GAA stars help put housing crisis back in the spotlight

Some of the GAA stars who slept out on Dublin's streets as part of Gaelic Voices for Change.
Some of the GAA stars who slept out on Dublin's streets as part of Gaelic Voices for Change.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Last weekend saw one of those heartening stories that intersperse the usual diet of misery, misfortune and ochón ochón we serve up in the news business; over 400 prominent GAA players, male and female, slept out overnight to understand what it’s like to be a homeless person or “rough sleeper” while at the same time raising funds for the many charities that deal with this issue.

This is a seasonal story, as Christmasy as the lights on Shop Street, or of the prospects of a white Christmas.

And since the recession has come to an end, the focus of Government at Christmas has been to eradicate homelessness – not that it’s been a great success.

The Coalition of 2011 promised that street homelessness would be no more by 2016. Of course, it wasn’t. Then in the winter of 2014 there was a huge crisis caused by a cold snap and the death of a homeless man, Jonathan Corrie, on the streets of Dublin.

Amid a huge welter of publicity the then Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly announced a major initiative to deal with the crisis. It included the forcing through of emergency hostel accommodation, an all-night café for homeless people, plus a longer-term solution that – you guessed it – would eradicate homelessness.

That didn’t work either. Anyway by that stage Alan Kelly was gone. The new Minister, Simon Coveney, promised a radical solution and produced a big glossy policy paper called Rebuilding Ireland.

That would be the panacea for all Ireland’s housing and homelessness problem. One of its big promises that no families would be living in unsuitable emergency accommodation such as B&Bs or hotels The deadline was July this year.

You’ve guessed it; that deadline was missed too. And yes, the problem was actually worse then than it was when Coveney took over.

Now Coveney has been replaced by Eoghan Murphy who has discarded all the big plans and is trying to do things incrementally, almost by stealth.

So far, so patchy. He has not really made any inroads into homelessness. More families have declared themselves in need of emergency accommodation since the summer than have been catered for elsewhere.

In fairness to Murphy, he has got a few hubs up and running in Dublin. These are centres that are a step above hotels and hostels – residences where each family has an apartment of sorts, plus a lot of support services and specialist staff on site to help them.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.