Homeless crisis is now an ‘emergency’, says Fr McVerry

Compulsorily purchase land to provide families with a home, campaigner says

Social campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has called on the Government to introduce emergency legislation to stop banks evicting people from their homes, saying the homelessness crisis had turned into an emergency.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke Show, Fr McVerry warned that “conservative governments” were opting to support the wealthy and powerful over those who are struggling and vulnerable, highlighting the “gross power imbalance” that exists in Irish society.

Fr McVerry also said he had sympathy for Alan Kelly when he was Minister with responsibility for housing, saying Mr Kelly's "hands were tied".

“Alan Kelly was frustrated in that role by the lack of co-operation from government departments and statutory bodies,” said Fr McVerry. “His hands were tied. There were things he wanted to do, but he got no support from other government departments and then he got all the blame.”

The campaigner said the Government was reluctant to interfere with private property because of a belief that it is against the Constitution.

“ They will say it is against the Constitution, but my legal advice is that it is not against the Constitution to compulsorily purchase homes.

Fr McVerry said the focus on Irish Water in the government formation talks indicated no sense of urgency to solve the housing crisis. “That says everything to me about politics. Both parties are trying to save face about coming to a compromise about Irish Water while homeless people are again dying on the street.

“One of problems is that when something occurs over a long time it becomes normal,” said Fr McVerry. “It is becoming normal to see homeless people... It is now becoming the norm, people are no longer outraged. That sense of normality when you see lots and lots of homeless people makes it difficult to express outrage.

“We need emergency legislation to stop the banks from evicting people from their homes. They should not be able to put them out of their home to repossess them until those people have found alternative suitable accommodation.

Members of the new Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness last week said the body must find a solution to the crisis "in a non-political way". The committee is to sit for nine weeks, at the end of which period it will produce a report to Government.

Fr McVerry called for an immediate increase in rent allowance and said banks must bring evictions to an end. He said the “42,000 permanently empty houses and apartments in Dublin” should be used to house the “45,000 families on the housing list”.

“It is absolutely disgraceful that you’ve got empty houses while people are sleeping on the street,” he said. “We can compulsorily purchase people’s land to build motorways, so I think we should be able to compulsorily purchase houses to provide families with a home, that’s far more important than building motorways.”

Fr McVerry warned last month that there could be 3,000 children homeless in Ireland by next year. There were 1,881 children homeless in February 2016, according to the latest statistics from the Department of the Environment , while the number of people accessing emergency shelters across the State rose by 49 per cent in February compared to the same month last year.

“I know one family evicted from their home two years ago,” said Fr McVerry. “Their home was repossessed, they went into emergency accommodation, they still pass the home they were living in and two years later it is still boarded up. That is immoral. It should be made illegal.

“Every day three families in Dublin area alone becoming homeless because they can’t afford the rent. We’ve got to find some way to keep those families in their homes. It is beyond a crisis it is an emergency.”