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 Header Item Hospital Services (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Residential Tenancies (Prevention of Family Homelessness) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny] That is a serious problem. One lady I spoke to told me of a situation where she was there along with her child, and another child in the hospital had been diagnosed with diabetes and arrived over in their pyjamas to this unit for an assessment, having walked across what was practically a building site. There are no toilet facilities in the place. At the end of the assessment, another man came in to inquire what was happening as he had been waiting for the insulin pump for several months and had not got it. This is a real issue that needs to be dealt with. While I welcome the proposal that there will be capital funds in place to build this, it needs to happen as quickly as possible.

There is also the issue of ensuring adequate staffing. The Minister of State mentioned that the multidisciplinary team is in place but to my knowledge it is not complete and there are holes in that service that need to be filled. That should be done as quickly as possible.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne I have noted the Deputy's concerns. I recognise the reply states there is an intention to proceed with construction in 2019 and it is expected to be operational in 2020, and the reply also states this will be subject to availability of capital funding. All other projects throughout the country are in the same position. It is down to funding, and let us be honest about it.

I am not sure about the status of the multidisciplinary team, which the Deputy said is not complete. I will have to go back to the Minister on that. With regard to training for the pumps, how difficult can it be to train somebody to use a diabetic pump? I know somebody who uses one daily. I am committed to going back to the Minister to ask that a comprehensive answer be given to the Deputy and that the Minister would contact the hospital to find out why training is not happening when the pumps are already there and waiting to be used. We all know a diabetic pump can mean so much to people's everyday lives. I know someone who uses one daily.

I am sorry I do not have more information for the Deputy. As always, I will refer back to the Minister, Deputy Harris. I will do my best to hammer home the concerns that have been raised.

Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimates for public services for the service of the year ending on 31 December 2019 - Votes 27 and 28.

Residential Tenancies (Prevention of Family Homelessness) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

  In 2011, when Fine Gael took office, there were 641 children in emergency accommodation according to the Central Statistics Office. Yesterday’s homeless figures stated there were 3,784 children officially homeless in February, an increase of 490%. Let that sink in for a minute. Under the watch of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his colleagues, thousands of children have lost years of their young lives to homelessness. In total, there are 10,264 people officially homeless and 1,707 families sleeping in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, and family hubs. However, these are just the official figures. They do not include the 1,600 adults and children wrongly removed, in my view, from the homeless figures last year, nor do they include rough sleepers, women and children in domestic violence shelters, those in hostels not funded by the Government, nor those granted asylum but unable to access private rented accommodation because of the housing crisis and using direct provision as emergency accommodation. In fact, the Government cannot even tell us the full extent of the homeless crisis because it refuses to count all those without a home.

  Yesterday’s figures must mark a line in the sand. The symbolically significant number of 10,000 has been breached. This must force the Government to stop and ask what is going wrong. More importantly, surely Government must now be asking what it can do differently in the weeks and months ahead to stop the flow of adults and children into homelessness.

  How did we get here? What caused child homelessness to increase by a staggering 490% in eight years? How is it possible, in a growing economy, with more people in work than ever before, that we have such a deep housing and homelessness crisis? In part, the blame lies with Fianna Fáil. Decades of underinvestment in social and affordable housing, coupled with an over-reliance on the private sector to meet housing need, created a fragile housing system. Economic mismanagement led to recession, which in turn led to a housing crisis. However, Fine Gael can not lay all the blame at Deputy Micheál Martin’s door. From 2011 to 2013, Fine Gael slashed capital spending in social housing to its lowest level in decades. In 2014, when private sector rents started to spiral out of control, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, blocked meaningful rent regulations. Tens of families started to present as homeless every single week. By 2016, tens had become hundreds, with family homelessness reaching unprecedented levels. In response, the then Minister and now Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, introduced the rent pressure zones. At the time, in this Chamber, we warned him they would not work, that they would be impossible to police and that it would lead to a two-tier rental market, but he dismissed our concerns and carried on regardless. Two years on, and it gives me no pleasure to say this, those of us who raised these concerns have been proven right. In 2018, as the Minister knows, rents increased by 7% across the State and by 8% in Dublin, which is twice the rent pressure zone cap. Yet, as late as this morning, the Government claims that its policy is working.

  Today, the single biggest cause of family homelessness is landlords legally evicting their tenants when selling their properties. As house prices have started to rise, landlords, many of whom had been in mortgage distress, are now exiting the market. Indeed, since 2017, more than 9,000 rental properties have been lost. What has Fine Gael done to prevent the loss of these properties? What has the Minister done to stem the flow of family homelessness? In my view, the answer is quite simply nothing. Just as those in Fine Gael sat on their hands when the rental crisis started to spiral in 2014, today they continue to sit on their hands as more and more people lose the roof over their heads. There is nothing in Rebuilding Ireland to address this specific problem. In the weeks and months ahead, unless something changes, hundreds more families will be issued with vacant possession notices to quit and will be evicted as banks and funds force accidental landlords to sell their properties.

  The Bill before us is very simple. It was drafted by Focus Ireland in 2016 and was debated and voted on before in the House. Put simply, it would prevent buy-to-let landlords who had availed of tax breaks when purchasing their property from evicting tenants into homelessness when selling up. This would ensure that many of these properties would in turn be purchased by other landlords, keeping the families in situ and preventing them from becoming homeless. When we proposed it back in 2016, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail contrived to block it. In doing so, in my view, they condemned hundreds of families to homelessness. I have no doubt that if we had passed this into law two years ago, many families who subsequently became homeless would have avoided that terrible tragedy.

  While the Tánaiste made it clear this morning that Fine Gael has no intention of supporting the Bill, I would appeal to Fianna Fáil to do the right thing. As always, I am open to constructive amendment on Committee Stage. Therefore, what I would say to Deputy Casey and his colleagues is that if they support the intention of the Bill, they should not stand in its way and they should work with us to improve it if necessary as it progresses through the House.

  As I said, the Tánaiste made it clear this morning that the Minister, Deputy Murphy, would not be supporting the Bill. He said it would not work, would drive landlords out of the market, would discourage new investment and would fall foul of the Constitution. Let me respond to each claim in turn. In the commercial rental sector, sale of property with tenants in situ is standard and, in fact, is a condition of almost all commercial rental contracts. If it works there, why can it not work in the private rental sector? We are already losing a very significant number of rental properties from the market. According to the latest figures from the Residential Tenancies Board, the figure is 9,000 in the past two years.

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