Analysis: Minister’s critique of councils is latest shifting of housing blame

Murphy’s comments are first policy statement since family slept in Garda station last month

Eoghan Murphy wants local authorities to build more hubs. Photograph: Tom Honan

Eoghan Murphy wants local authorities to build more hubs. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Protestations from Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, that local authorities are not doing enough to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis are depressingly predictable.

Local authority housing managers must be weary as their Minister does as all ministers before him have since this crisis began in 2014 . When the going gets tough, blame someone else.

Murphy’s admonitions to the councils represent his first policy statement since Tallaght mother Margaret Cash (27) posted images online last month of her children sleeping in a Garda station as they could not access emergency accommodation.

Rather than announce a policy shift to speed up social-housing provision, he threatens local authorities with stripping some of their powers because they have too many homeless families in hotels and B&Bs. He wants them to build more hubs , he says.

“And if they don’t I will have recourse to emergency powers within my department to step in and take control of some of those functions.”

Jan O’Sullivan TD (Labour Party) was minister of State at the Department of Housing in April 2014 when this paper reported that Sabrina McMahon (37) had been sleeping in her car, with her three children, for a week.

‘Bloody awful’

The following day then director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE), Dr Daithi Downey, said a new and growing family homelessness crisis was “bloody awful” and “going to get worse”.

Minister O’Sullivan announced she had a plan to end long-term homelessness by 2016 and called all local authority housing directors to Dublin. Some were not prioritising homelessness sufficiently; she wanted vacant council houses re-tenanted more speedily. She would be “using a stick” with the councils if necessary, she said.

In July 2014 party colleague Alan Kelly was appointed Minister for Housing. In December Jonathan Corrie (43) died sleeping in a doorway near Leinster House. Within days Kelly announced a housing summit, involving charities as well as the four Dublin local authorities’ housing managers – to “brainstorm”. He criticised the DRHE for not providing enough emergency beds.

‘No reason’

“In the city of Dublin by Christmas there should be no reason for anybody to sleep rough,” Mr Kelly said. “If they want a bed, if they want accommodation, it’ll be there for them if they so choose.” He went on to say he was not getting the “co-operation” from councils, and particularly elected councillors in Dublin City.

Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney, minister in the department for just a year from June 2016, presided as this newspaper reported in May 2017 that homeless families, unable to access emergency accommodation were being sent to Garda stations. He said he was “very annoyed,” that it was “unacceptable” as the DRHE had been given a “blank cheque” to ensure this wouldn’t happen.

Murphy’s admonitions to local authorities are nothing new. Nor is the failure of Government, for four years now, to address this housing and homelessness catastrophe.

It continues to devastate the real lives of real families with small children, while failing housing ministers continue to blame anyone but themselves.