Alan Kelly calls for Peter McVerry to be more positive

Homelessness campaigner said Government’s housing plans are ‘Alice in Wonderland politics’

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has called on homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry to be more positive after Fr McVerry described the  Government’s social housing plans as ‘Alice in Wonderland politics’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has called on homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry to be more positive after Fr McVerry described the Government’s social housing plans as ‘Alice in Wonderland politics’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has called on social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry to be more positive in his comments on the housing and homelessness crisis.

Speaking at a national housing conference in Dublin on Wednesday Fr McVerry described the Government’s plan to provide 35,000 new social housing units by 2020 and end homelessness by 2016 as “Alice in Wonderland politics”.

Mr Kelly said the comments were predictable but disappointing.

“I’m used to those comments from him. I haven’t heard him say one thing positive yet in relation to anything. Which is unfortunate because many members of his staff work with us and would have contrary views, or express contrary views. I’d rather if people were more constructive.”

Mr Kelly said he had been due to meet Fr McVerry, but the homelessness campaigner had cancelled the meeting.

“I’m happy to talk to him any time. I’d like him some way along the line to be fair in [his] appraisal. I take criticism all the time and I always take what he says and use it and try and channel it but, to be frank, you’re talking to the person who’s put more money into housing than anyone on this island in the history of this State.”

‘Inept interferences’

The housing conference had also heard from Mr Kelly’s party colleague Cllr Dermot Lacey who blamed “inept, incompetent, bureaucratic interference” by the Department of the Environment for the failure to provide sufficient houses.

Mr Kelly said there may have been bureaucratic problems in the past but he had eliminated them.

“If there’s one thing people know about me is that I don’t tolerate undue bureaucracy. Certainly, everything that can be done in relation to ensuring we have adequate housing into the future is being done.”

Mr Kelly was speaking during a visit to Fr Scully House, a newly built €17 million senior citizens’ complex in Dublin’s north inner city, which was largely empty because of a dispute over the rent to be charged to elderly tenants.

The dispute was resolved earlier this week with the Catholic Housing Aid Society agreeing to charge monthly rents of €400 as proposed by Dublin City Council and the Housing Agency.

Mr Kelly praised the high quality of the 99 new apartments, which are fully furnished and were built to the highest energy conservation standards. However, the impasse over the rents should never have happened, he said.

“This building should never have been left empty. The issue over rents should have been dealt with previously. I’m delighted a satisfactory agreement has been arrived at, but it was imperative this was done because €17 million of tax payers’ money had been spent.”

Mr Kelly said procedures were in place to ensure similar problems would not arise in relation to the future construction of social housing.

McVerry response

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One in response, Fr Peter McVerry said that he acknowledged that Mr Kelly was doing a better job than his predecessors, and that “[Alan Kelly] was not doing the job when the homesless strategy was produced.”

However, the campaigner said that there were still “huge gaps” to be addressed. “The homeless strategy says that we will eliminate homelessness by the end of next year. That is simply pure fantasy. Homeless numbers are going up and up and up . . . yet the mantra continues that we are going to eliminate long-term homelessness.”