'No evidence' that families 'game the system' by pretending to be homeless in Dublin

By Political Correspondent Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

The local authority suffering the worst homelessness levels in Ireland has insisted there is "no evidence" whatsoever to support the outgoing Government Housing Agency chair Conor Skehan's deeply controversial claim some families "game the system" and jump social housing queues by pretending to be homeless.

In a key intervention tonight, Dublin City Council's housing and community services unit outright rejected Mr Skehan's claims - despite Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and the Department of Housing failing to do so.

In an interview with the Irish Times today, Mr Skehan said while the homelessness crisis is severe, some families are trying to "game the system" by registering as homeless in order to jump social housing queues.

Conor Skehan. Photo: Maxwell Photography.

Claiming the situation is distorting the scale of the scandal, Mr Skehan said: "We unwittingly created a problem by prioritising self-declared homelessness above all other types of housing need, which created a distortion in the waiting list system and may have encouraged people to game the system."

However, in a statement on Tuesday night, Dublin City Council's housing and community services unit said there is no evidence whatsoever to support Mr Skehan's views.

"There is no evidence to support the assertion homeless persons are 'gaming the system'. The issue is very complex with unique and often tragic individual situations. Applicants cannot 'declare' themselves homeless, they must be assessed and accepted as homeless by the council," the statement read.

The council's key intervention came as Mr Murphy and the Department of Housing failed to reject Mr Skehan's claims amid outrage from opposition parties and advocacy groups.

Mr Murphy did not respond to an Irish Examiner query sent directly to him on whether he would stand by Mr Skehan's remarks, while asked the same question a Department spokesperson failed to address the specific question in any way, simply saying:

"Homelessness is a highly complex issue. The Department will continue to work with all stakeholders in order to provide the appropriate supports and accommodation to those who need them."

Mr Skehan's claim some families in need are pretending to be homeless to "game the system" provoked outrage from opposition parties and homeless groups, with Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Barry Cowen saying the remarks were "crude" and risk "normalising" the homelessness crisis, while Sinn Féin counterpart Eoin Ó Broin said the remarks are "insulting" to families and must be rejected by Government.

A series of advocacy groups - including Focus Ireland chief Mike Allen, the Fr Peter McVerry Trust and Niamh Randall of the Simon Community - also lambasted the claim, saying it is not based on any facts or evidence and is an attempt to undermine criticism over the Government's homelessness track record.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley has warned the Government it must provide proof it is solving the dual homelessness and health crises this year before any potential extension of the confidence and supply deal can be discussed.

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