Charities have accused politicians of caring more about their month-long Christmas break than the child homelessness crisis after just 19 of 158 TDs, and only three Government members, attended a two-hour debate on the scandal.
The Peter McVerry Trust, Simon Community, and Inner City Helping Homeless lashed out at the attendance rate, insisting TDs must care more about the nearly 3,200 children at risk of living on the streets.
Speaking at the start of the debate just a month after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was criticised for claiming Ireland’s homelessness rate is “low” by international standards, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said the Government is doing everything possible to help and that all rough sleepers will have a bed this Christmas.
Fianna Fáil TD Pat Casey said families are being turned into “economic refugees”.
Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster broke down while explaining how her daughter said, “Mam, he was crying”, after they passed a homeless man on the street.
TDs had known since last Friday that the Dáil was to hold a two-hour debate on child homelessness yesterday morning. However, despite knowing since last Friday that the Dáil would hold a two-hour debate on child homelessness yesterday from 10.30am until 12.30pm, just 19 TDs turned up at any stage to discuss the crisis.
The 19 politicians — who included 13 present at the start to ensure a Dáil quorum of 10, reduced earlier this week from the usual 20, would be met, and just one minister — were:
- Fine Gael: Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, housing committee chair Maria Bailey, and Kate O’Connell;
- Fianna Fáil: Housing spokesman Barry Cowen, children’s spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte, Pat Casey, Eugene Murphy, John Lahart Declan Breathnach, Mary Butler, and ceann comhairle Sean Ó Fearghail;
- Sinn Féin: Housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, and Imelda Munster;
- Labour: Housing spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan;
- Solidarity-People Before Profit: Gino Kenny, Richard Boyd Barrett, and Mick Barry;
- Independents4Change: Joan Collins
- Greens: Catherine Martin.
A number of parties said it was likely that TDs were watching the debate online, with the Social Democrats saying Róisín Shortall was watching from her office as the party did not have a speaking slot because it is grouped with the Greens.
Friday Dáil sittings often have a lower attendance, as many TDs travel back to non-Dublin constituencies.
Campaigners lashed out at the attendance rate, accusing politicians of caring more about their Christmas break, which began yesterday and ends on January 16, than helping those in need.
“Given the number of people in homelessness, the turnout was terribly disappointing,” Niamh Randall of the Simon Community told the Irish Examiner.
“The attendance on the day doesn’t look great. I don’t know why it was so low but I’d like to hope that it was because politicians were out in their constituencies working on the issue. We’re talking about people who can’t go home for Christmas.”
The Peter McVerry Trust said the attendance is “a sad reflection on politicians”.
Inner City Helping Homeless chief executive Anthony Flynn said:
“The fact that 19 members arrived to discuss the most serious issue to face society today, which is child homelessness, is an indictment — 299 children have become homeless since the current minister has taken office.
“This is unacceptable and shows a clear lack of political will to solve the crisis. Child homelessness has grown by 20% under the current Government and [has increased] 287% in the last three years. We need to address this issue head-on.”