Homeless children ‘are treated like second-class citizens’

Lorraine Clifford-Lee: Fianna Fáil senator urged action.

Homeless children being forced to live out of hotels are being treated like “second-class citizens”, it was claimed yesterday, as the Government, in principle, accepted opposition recommendations on the housing crisis.

Fianna Fáil also managed to pass a separate bill in the Dail yesterday removing powers from the justice minister on deciding who gets parole.

The two Fianna Fáil measures in both Houses were accepted by the Government and are another sign of how business in the Oireachtas has changed since the election.

In the Seanad, Fianna Fáil senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee called for urgent action to be taken over the number of children living in emergency hotel accommodation. The party called for an emergency building programme.

Ms Clifford-Lee backed the party motion to increase rent support to a level that ensures nobody is made homeless by unaffordable accommodation costs.

Senator David Norris said homeless children in hotels were being treated as “second-class” citizens. They had no play areas and were not permitted to enter and exit hotels at the main door, he said.

Senator Alice Mary Higgins warned of concerns over tenants renting accommodation owned by vulture funds, and fears of companies withdrawing suddenly from the market.

Senator Jennifer Murnane O’Connor said no women’s refuge existed in her home county of Carlow, claiming a new €200m fund for local authorities should guarantee such shelters.

Damien English, the junior housing minister, said the Government was accepting Fianna Fáil’s motion.

He said the Government was open to some of the proposals, ahead of deciding on an action plan for housing over the next month. “We have a couple of weeks ahead now where we can tease through all these ideas,” he said.

In the Dáil, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald accepted a Fianna Fáil bill removing the power of politicians to grant or refuse parole for prisoners.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan launched the legislation to set up a parole board on a statutory basis. The board at present advises a minister on whether a prisoner should or should not get parole. “The system of parole is very unsatisfactory because it is not based in statute and is ultimately controlled by a politician,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

“It is important to have in place an independent, transparent, and statutory-based scheme that sets out how and when a person is granted parole, rather than leaving this decision to the discretion of a politician who may be swayed by factors outside of what is necessary for the good of society and the rehabilitation of the prisoner.”

Ms Fitzgerald said it had been the intention of this and previous governments to establish the parole board on a statutory footing. Due to constitutional restrictions, she said further work is needed to clarify whether the power to grant parole can be handed over completely to a board.

There are also outstanding issues around minimum sentencing, specifically related to life sentences, which needs to be resolved if the proposals could be accepted, the Dáil was told. “There are a number of issues in this bill which will need fuller consideration at a later stage,” she said.

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