This is a very important motion. Yesterday, Ms Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, and Ms Gráinne McKenna, an assistant professor at DCU, presented some of the findings of their report, Home Works: A Study on the Educational Needs of Children Experiencing Homelessness and Living in Emergency Accommodation. Reference was made to the 4,000 children who are homeless. The study reflects the issue we all know of and deal with week in and week out when we meet families with homeless children. We find echoes of the impact homelessness are having on the children’s lives and their schooling when they sit in front of us and we see the anguish and disappointment on their faces. Deputy Boyd Barrett eloquently outlined earlier the disastrous impacts of homelessness on children.
Having listened to the Minister, I think he has a wonderful imagination. When he thinks of a future career, perhaps it could be as a screenwriter or a novelist because he seems to be imagining a world that we simply cannot see and which absolutely does not exist: a world where the landlord class is facilitating the housing of our people. The reality is that every weekend – I am sure it is the same for the Ceann Comhairle – Deputies meet many distressed families who have been made homeless simply by landlords who wanted to gouge the highest possible rent out of people. That is the reality and the Minister knows it is the reality. If he does not, then he has a wonderful imagination and could have a different career than administering a housing Department. The rents have led to this desperate crisis.
This week is always tinged with sadness as we remember the tragic 48 young lives lost in the Stardust Fire on St. Valentine’s Night 1981. This year marked 38 years since the devastating fire and relatives and victims have still to receive justice and closure. The Stardust Relatives’ and Victims’ Committee held a short protest outside Leinster House on Thursday, the 14th and also held an evening vigil at the Stardust site. Charlie Bird unveiled a very impressive plaque with the names of the 48 victims of that fateful night.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring forward on behalf of my Independent colleagues our motion on homelessness, which was placed on the clár of the Dáil in December. Every day Deputies are contacted by upset constituents who are at the end of their tethers. These people are trying to look for housing assistance payment, HAP, properties, having been given notices to quit because of sale or refurbishment of the properties in which they are living, they are living in substandard accommodation or they are sleeping in their cars or in tents. There are mothers who are desperately upset with regard to how their children are reacting to the uncertainty relating to homeless accommodation. There are also those who are trying to get deposits together for mortgages and individuals who require urgent housing adaptations. The list is endless. What these people experience is exhausting for them. The Minister knows this as well as I do.
Deputy Broughan has, again, today, condemned Fine Gael for its snail pace action on addressing the housing and homeless crisis and criticised the constant spin from Minister Eoghan Murphy and his Department. During the debate on the Motion on Homelessness today, brought forward by Deputy Broughan and other members of the Technical Group, Independents4Change, opposition deputies called for the declaration of a housing emergency, for a referendum on the right to housing and other measures.
At the end of November 2018, according to the official statistics by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, there were 3,811 homeless children in emergency accommodation managed by local authorities across the country. The Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, has admitted that some people were removed from the homeless figures and it has also been previously confirmed that these figures also did not include families in Direct Provision centres and in the domestic violence refuges.
I am delighted to briefly support Solidarity-PBP’s Bill. On 18 January last year, a similar Bill was almost passed by the House, when sadly and unfortunately, the Fianna Fáil Party abstained from the vote which was tied 51:51. I warmly commend Solidarity-PBP for updating and reintroducing this vitally important Bill. I note that student-specific accommodation is mentioned along with several other changes.
Given our experience over the past decade of poor performance in the delivery of social housing, does the Minister agree with the many excellent civil society groups, including the Mercy Law Resource Centre, who argue that we should insert a right to housing into our Constitution? Numerous Opposition Deputies have tried to bring forward motions and Bills on this issue, including Deputy Thomas Pringle who introduced the Thirty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2018. Is it now time to include the right to housing in our Constitution?
This week I have been working on my quarterly newsletter, Northsider Vol 26 No 4 and hope to have it finalised and distributed in coming weeks. On Tuesday morning, I questioned the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, on the changing services of Family Resource Centres in working with families and children experiencing homelessness. Later that day I spoke in support of the Motion on Apprenticeships and called for a greater range of apprenticeships to be available. This is a very important part of our education and training sector and increased efforts must be made to improve participation rates, particularly among women.
As the Minister knows, we still have almost 4,000 children experiencing homelessness in emergency accommodation, with perhaps thousands more in insecure and unsuitable accommodation. The Minister told me earlier this year that we now have 120 family resource centres operating across the country with a budget of approximately €14 million. Does the Minister intend to give increased allocations to some or all of the centres in order to provide some services for families and children experiencing homelessness?