My hands are tied on housing crisis: Alan Kelly

Caretaker Labour minister Alan Kelly has claimed the Constitution “repeatedly blocked” him from implementing solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis.

Speaking at a forum for housing and homelessness, the acting Environment Minister said the Constitution had created “blockages” and needs to be reviewed to tackle the wider housing problem.

Charity representatives and politicians attending the meeting yesterday called for the establishment of a number of Oireachtas working groups to deal with the issue of homelessness immediately so that any incoming government would have some agreed structure to work from.

Another 83 families became homeless last month according to the latest Focus Ireland statistics which show 208 families, including 363 children, became homeless in the first two months of 2016. This compares to 739 families who became homeless in the whole of last year.

Mr Kelly told the forum: “In many instances when trying to solve this problem I was not hampered by political or financial obstacles.

“I didn’t really have issues at a political level when dealing with housing and homelessness; I didn’t really have issues when it came to finance. I believe in some cases we have an issue in relation to the Constitution which creates some blockages.”

He said difficulties arose over the vacant site levy and in providing protection to tenants facing eviction because the landlord was selling a property along with “many many other issues” because of the rights provided under the Constitution.

“I was repeatedly blocked from making provisions in what I believe was the common good.” He cited the strength of Article 43 of the Constitution which provides property rights to citizens.

“I believe in property rights, but I also believe in the common good,” he said.

During the meeting held in the Custom House yesterday, Focus Ireland director of advocacy, Mike Allen asked if the minister could get a consensus in the Dáil to set up three working groups to look at homeless and housing issues so that the incoming government would have something to work on.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy said she also favoured the establishment of working groups.

She said a lot of good work is being done by different groups but a “co-ordinating element” is now needed.

Mr Kelly agreed: “In relation to political consensus, I have no issue with that, I will sit down with anyone.

“I agree with the idea of a Minister for Housing, conditionally. It is pointless having a minister for housing unless they have the power.”

He said elements of the departments of finance and social protection would have to be taken into any new ministry for housing. Mr Kelly said the housing crisis does not just come down to government resources.

He said: “There is a history to how we got to this point and while blame may be justified, blame alone will not house a single person — constructive ideas might.

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