Opinion Editorial

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Editorial: 'Our homeless deserve better than jaded 'no quick fix' line'

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. Photo: Collins
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. Photo: Collins


If happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy may not be in the best of form just now.

This week, the homelessness figures for January were released and we have a combined total of 9,987 people homeless and living in emergency accommodation. It is a rise of 234 people from December.

Mr Murphy feels this is "very disappointing".

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We don't like to see a minister down in the mouth, but however glum or out of sorts he may feel, it is nothing compared to the desolation and abandon of those without a roof over their heads.

Mr Murphy is not solely to blame. The housing emergency speaks to decades of failure. With the population increasing and demand soaring, supply needed to grow apace. The opposite was the case. On this Government's watch, things have become worse. Steps are being taken but they are too slow to bridge the gap.

The European Commission has noted how accelerating rents, too little construction and a lack of affordable and social housing is making homelessness worse.

And there is the phenomenon of the hidden homeless - those earning too little to rent or buy, but yet failing to qualify for assistance.

According to the commission, the shortage of housing has led to a 23.4pc rent increase since 2015, the highest in the EU.

So we were not waiting on an emotional response from the minister or Government, but a practical one. Last year, Mr Murphy was locked in a battle with local councils after ordering them to focus "on putting a plan" together to build new homes, rather than "criticising [him] for demanding that they do more".

Most of us are long past caring about the process. We need to see evidence of real intent to meet the scale of want. Yesterday the secretary general of the Housing Department, John McCarthy, told the Public Accounts Committee that one in four homes constructed last year was social housing.

The new-build figure was up 85pc on 2017, he added.

But when challenged by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who asked for the actual new-build figures, she was told they were 626 in 2017, and 1,200 in 2018.

She accused the Department of "spin" due to "the extent of the housing lists and the challenge ahead of us". Mr McCarthy rejected this, but others might disagree.

In any event, it is unseemly to focus on mere numbers. We are talking about a human tragedy on our doorstep. They say a home is the place you will be missed when you are not there.

In our country, it seems there are 10,000 people "not there", and it seems their absence is not being missed.

Things can hardly improve unless we show the resolution to meet today's urgent problems with the strength required.

The homeless deserve a better response than the Government's jaded line that there's no quick fix.

Irish Independent

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