By Juno McEnroe and Evelyn Ring
Despite claims homelessness is “beyond crisis” and that the Government has lost control, Fianna Fáil is refusing to withdraw support for Fine Gael and says a snap election “will not house another person”.
Campaigner Fr Peter McVerry is warning that an “avalanche of homelessness” is coming, following uproar over a mother and six of her children sleeping for a night in a Garda station.
Fianna Fáil has stopped short of demanding Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy return from holidays to address the crisis, saying that “people are entitled to have a break”.
An emergency meeting has instead been sought by the party’s housing spokesman, Darragh O’Brien, with Mr Murphy in a bid to set up a special taskforce on child homelessness. This would examine emergency solutions and prevent a repeat of the likes of Margaret Cash and her children who slept on chairs at Tallaght Garda Station, says Mr O’Brien.
“It’s not a silver bullet, but in a modern republic we shouldn’t have people sleeping in Garda stations,” he said.
Homelessness is now “out of control”, according to Fr McVerry. “I think we could have a catastrophe coming down the road,” he said, adding that five years ago there was no such thing as a family becoming homeless.
“We really have to address that problem but it should be illegal to evict people into homelessness,” he said.
Fr McVerry spoke about Pope Francis’ visit which could worsen homelessness because of pressure on hotels and B&Bs to accommodate visitors. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive confirmed contingency plans are in place for the Pope’s visit, which includes providing accommodation outside Dublin.
Fr McVerry believes the Pope’s visit will be a “test run” for what is coming down the road.
“I think we could have a catastrophe coming down the road,” he said.
Tens of thousands of mortgages are in arrears and there is pressure on banks to get them off their books, he said, adding:
“That could create an avalanche of homelessness which would simply swamp us.
Focus Ireland communications manager Roughan MacNamara said three families a day are becoming homeless.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on Fianna Fáil to “pull the plug” on its support for the Fine Gael minority government.
“If we lived in a rational political environment what would happen now is Fianna Fáil, the party keeping Fine Gael in government, would simply put their foot down, draw the line and force an election,” she said.
Despite the outcry, Fianna Fáil won’t collapse the Government, said Mr O’Brien.
“We are focused on solutions,” he said. “I’m not sure an election will house another person.”
However, Mr O’Brien refused to demand the housing minister return from holidays, adding that “people are entitled to have a break”.
He said homeless people must not be moved out of B&Bs or hotels for the Pope’s visit. He said the Government needs to commit to a new deadline on ending the use of such accommodation for homeless families.
Health Minister Simon Harris defended the Government response, saying the “entire country felt it was wrong to see” Ms Cash and her children sleep in a Garda station.
“The Government and I felt that too,” he said. “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.”
Mr Murphy’s office said he is in daily contact with his department and the Dublin Homeless Executive in the lead-up to the Pope’s visit.