Joan Burton and Labour leadership

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 01:12

Sir, – I was touched and honoured to hear Joan Burton say again in recent days that I have had a role in the development of her political thinking and her commitment to social justice. I was especially pleased to hear her say that she plans to take on social housing as a priority in her new role, and I applaud her commitment to resolving this most distressing issue.

We are seeing homelessness increasing at the rate of a family a day in Dublin alone. Every day I encounter families with small children who are harassed, broken, their self-esteem trampled on, the parents distraught and the children traumatised. I have never seen anything like it in 30 years working with people who are homeless.

And the best that we as a society can offer such families is bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

This was initially intended as a stop-gap response, but it has become a way of life for some families, many of whom are confined to living in one room with no cooking facilities for periods as long as nine months or more, some for over two years or even longer. Now even this inadequate form of accommodation is in short supply. I have seen many families wait a whole day to see if a B&B can be found for them; within the past week I have seen families and sometimes pregnant women sleeping in their cars; I’ve seen parents trying to find someone to take their children for the night while they sleep rough themselves.

The Taoiseach has accepted that homelessness in this country is now at a crisis point. And yet we do not see any crisis response.

State-subsidised rents are set too low to be attractive to landlords, so people already in financial distress are having to top-up their rent allowance, and when they run into difficulties, they lose their homes. If Ms Burton raised the level of rent supplement in the next budget, there would be a direct and measurable effect – fewer people would lose their homes.

She also needs to regulate rents to provide better protection for tenants; this would also help to secure people in their homes. Regulations are needed to ensure that temporary accommodation for homeless families is adequate and appropriate. By committing sufficient resources now she could could end long-term homelessness by 2016.

But above all we urgently need major investment in a social housing building programme, in the order of 50,000 new homes within the next five years.

This would not only provide housing but would, as Ms Burton has pointed out, provide jobs, stimulate the economy and help to bring about conditions in which fewer people are in dire financial straits.

I believe Ms Burton has the leadership, political knowledge and ability to convince her Government colleagues to tackle homelessness and offer hope to families living in fear of letters from the bank or a knock on the door. – Yours, etc,

Sr STANISLAUS

KENNEDY,

President,

Focus Ireland,

9-10 High Street,

Christchurch,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – The election of Joan Burton as leader of Labour is good, not just for that party, but for women across all political parties and in a general sense. Women are so poorly represented in both public life and business that it is important to have a strong woman like Ms Burton playing such a vital role in Irish politics. – Yours, etc,

Cllr ANNE-MARIE

DERMODY,

Butterfield Avenue,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Joan Burton plans on reforming the tax system “to remove some of the obstacles and cliffs people face when taking up work” (“Kenny ‘looks forward’ to discussing economy with Burton”, July 5th). I feel compelled to point out that cliffs are generally only removed by erosion, which takes eons, or by sudden landslides, which are disastrous. – Yours, etc,

NIALL McARDLE,

Wellington Street,

Eganville,

Ontario.