From top: a Fine Gael poster was mistakenly placed near the scene at Leeson Bridge; Seán O’Rourke discusses housing and homelessness (from left) with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy; People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett; Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Bróin and Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien
On RTÉ One’s Today with Seán O’Rourke.
Seán O’Rourke spoke to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy; People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett; Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Bróin and Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien about housing and homelessness.
The five men discussed the incident along the Grand Canal in Dublin at lunchtime on Tuesday in which a man was seriously injured after the tent he was sleeping in was removed by an “industrial vehicle” while he was still in the tent.
During their discussion, the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said he has received a report on the incident but it’s, as yet, not publishable as there are many private details pertaining to the man contained in the report.
Mr Murphy also spoke about how his election poster came to be placed in the area where the incident occurred.
At the beginning of the segment, Mr O’Rourke played a clip of what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said when he was asked to comment on the incident.
[Mr Varadkar’s comments, in which he called on the Lord Mayor and Fianna Fáil general election candidate Paul McAuliffe to comment, can be read here]
After playing the clip, Mr O’Rourke then put it to Mr Murphy that Mr Varadkar’s comments were “clumsy and insensitive”.
Seán O’Rourke: “Eoghan Murphy, how clumsy and insensitive was that on the part of you party leader An Taoiseach?”
Eoghan Murphy: “Just to say first of all, Seán, I mean this was a shocking incident and an accident that happened. I think the whole country has been very upset by it.
“And I know that all our thoughts are with the person who is in hospital and also with the people who are involved in this accident…”
O’Rourke: “The Taoiseach’s thoughts were on the political point scoring.”
Murphy: “The Taoiseach’s first reaction, when I discussed it with him and when he was discussing it publicly was one of sympathy for the person involved in this. And then this terrible event that happened, this terrible incident. And, you know, from my understanding, what he was referring to was the fact that, yes, the Lord Mayor wanted an investigation done. And yes, Dublin City Council is conducting one.
O’Rourke: “The Lord Mayor has political responsibility for it.”
Murphy: “I think, as Housing Minister, I’m responsible for what happens in relation to housing up and down the country. And local authorities have their responsibilities too. And people know that the responsibility for housing delivery, for example, is shared between my department and…”
O’Rourke: “We were looking for some sort of explanation or comment from both Dublin City Council and Waterways Ireland and what we got were two statements. The first of which came from Dublin Regional Homeless Executive saying that an incident occurred involving a homeless man during a process where Waterways Ireland were removing tents that were placed in a precarious and dangerous location.
“And then Waterways Ireland came back saying the process is an initiated by DHRE with the homeless person and it’s only when that negotiation is complete, an arrangement is made that Waterways Ireland is contacted to remove the temporary accommodation on the canal bank.
“I mean if ever there was a case of blame and buck-passing that surely was it.”
Murphy: “We’re going to get to the bottom of this. It’s not the Government policy to just remove tents like this. But the tents were in a very precarious position and people might have seen some photos now, to see where they were.
“Every person who was in those tents was approached and accommodation was offered because accommodation is available….”
O’Rourke: “Damien English [Fine Gael TD] said, here in this studio two nights ago, that you were expecting to get an initial report yesterday. Did you?”
Murphy: “I did. And with that initial report there are a lot of details that go into the personal circumstances of the individual in question, so it’s not suitable for publication at this point in time. But we’re going to get to the bottom of this and we’re not going to have a blame game…”
O’Rourke: “Leave the personal circumstances aside, that’s perfectly understandable. His privacy has to be respected. But the way the two State agencies went about this business and then effectively started blaming each other.”
Murphy: “Well, so, so whenever this happens, you know, when we’re trying to help someone out of rough sleeping, into emergency accommodation and into a home which is where they really should be and that’s what Housing First is about and we can talk about that a little later.
“When we do that we do that with care and the health and safety of the individual in mind. And two State agencies were working together and an accident occurred. And we need to find out how that accident occurred and why. And I spoke with every city and county manager yesterday, in a regular meeting that I have, and I emphasised the points of taking …”
O’Rourke: “Except in this case, quite patently they weren’t working together because there was a man inside a tent.”
Murphy: “Yeah, but look, let’s just not jump to conclusions until we actually have the investigation complete. We know something went wrong here. We know it shouldn’t have happened. The people who are caught up in this themselves are distraught by it. Our thoughts are, first and foremost, with the person in hospital.
“We will get to the bottom of this but every city and county manager has been told directly by me that this must not happen again and to take every care when they’re looking after people who need our help the most.”
Eoin Ó Bróin: “And this is the second very serious and tragic event affecting a homeless person this week. Obviously there was the death of the young woman in emergency accommodation. I think, let’s take the electoral politics out of this and let’s say this has to be a turning point in terms of how we respond to rough sleeping. And there’s a number of things I think the minister needs to do and to do as quickly as possible.
“The practice of Waterways Ireland issuing eviction notices to rough sleepers in tents on the canal has to end and end now.”
O’Rourke: “Ok, minister, just quickly on that point, should it and has it?”
Murphy: “What we’re trying to do is to get everyone into a home. That’s Housing First.”
O’Rourke: “No, no, no. The eviction notices by Waterways Ireland.”
Murphy: “So what would happen in that instance though, those tents, they couldn’t remain there. It wasn’t safe for them.”
Talk over each other
Murphy: “Their care was being put first and foremost when the accident happened.”
Eoin Ó Bróin: “There’s a policy of Waterways Ireland in conjunction with Dublin City Council to issue eviction notices to people in tents. So first of all, that has to end. And the removal of tents and the use of heavy machinery to do that has to end. The second thing is that while it is the case that the individual in question was offered emergency accommodation, there are lots of reasons why people who are very vulnerable find it difficult, if not impossible, to take up that accommodation.
“And [Fr] Peter McVerry is right when he spoke earlier in the week. We have to phase out the use of dormitories. Particularly for people with complex needs or who have other issues going on in their lives. That has to end, that has to be an objective of the next Government.
“And the third thing is Housing First is where you take people out of rough sleeping and low-threshold emergency accommodation, you give them their own home and have wraparound support. The Government had a target in its most recent report of 600 over three years. We need to double that…”
Richard Boyd Barrett: “The circumstances of what happened at the canal are just horrific and shameful and without getting into all the details because I don’t know all the details. I do not understand why a digger was required to remove a tent. Right? A small tent.
“That is beyond explanation.”
O’Rourke: “You dodged the question though that I put to you based on what Eoin Ó Broin said earlier about these eviction notices by Waterways Ireland. Should they stop?”
Murphy: “I, so, the practice of Waterways Ireland…”
O’Rourke: “It won’t take long now to answer that question.”
Murphy: “Can I just say: the practice of Waterways Ireland in this instance, in relation to the people who were there and why the equipment was used that Richard asks, that will be clear when the investigation is finished. But it wasn’t safe for the people there and that was primary motivation…”
O’Rourke: “It sure as hell wasn’t safe if the man ended up in Vincent’s Hospital with life-changing injuries.”
Murphy: “Hold on, hold on, this is an accident that happened. They were trying and met with each individual who was sleeping there, trying to help them out…”
O’Rourke: “By the way, I mean, would you accept as well Minister, and this is not to make a political point that one of the defining images of this election campaign will be the pictures that were on the front of the Irish Examiner and other papers yesterday of that particular scene and the garda coming along to do the investigation with your picture on a pole overlooking the whole thing, looking for votes. You, as Housing Minister.”
Murphy: “Seán, I think that is a political point. But I think again and, you know, I have volunteers who helped put up my posters. They were postering late at night. The person who was doing it didn’t notice what was happening because they were just focused on doing one thing. And the second that we saw it was there, I had someone take it down and the person who put it up feels very bad about that.
“But, like I mean, this isn’t about Eoghan Murphy and posters in a campaign. This is about a problem we have in this country about people sleeping rough that we can end using Housing First…”
O’Rourke: “Just to go back to that year 2017, the target point, July 2017, where it was to the case that no family or no homeless people would be put into these emergency accommodations. What’s the new target?”
Murphy: “So we have a very difficult situation where we don’t currently have enough homes being built to match demand. And until we get to that point, we’re going to continue to have people who are presenting themselves to emergency accommodation.”
O’Rourke: “So there is no new target?”
Murphy: “Can I just finish this point. At the moment, for every family that presents itself to emergency accommodation, we prevent one from going in immediately. We find them a home…”
O’Rourke: “Ok, it was 2017 what’s the new, is there a new deadline?”
Murphy: “Seán, can I just finish this point because…”
O’Rourke: “Please do.”
Murphy: “Since I’ve been housing minister 11,000 people have exited homelessness which is more than the number in emergency accommodation today. But we still have far more to go. We still have people in hotels and we want to end that. Our focus is on…well, our focus is on building more homes. So it was 10,000 last year. More this year for social housing.”
O’Rourke: “No more hostels…maybe the minister is right, Eoin Ó Broin…”
Murphy: “We’ve less families and children in emergency accommodation today than we had a year ago because we’re building more social housing homes.
Ó Bróin: “First of all I think if you put together credible targets, following consultation with local authorities and the voluntary sector, they work. The problem with the Simon Coveney target of the summer of 2017 was it was just plucked out of a hat.”
“But I think repeatedly the NGO sector, who do sterling work, academics and opposition have been calling on the Government to do a number of things. We have to reduce the flow of families into homelessness in the first place.
“Now some good work is done, I want to acknowledge that. But, for example, the ability of landlords who availed of Section 23 tax breaks to issue vacant possession notices to quit, is still the single largest drivers of families presenting as homelessness. That needs to stop as an emergency measure.
“The second thing is that it’s not that there’s not enough homes being built. It’s the Government is not building enough homes. Nowhere close to what’s required. And Housing First, Eoghan is absolutely right. It was Fianna Fáil who first put Housing First into a homeless policy document in 2008 and they never did anything about it.
“Housing First works for the homeless person and it works for society as a whole and, for the life of me, given that we have between two to three thousand individuals who need this intervention, the Government’s target is only about 600 over three years.
“I welcome every single one of those but it has to be dramatically increased no matter who is in Government after this election.”
More to follow.