Sunday 20 January 2019

Homeless faces shame our nation 'once again'

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Stock image


Going from a property bubble to a homelessness and housing crisis, while enduring endless guff from the Government on great strides being made, it is pertinent to ask: why are 9,000 people still without a roof over their heads?

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has refused to guarantee that the number will be reduced by this time next year. He insists he has the resources to solve the problem - but won't provide a timeline. This matters.

Last Christmas, the headlines were about homeless people taking over Apollo House. There were soothing soundbites and calls to action - yet the crisis worsens.

With rents rising and an acute shortage of homes, clearly we need an urgent step change by the Government. The minister needs to deliver homes, either by building or buying more for social or affordable housing. The local authorities are not doing enough.

Is it not time for a national housing agency to engage with what ought to be a subject of national shame? Those who rent are finding themselves driven out by the soaring increases. Their tenancies are short term and they are expected to move on, but there is nowhere to go.

Homeless children are growing up in hotel rooms, so used to eating off the floor they do not know what it is to sit at a kitchen table. The sight of huddled human bundles sleeping in doorways in every city is a scandal.

With the average rent nationally at a record €1,056 and the number of homes being built by the Government falling hopelessly short of the level of need, we had better get comfortable with either stepping over them or doing something about it.

President Michael D Higgins used his annual Christmas message to highlight their plight. "This Christmas, once again, the burden of homelessness will overshadow the festive season for those deprived of a secure and permanent shelter," he said. His "once again" should trouble us.

A welcome triumph for common sense in court

The Supreme Court's dismissal of the challenge by a Romanian man, who claimed that his drink-driving prosecution should be stopped as he had not been supplied with a breath-alcohol statement in Irish, as well as in English, is an all-too-rare triumph for common sense.

It has implications for more than 1,000 drink-driving prosecutions that have been put on hold, so clarity on the issue is welcome. The rules around the use of the breathalyser and the intoxilyser, and how they are applied and interpreted, have been proved to be needlessly complex. Lawyers, gardaí and the courts have gone back and forth and loopholes and lacunae have been found to either make or break a case.

The case hinged on Sections 13 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 and whether or not a print-out is a "duly completed" document for use in evidence if it is not printed in both English and Irish. As Ms Justice O'Malley pointed out, the omission of the Irish part did not materially affect the substance of the document. She also noted that, under the 2010 Act, a "duly completed" breath-alcohol statement "shall, until the contrary is shown, be sufficient evidence in any proceedings".

While, strictly speaking, an Irish-language version should have been included, what really matters is that all of the required information was present.

That a form could be deemed invalid as it was not also printed in Irish should not be deemed more important than the evidence or information submitted in any case.

Irish Independent

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