Councillors support Conor Skehan’s statements on homeless lists

Sinn Féin councillor says her remarks that some made themselves homeless ‘taken out of context’

 Conor Skehan, chair of the Housing Agency. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Conor Skehan, chair of the Housing Agency. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A Sinn Féin councillor who was reported as saying she was aware of families in Dublin making themselves homeless to get social housing, has said her comments have been taken out of context.

A number of councillors have now supported recent statements by the chair of the Housing Agency that the Government may have “unwittingly” encouraged people to exploit the housing allocations system by prioritising homelessness in the allocation of social housing. This may have led to families declaring themselves homeless to jump up the housing waiting list, he said.

On Monday night, councillors on Dublin City Council voted in favour of a Sinn Féin motion urging Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to remove Conor Skehan from his position as chairman of the Housing Agency and to “immediately” appoint a successor to the role.

The chairman of the council’s housing committee, Sinn Féin’s Dáithí Doolan, said Mr Skehan had “disqualified himself” by his recent comments on homelessness, for which there was “no evidence”.

However, his Sinn Féin colleague on the council Noeleen O’Reilly was reported by RTÉ in October 2016 as saying she was aware of families making themselves homeless to avoid a wait of up to 15 years to be housed.

“I know families that have done it” she is reported to have said at a council housing meeting, “they are fearful of their future and their own security, that’s why it’s happening”. She is also reported to have said that while other local authorities would look at people’s situation before providing homeless services “we [in Dublin] seem to accept everyone”.

Speaking to The Irish Times on Tuesday Ms O’Reilly said her remarks had been “twisted and taken out of context”.

“What I said was that people were in a desperate situation and are being forced into homelessness. A lot people are living in overcrowded situations, in family situations that are not suitable,” she said.

“There are all sorts of complex reasons people become homeless, but I was not victim blaming or saying people were gaming the system.”

Transcript

A transcript of the housing meeting is not available, but minutes of the meeting show Mr Downey, then acting director of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, urged councillors to advise constituents that using hotels for housing was “inadequate and inappropriate” and all efforts to avoid presentation to homeless emergency accommodation must be engaged with.

Independent Dublin city councillor Ruairí McGinley said he had experience of constituents who should be on the housing list moving to the homeless list. “It is not a news flash to me and anyone who says anything different who deals with housing cases is being dishonest and I know that from conversations I’ve had with other councillors over recent years.”

Independent Fingal county councillor Jimmy Guerin said he had “direct experience that many people are declaring themselves homeless in order to jump the unacceptably long queue for social housing, some even admit it when they seek assistance”.