, you’ve got families there, you’ve got children there. They do the best they can with limited and sometimes no resources."

Mr O’Keefe praised gardai at Tallaght Garda Station for the efforts in the circumstances given.

“The gardai in Tallaght did everything they could. They tried all those emergency lines that you would, including local hotels the other night, but no accommodation could be found, so they had to be accommodated as best they could the other night,” O’Keefe said.

“We understand the gardai bought a hot breakfast for the family in the morning, so I’d like to commend the garda personnel in Tallaght for their caring actions in such circumstances.”

The GRA’s main concern is the safety of the people in the stations, O’Keefe added, but admitted they are unable to “get involved” with homelessness in the same way charities and organisations can.

“Our concern is that they may be unsafe in some regards at night because of the issues I've outlined earlier. We can’t get involved in the homeless crisis in the way other agencies can. 

“What we can say is, if homeless people come to us we will do our best to find accommodation but of course we are not the agency to do that. Our members and families are not naïve to the homeless crisis in this country.”

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