Housing summit convened following deaths of homeless people

The Government is to convene an emergency housing summit next week in the wake of the deaths of two homeless people and amid stinging criticism of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, writes Daniel McConnell, Elaine Loughlin, and Joe Leogue.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy announced the meeting of county council bosses and senior officials after the two deaths piled further pressure on the Government to address the housing crisis.

Mr Murphy said the meeting will take place in his department in the Customs House in Dublin and will explore additional measures to help and to house families and individuals living in emergency accommodation and accessing emergency State supports.

“The unprecedented level of homelessness that we are witnessing is totally unacceptable,” he said.

“The Government and my department, working with the local authorities, voluntary sector, and other stakeholders, are doing everything we can, but I know that we need to do more.”

His comments come as Mr Varadkar was slammed for tweeting about the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana while failing to reference the double tragedy.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hit out at the Taoiseach for prioritising spin and communications over taking real action on the escalating homeless and housing crisis.

Responding to questions around Mr Varadkar’s tweet about Diana, Mr Martin said the Taoiseach and his Government are “detached from reality”.

“There is a real crisis and the Government has failed to get to grips with it over the last number of years. People are talking about it all over the place, the lack of action, the lack of tentative progress,” he said.

“We have seen two homeless people die tragically this week, and our condolences go to their families, and so it concerns me that the Taoiseach seems to think that communications is number one: It’s not, it’s homelessness and housing that is number one; health issues are number one and access to the health services.”

The Cork South-Central TD claimed Mr Varadkar was now focusing on PR and the establishment of a new strategic communications unit, instead of the issue of homelessness.

“There is no sense that Government has yet managed to get to grips with it and PR isn’t going to deal with it,” Mr Martin said.

“There is a terrible detachment and a sense that communications can cover over or hide the reality.”

He said he had already flagged his concerns that the strategic communications unit is a waste of taxpayers’ money and will be used to put forward a political message.

Meanwhile, efforts to tackle homelessness are not keeping up with increasing demands, according to charities who say the country is in “the middle of the worst homelessness crisis in living memory”.

The assessment comes following the release of a Focus Ireland report that found 99 families with 214 children became newly homeless in Dublin in July — the highest number recorded in 18 months.

Sam McGuinness of Dublin Simon Community said the report shows urgent action is required.

“Figures published for July show that there are now 1,178 families accessing emergency accommodation in the Dublin region alone, an increase of 5.6% since June and 18.6% in the last year. Children are now at 2,423, an increase of 6.7% since June and 19.9% in the last year,” he said.

“However, today’s figures indicate that the ever-rising flow into homelessness means that there is even bigger challenge now to keep up with the demand.”

Focus Ireland advocacy director Mike Allen said the figures “clearly show the homeless crisis is continuing to deepen”.

“We had seen a drop in the numbers of families becoming homeless every month at the end of last year and earlier this year but this is no longer the case, and we are back to constantly rising numbers every month,” he said.

Mr Allen said the country is now in “the middle of the worst homelessness crisis in living memory” with nearly 8,000 people homeless nationwide.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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