New housing authority needed to tackle homeless crisis

A new Housing Authority is needed to tackle the escalating homelessness crisis in Ireland before the issue intensifies this winter, the opposition claims.

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen called for the quango to be set up for a tight three-year period as leading homeless prevention groups said they remain optimistic Government continues to see the emergency as a priority.

Speaking in the latest housing committee meeting on Thursday, the opposition frontbench TD said despite repeated focus on the issue since 2014 little progress is being made to reduce the number of people at risk of losing their homes.

As such, he said the Fine Gael-led Government must now “seriously consider in this emergency” creating a new independent group specifically tasked with ensuring advocating funding and resources improvements.

“That authority must look at the methods of planning and funding models relating to local authorities,” said Mr Cowen. “Its terms of reference could relate to planning for a window, whether a two-year or three-year period, to allow this matter to be dealt with and to allow such an authority to do what we want it to do, namely, get on with the job of driving the development, construction and provision of residential units to deal with this crisis.”

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen
Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen

In a statement to the Irish Examiner yesterday, Mr Cowen — whose party has greater influence than others in opposition due to its ‘confidence and supply’ power deal with Fine Gael —said he is convinced the new group is needed to “cut through administrative barriers” in the system.

The development is likely to place further pressure on Housing Minister Simon Coveney, who courted controversy for suggesting resolving the “emergency” issue may need to wait until after the Dáil summer break.

Mr Coveney made the remark during Thursday’s housing committee, arguing that the initial aim to put plans in place to address the crisis within 100 days of the new Government are not possible as this date falls during the August break.

While the remarks provoked anger from some groups yesterday, a number of homeless prevention charities said they remain confident Government and Mr Coveney are genuinely attempting to resolve the issue and that key reforms are not being delayed until the plans are published.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney
Housing Minister Simon Coveney

Focus Ireland director of advocacy Mike Allen said that, “while we wished he phrased it better”, his group believes that Mr Coveney wants to make sure all plans can be implemented immediately when published and that there is little point in releasing them while the Dáil is not in session.

A spokesperson for the Peter McVerry Trust added it is “a fair point” when asked if the Dáil should return from its summer break early to ensure the crisis is addressed sooner.


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