'Social conscience' needed on homelessness, warn Fine Gael TDs

The government's strategy on homelessness has been criticised by its own Fine Gael TDs after recent controversial remarks by the Taoiseach and the Housing Minister comparing the problem here to other countries.

Fine Gael TDs last night warned Minister Eoghan Murphy that the government should steer clear of statistics and reports when addressing homelessness and focus on caring for people.

Dublin Bay South TD Kate O'Connell told her constituency colleague Mr Murphy that the government needed to have “a social conscience” and that one homeless person was too many.

Ms O'Connell, along with Kildare's Bernard Durkan and Dun Laoghaire's Maria Bailey were among those who took issue, saying the government's message had been wrong.

The criticism comes after the Taoiseach and Mr Murphy both said Ireland had a low rate of homelessness compared to other countries. This has drawn widespread criticism from homeless charities as well as politicians.

The latest figures show that 8,374 people accessed emergency accommodation in September and more than 3,100 of these were children.

Fine Gael TDs told the weekly party meeting that housing was the “biggest issue” in the Dail and that quicker progress was needed responding to the crisis.

Minister Murphy also agreed at the party meeting to consider a proposal from Louth Fergus O'Dowd. He outlined how Louth had issued a compulsory purchase order for 60 derelict sites to be used for housing and that this was a model that should be used by all councils. Census figures provided at the meeting show that 1,544 boarded up units were recorded last year while another 10,056 were deemed vacant for a long time. The minister agreed to look at advising all local authorities to use CPOs for housing purposes.

Meanwhile, Minister Murphy yesterday also defended recent comments by the Taoiseach where Leo Varadkar said homelessness in Ireland was low by international standards.

He denied a claim by Solidarity TD Mick Barry at a committee that there was “a coordinated campaign” by ministers to “normalise homelessness.”

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin also complained about the poor levels of social housing building after new figures revealed three local authorities in Dublin have not built even one unit so far this year. Mr Martin said the construction of social housing was at a “snail’s pace” as the details also showed that just 1,000 homes nationwide were constructed since last year. Mr Varadkar said 2,000 were built since last year.

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