Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald accepted that the referring of 12 homeless families to Garda stations on Tuesday night was “completely unacceptable”.
Ms Fitzgerald came under fire from across the Dáil floor during leaders’ questions over the situation which resulted from a lack of emergency hotel accommodation for the families, some of whom were forced to sleep rough as a result.
Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said that promises made by Taoiseach Enda Kenny two years ago that no family would be left stranded by local authorities have been broken.
“The situation is bad enough but, unfortunately, Tuesday has brought an extremely worrying turning point. Hundreds of phonecalls were made by Focus Ireland to bed and breakfast accommodations and to hotels for the families on Tuesday night,” he said.
“For them, however, there was no room at the inn. Some of the families ended up sleeping rough that night. Mike Allen of Focus Ireland has said that what happened on Tuesday is unprecedented and shocking.”
The Dáil heard that there are 61,600 households that qualify for social housing and one in five of those have been on the list for five years, there are more than 60,000 people in severe mortgage distress.
Nationwide, there are 7,472 homeless people and this number has now increased 32% since March 2016.
“One in three of those who are homeless are children. There are 12,056 families, including 2,563 children, in emergency hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation. In Dublin alone there are some 138 people who sleep rough,” said Mr Cowen.
In response, Mrs Fitzgerald said: “What happened on Tuesday night is completely unacceptable. The demand for accommodation experienced on Tuesday night was exceptional. It was out of the ordinary in comparison with the situation in 2017 to date.”
She said Dublin City Council has more than doubled the volume of emergency contingency capacity that is available to any family that may present in an emergency situation.
“Clearly, Garda stations are not suitable places for families to be directed to in any circumstances. There is now additional emergency contingency accommodation for families, which includes large units which can accommodate families of up to six persons. Last night, only one of these new additional contingency units was needed to accommodate a family,” she added.
Sinn Féin’s Eoin O’Broin said governments should be judged by how they treat the most vulnerable in society.
“After six years in office, Enda Kenny’s record speaks for itself. According to the CSO, in 2011 there were 641 homeless children but, last month, 2,563 children slept in emergency accommodation funded by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. That is a 300% increase,” he said.
“There are 183,000 vacant homes across the State, 40,000 in Dublin alone. That is 24 vacant homes for every single adult and child in emergency accommodation. That is Enda Kenny’s legacy,” he added.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the events of Tuesday night surely must shock us all. “There is no amount of discussion on housing policy that could inure us to the real impact of families in this country being required to sleep either in Garda stations or in public parks.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved