Oireachtas committees say emergency legislation needed to tackle homelessness

Measures could include imposing restrictions on landlords’ rights and ending use of one-night-only accommodation for families

Among the reports’ recommendations  are that local authorities  make “the best interests of the child as paramount” when placing families in emergency accommodation. Photograph: Getty Images

Among the reports’ recommendations are that local authorities make “the best interests of the child as paramount” when placing families in emergency accommodation. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Emergency legislation, including imposing restrictions on landlords’ rights, is needed to tackle the homelessness crisis, two Oireachtas committees have said.

Speaking at the publication of two reports on family homelessness, TDs and Senators from across the political divide said the current approach to the “biggest crisis facing the country” was not working.

“The time now is for action, and some of that will require emergency actions which we hadn’t considered up to now,” said Fianna Fáil’s Pat Casey.

Party colleague Darragh O’Brien said Ireland was “not treading water” on the crisis. “We are drowning. When there is a crisis like this it does require crisis and emergency measures – things like restricting sale [of rented homes], the possibility of temporary rent freezes.”

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said many of the reports’ recommendations – including an end to the use of one-night-only accommodation for families and the practice of “self-accommodation” where families must source their own emergency accommodation – could be implemented overnight if Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy wanted. “This stuff needs to happen now,” he said.

The reports, from the committee on housing and the committee on children, contain 14 and 20 recommendation respectively.

Among these are that the 1998 Housing Act be amended to limit how long families spend in emergency accommodation, and to oblige local authorities to make the “best interests of the child as paramount” when placing families in emergency accommodation.

Restrictions on the right of landlords to issue vacant possession notices to quit when selling their property should be “actively considered” to reduce the flow of families into homelessness, they say.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock, chair of the housing committee, said this was “certainly one of the reasons, one of the contributors to families flowing into homelessness”.

The housing committee report said the proposal that a right to housing – it would provide an entitlement to a minimum level of suitable accommodation – be enshrined in the Constitution should be examined urgently.

Advocacy groups

The recommendations were welcomed by homelessness advocacy groups, including Focus Ireland, Threshold, the Simon Communities, Mercy Law and Barnardos.

Mercy Law, which provided legal assistance to more than 450 homeless families last year, called for immediate action on the reports.

“We particularly welcome the call to end altogether the placing of homeless families for one night only, to end continued reliance on unsuitable hotel and B&B accommodation for excessive periods, and the recommendation to place a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide homeless accommodation,” said managing solicitor Rebecca Keatinge.

Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon said a “consensus” was emerging on the actions that had to be taken.

“I trust the relevant authorities responsible for addressing child and family homelessness will give these two reports their immediate attention and serious consideration, and that all parties and Independents will put their energies into ensuring that the actions identified are pursued.”