Homelessness and the Death of Jonathan Corrie

[Speaking in the Seanad during Order of Business]

I add my sympathies to those being extended to Mr. Corrie’s family. Homelessness is a very sad reality in the city and it is a problem which has many facets. People may find themselves in settled employment one minute, with a home and family, and they may suddenly find they have lost their job and house. Their problems are different to the issues experienced by somebody who is severely ill and addicted, who is unfortunately living a life which has not had the anchorage of family, employment, etc. We need to tackle the problem in its many different facets.

We should see this as an absolute emergency and state that we will not let another winter pass with people sleeping on the streets in near-freezing conditions. It is simply unacceptable. We can have all kinds of long-term plans for solving the mortgage repayment or default crises and the need to build more units but the hard core of people in danger of dying on the streets from the effects of exposure, crime or starvation number in the hundreds and not the thousands. It is a problem that is eminently fixable; it could be done with a budget not of hundreds of millions of euro but probably the low tens of millions of euro.

I suggest the need for an emergency action plan. First, we need a major reprioritisation of public spending. There is something a little offensive about trying to make a city look beautiful by building new parks, painting the window surrounds of old buildings and beautifying our statues while people are underneath those statues and in the eaves of those buildings who are freezing. We should put a blanket ban on spending money on anything that could be classified as a beautification project until we have adequate emergency homeless shelters in place and provisions in place so that anybody sleeping outside, under a bridge, flyover or a bush in a park will have somewhere to go, although it may not be the best home in the world. They would be warm, dry and safe in some kind of wardened accommodation. We could afford to do that without breaking any banks. As I indicated, we could halt any beautification projects. Although it may offend many people, I believe the dead leaders of the 1916 Rising would probably like nothing more than to have a “seven signatories” homeless shelter rather than more plaques on the walls commemorating events from hundreds of years ago.

Every public relations contract in every local authority in the country can be ended and we should put a modest tax on cigarettes, with the money being used specifically for maintaining a homeless shelter. We could fix this problem in approximately six weeks if we had the will. Dublin City Council is spending money this year on an interpretive centre for Bull Island. The entire country is starting to resemble a bull island if this is the scale of priorities when people are freezing in the street.

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