When Eoghan Murphy rose from the backbenches of the Fine Gael-led minority Government after Leo Varadkar’s appointment as Taoiseach in June of 2017, a sense of optimism was felt throughout the halls of Leinster House, the Department of Housing and beyond. Here was a young, idealistic, articulate Minister somewhat taking over a poisoned chalice, who seemed to grasp the opportunity with the fervour of positivity. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar remarked during his nominations of cabinet members speech that Murphy would be tasked with “consider[ing] what additional measures may be required including consideration of a greater quantum of social housing build, a vacant home tax and measures to encourage landlords to stay in or enter the rental market”.
At the time of Minister Murphy’s appointment, the Department of Housing figures for homelessness said there were 5046 homeless adults as well as 2895 homeless children. These figures, let us not forget, totalled 7,941, and this figure only represented those in emergency accommodation. In the latest homeless figures offered by the Department in June of 2018, the number of homeless adults hit 6048 and the number of homeless dependents hit 3824, bringing the total number of Irish citizens in emergency accommodation to 9,872. In Murphy’s first year in office, there was an increase of 35% in the numbers of homeless children whilst those in emergency accommodation overall increased by almost 25%.
Not a single one of these individuals are statistics; they are human beings who should be afforded the same human dignity as you and I, and in an economy that is showing levels of such growth, such decreases in unemployment, and such relative prosperity, there is no excuse to leave these citizens behind. Speaking to Miriam O’Callaghan last month on RTÉ Radio 1’s “Today with SOR”, Minister Murphy claimed, “hitting 10,000 doesn’t tell us anything that hitting 9,000 didn’t tell us, which is that we have a very serious crisis”. I would contest the figures do tell us something – they tell us he is either incapable of exercising his duties as Minister for Housing, or is incapable of caring.
There is a fundamental problem with Minister Murphy’s comments – as Minister, he has the power at the stroke of the pen, with Cabinet’s agreement, to implement a number of legislative measures that would reverse this worrying trend. Here are a few examples of solutions to the national crisis we face:
- Implement an immediate rental cap in urban areas. Dublin and Cork are major rent pressure zones and landlords are taking advantage of young professionals, students and families by charging scandalous rents for sub-standard properties. In Dublin for example, blow-up beds have been advertised on daft.ie for €400 per month. This cannot continue. The foundation of this State came about as a rebellion against the landlord elite.
- Work with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, to wrap dual-diagnosis services around those who exit the homeless services to prevent the ruthless conveyor belt of addiction and lack of mental health supports that predicate many people slipping through the cracks and ending up in emergency accommodation in the first place from re-occurring time and time again. NGOs such as St. Vincent De Paul and the Simon Community are not equipped to deal with the myriad of complex problems most homeless adults present with, and in the case of children, the trauma they can experience in these environments lead to very poor adult outcomes. Given the right supports, any one of these people can flourish.
- Work with local authorities to provide more unique and innovative projects such as Bishopsgrove in Cork, the student supported accommodation that provides those from homeless and fostered backgrounds with a fulcrum to develop their educational and employment skills so they can develop the portfolio necessary to be contributory members of society.
- Build the thousands of social and affordable housing units needed with compulsory land purchase orders if needs be. This would be a social investment that would pay off in the short, medium and long-term.
- Turn over the NAMA portfolio to the Department of Housing and immediately convert these units to social and affordable housing units. Dr. John McCartney, Director of Research at Savills believes that even with a true housing output of 20,000 units per annum we would still need to increase production by 42% by 2021.
Claiming that Eoghan Murphy does not care may be an unfair stretch, however, the results of his policies to date have been shambolic and ineffectual. With parties such as Sinn Féin planning on tabling a motion of no confidence, it is now or never for him. As the privileged few Irish citizenries, we must push our politicians to work on behalf of those most vulnerable in our society. It is our civic duty. The Minister is earning €93,599 per annum as a basic wage to solve this crisis and clearly isn’t achieving this ideal whilst volunteers in the Simon Community and SVDP save lives every day out of their sense of vocation.
In the meantime, whilst politicians wash their hands of responsibility, blood runs deeper daily in the backstreets of Ireland – blood that with the right attitude and policies needn’t run.