HOW many times does the Government have to be reminded that the number of homeless children in Ireland is a crisis that must be tackled with the utmost urgency?
It isn’t as if the powers-that-be have not had constant reminders.
In February 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child told our Government it was “deeply concerned at reports of families affected by homelessness facing significant delays in accessing social housing and frequently living in inappropriate, temporary or emergency accommodation”. Just last month the annual report of the special rapporteur on child protection concentrated on emergency accommodation, stating that “policies need to be more effective in responding to real needs in Ireland”.
To mark International Human Rights Day on Saturday, the ISPCC highlighted the fact that children who are homeless in Ireland are worse off than those in similar circumstances in the UK where emergency accommodation is very much the exception rather than the norm.
Unlike in England, Wales and Scotland, children in Ireland who are homeless do not have a right to temporary accommodation and assistance. In England and Wales, children have a right not only to assistance but also to temporary accommodation that meets certain standards.
In Scotland there has been a ban on the use of B&B accommodation since 2004, with similar bans in England and Wales introduced more recently.
ISPCC chief executive Grainia Long gives one startling statistic: In the month of October alone, 44 children became newly homeless — that’s the equivalent of more than one classroom.
“The figures of children who are homeless continue to rise,” says Ms Long. “The right to an adequate standard of living is a critical right for all children — including those who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation. The state must, therefore, ensure limited use of emergency accommodation, similar to neighbouring jurisdictions.”
But it doesn’t, despite the fact that unlike Britain we passed a referendum on children’s rights and later enshrined it in law. It was passed in November 2012 and, while the main thrust of the referendum concerned adoption, guardianship and custody, it contains the following provision: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.”
Our stated commitment to children’s rights as human rights goes back even further than that, to our Constitution in 1937 and the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights.
We have a habit of enshrining noble ideals in our domestic laws and then doing little or nothing to implement them.
It should never be forgotten that children’s rights are human rights.
There are now 2,470 homeless children in Ireland. The liklihood is that they will remain so for Christmas. That a national scandal of international proportions.
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