Ending poverty for Irish children and growing housing problems were hot topics for a cross-party panel of eight politicians and an audience at a Stand for Justice event on Tuesday.
The event, hosted by Trócaire, Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), and Social Justice Ireland, was held in Dublin's Mansion House over almost two hours.
Seán Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland, said it was a lively discussion that highlighted the four main issues of public services, child poverty, sustainable energy and overseas aid.
He said the latest figures show one in nine children were in consistent poverty in Ireland.
“One thing clear to me from the questions that were asked and the responses is that Irish people want a fairer society,” he said.
“The bottom line is we are convinced we can have a vibrant economy while generating a fairer future with a decent infrastructure and services.”
The panel included Minister of State with responsibility for New Communities, Culture and Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan, Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea, Renua Ireland TD Billy Timmons, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall and Sinn Féin Cllr Eoin O'Broin.
Mr Healy said it was good to hear an “almost universal” commitment from the parties to the foreign aid target of 0.7 per cent by 2020, which currently sits at 0.38 per cent.
“Poverty at home and abroad can be tackled simultaneously,” the charity director said.
The exception was Renua’s Billy Timmons who said: “We just give a commitment to be the best that we can.”
John-Mark McCafferty, SVP’s head of social justice, said he had “mixed feelings” after the gathering.
“There were positives, but I still remain unconvinced some of the mainstream parties realise the scale and the enormity of housing issues and homelessness,” he said.
“We now have the perfect storm - historic underinvestment and high rental costs. The big issues here are the supply of social housing. This requires investment and commitment.”
Mr O’Dowd said housing was one of his biggest concerns for the country.
He said he was in favour of extending schemes that encourage pensioners to rent out an empty room to help with the housing problem.
Mr O'Dea highlighted the situation in his own constituency of Limerick, with a waiting list of 5,500 for social housing and only 30 places vacant.
‘Outlived its usefulness’
He said the social welfare system had “outlived its usefulness” and it was time for a new model.
“What we have is a system designed 60 years ago for society as it was at that time...a radical new look is needed.”
Mr Barrett said it was important there was a return of council housing, not social.
“Housing, homeless and poverty issues are all closely related,” he said.
“What we need is wealth redistribution.”
Ms Shortall said it was necessary to keep the Universal Social Charge so it could be invested in public services.
Meanwhile, addressing the migrant crisis, Mr O’Ríordáin said it was his responsibility to overhaul the system of Direct Provision.