Protesters call for Housing Agency chairman to appear before Oireachtas committee

Coppinger to raise issue in Dáil after council backed motion calling for Government to remove Skehan from position

Ruth Coppinger and Solidarity protesters call for Housing Agency chairman Conor Skehan to appear before Oireachtas committee to explain recent comments on homelessness.

 

Housing Agency chairman Conor Skehan may be invited before the Oireachtas committee on housing to explain recent comments on homelessness, a committee member has said.

Speaking at a protest outside the agency’s headquarters in Dublin on Wednesday, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said Mr Skehan’s remarks that some families may be gaming the system by declaring themselves homeless to gain priority for social housing are “incredibly insensitive and ignorant”.

The Dublin West representative said she has written to the chair of the Housing Committee urging it to call in the Housing Agency chairman as well as Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to explain Mr Skehan’s reappointment for a term of one year.

“No person with such backwards, regressive views should be on the public payroll in such a high position advising the Government.

“The fact that somebody in Fine Gael has reappointed [Conor Skehan] says a lot, really, about what they think themselves. Eoghan Murphy should withdraw this [offer],” she said.

On Monday Dublin City Council passed a Sinn Féin-backed motion calling on the Government to remove Mr Skehan from his position, and Ms Coppinger added that her Solidarity party is planning to raise the issue when the Dáil reconvenes next Tuesday.

It is expected that the Housing Committee will decide whether to issue an invitation to Mr Skehan at its sitting next week.

Ms Coppinger disputed claims that families are gaming the waiting list system, instead saying that anyone claiming homelessness must possess a letter of eviction and must show evidence that they challenged their eviction before the Private Residential Tenancies Board on multiple occasions.

“If families were suddenly declaring themselves homeless as the only way to get a roof over their head that in itself would be a reflection of the fact that there’s a serious housing crisis,” she remarked.

Around a dozen protesters formed a picket line outside the Housing Agency office on Mount Street and held up placards reading “8,857 homeless people aren’t gaming the system” and ‘Conor Skehan- Homelessness denier out!’.

The chairman of the State housing body was previously embroiled in controversy over his defence of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s assertion that Ireland’s rate of homelessness is normal in an international context.

Protesters also called for the Government to fund an acceleration in the building of public housing, and to utilise vacant accommodation currently held by Nama for social and affordable homes.

When contacted by The Irish Times, a spokesman for the Housing Agency responded that the organisation is actively working to address homelessness through prevention measures, and by providing more housing units.

“In addressing homelessness we need to continue to focus on supporting people and families that are facing difficulties.

“This includes general support and advice; supply and provision of housing; improvements to the rental sector; and making rent affordable,” the spokesman said. He added that the agency purchased 255 housing units to accommodate homeless families and individuals in 2017.

The spokesman did not directly respond to the criticism that Conor Skehan was a “homelessness denier”, and that the Government should reverse his appointment.