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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 Nov 2017

Vol. 962 No. 1

Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

"We have a low level of homelessness compared to our peer countries", according to our Taoiseach. That has no factual basis whatsoever. "It is damaging to Ireland's international reputation that our social response to the housing crisis is being portrayed as dysfunctional", according to the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English. "When somebody becomes homeless, it does not happen overnight. It takes years of bad behaviour, probably", according to Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. "Homelessness is a dreadful thing, but it is a normal thing. It happens", according to Conor Skehan, chair of the Housing Agency.

Last week was a bad week for the Government on the issues of homelessness and the housing crisis. We saw an insidious, conscious campaign to normalise homelessness and to blame the victims of the housing crisis. The message clearly went out, from the top of Government, to set free the Fine Gael within. This happened. The callous, Dickensian approach of Fine Gael to those who are the victims of the housing crisis and those who are homeless was on full display. It was hard to conceive that it could get any worse, but it has. On the very day that record homeless-rough sleeper figures are released - 184 people, which is clearly an understatement - the Government is set to oppose our Bill. It is a simple Bill, which would mean that planning permission will be required for anti-homeless devices such as spikes, bars and sprinkler systems designed to discourage homeless people from seeking some shelter. It is a Bill which would allow local councils effectively to ban such devices through local development plans. I am awaiting the Government's reasoning for opposing such a basic, simple measure. Fundamentally, the Government has to decide if it is in favour of these anti-homeless devices. Is it in favour of sending a message to homeless people that they are not welcome and that they should move on? Is it in favour of making it even more difficult for rough sleepers to find some shelter from the elements that we have seen in recent days? That is what the Government's vote, and the vote of Fianna Fáil, will represent if they take that step, as I believe they will.

There has been a proliferation of these devices around our cities, and, shamefully, leading the charge was the Department of Social Protection, as it was known, under the then Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, which has perhaps 50 bars in front of Gandon House, across the road from Connolly Station, to prevent rough sleepers from sleeping or resting outside that public building. People walking around will see them in Henry Street, Grafton Street, O'Connell Street, Temple Bar and right across Dublin city, and in towns and cities around the country. The approach that lies behind them could sum up the approach and the attitude of the Government, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which appears to be see no homeless, hear no homeless, help no homeless.

The way we are heading with these devices was demonstrated last week by Waterways Ireland, which gave a written notice to quit to homeless people, with nowhere else to stay, who were living in tents along the banks of the canal.

It then proceeded to flood the area, literally to force them on their way. Waterford Whispers News captured it perfectly: "Government Unveil New 'Homeless Plough' To Clear Streets During Winter". If only it was just a joke and not close to the truth of the approach this Government is taking. We are heading in the direction of cities in America like Seattle, which have homeless sweeps of areas of the city where there are homeless people and sweep them out of the way on a regular basis in order that people do not have to see them, despite the fact that people protest and mobilise against these actions. That is the approach this Government is driving towards and which is encapsulated by opposing this Bill.

I presume the Government will disingenuously ask: "Sure, is this the best that Solidarity can offer people sleeping on the sides of public buildings?" Obviously, it is not but in the past couple of weeks we have heard from homeless people, and from people active in fighting against homelessness, about the insufficient number of shelters, people only being able to access sleeping bags and the many people who do not want to go into emergency accommodation because of the difficult conditions in such places, especially in the form of drug use.

We put this Bill forward to deal with one part of a huge housing crisis that affects most people in this State in some way or another. The profit-driven property market, the refusal of the Government and councils to build public homes and the absence of real rent controls have meant most people have been forced down at least one rung of the so-called property ladder. Those who previously would have bought homes now cannot afford them and only the top 15% of earners can get mortgages to enable them to buy homes. Instead, they rent. Those who previously rented now cannot afford to do so because, to be able to rent a one-bed apartment in this city on an affordable basis, a person needs to be on a salary of €42,000, which is quite a bit above the average. The 500,000 young people in this category are trapped at home or forced into substandard accommodation like bedsits. Those who cannot afford rent for bedsits or substandard accommodation, such as low-paid workers, are forced into emergency accommodation. Right at the bottom rung in terms of the impact of this crisis are those who have been kicked off the ladder entirely, those 184 people who we have now heard are rough sleeping in Dublin.

We are concerned with the whole ladder and the whole of society. Tony Benn once said, "The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it." The same is true for how the Government treats rough sleepers and homeless people generally. It is also true of how this Government and previous Governments have treated Travellers, such as with the 90% cut in the accommodation budget in the course of the crisis, and refugees and asylum seekers in the open prisons of direct provision.

If people are being pushed down the ladder, there is another side where people are going up the ladder. There are 15,000 extra dollar millionaires in this country compared with last year and 63% of homes that have been bought in the past few years were bought by cash buyers, which include vulture funds and rich individuals. Cairn Homes owns 20% of residential land in Dublin and could build 12,000 homes but, instead, built just 94 in the course of 2017. Stephen Kinsella put it well in The Sunday Business Post at the weekend, writing that property owners were the people quietly benefiting from a crisis experienced by the young and the poor. He said our shortage was in housing and the result was misery for the poorest and happiness for the wealthy. Karl Marx put it more dramatically in Das Kapital: "Accumulation of wealth at one pole is ... at the same time accumulation of misery ... at the opposite pole".

There are winners and losers from this housing crisis. The winners are the vulture funds, the big landlords and the developers the Government represents and the losers are everyone else - the rough sleepers, those in emergency accommodation, those facing unaffordable rent rises, those facing evictions and those who cannot afford to buy a home. The Government is callously indifferent to the need of all those people for a home and it repeatedly puts the right to profit of the winners before the rights of the others to a home. Fundamentally the Government does it, in the words of the Minister, because of its neoliberal ideology which means an absence of money and resources to build public homes. Figures this week show the incredible situation that councils have landbanks on which 38,000 homes could be built but that, since 2016, just over 1,000 have been built, between direct council homes and housing associations. In the four Dublin local authorities, with a combined waiting list of 33,000 families, just ten homes have been built this year.

The answer is quite simple. As a small step, pass this Bill tomorrow, implement a Housing First strategy and recognise that the only solution to homelessness is for people to have homes. Build public homes, council and affordable homes, on a massive scale on public land to resolve this crisis.

We are not suggesting for one minute that this piece of legislation is the solution to the housing crisis or homelessness. This Bill is simply a measure to ensure that people in the most desperate situations, who are victims of the failure of successive Governments and housing authorities, are not further persecuted and victimised beyond what they have had to endure so far from the lack of long-term solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis. It cannot be described as anything else. People are now putting sprinkler systems to sprinkle cold water on homeless people lying under doorways outside shops or businesses. As if it is not bad enough that their lives are in danger or that, when they ring an emergency number, they cannot get accommodation which they are not terrified to go into because of the drug use and alcohol problems in hostels and the fear that their clothes and goods will be stolen, meaning they are forced to sleep on the street, they then have to face the humiliation and indignity of a sprinkler system set up to sprinkle cold water on them while they are sleeping on the streets in winter. In other cases, spikes, bars and other barriers are put up to prevent them finding some sort of shelter from the cold and the elements.

I will not believe the credentials of the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy English, or the Taoiseach until we get an apology for statements made in the past couple of weeks on this unprecedented homeless crisis. The Taoiseach should not tell us he has compassion or that the Opposition does not have a monopoly on compassion. He should apologise for suggesting the homelessness situation in this country is somehow normal by international standards. That minimises a shocking and unacceptable crisis. The Minister of State, Deputy English, suggested that those who continue to protest and shout out about the homelessness crisis are somehow damaging our international reputation. What a shocking attempt to turn the tables on those who are calling out the failure of the Government and the authorities to deal with this obscenity. Is the Minister going to demand an apology from Eileen Gleeson of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, who made the extraordinary statement that people ended up homeless as a result of years of bad behaviour?

That is a shocking statement for anyone to make, or for Conor Skehan, head of the Housing Agency to talk about homelessness in this country being normal. If that is the attitude at the top, a situation which is already disastrous is destined to get worse. There should be apologies for this. The Government should pull back from this cynical and obviously orchestrated campaign, probably run by the strategic communications unit, to try to minimise the crisis. The Government needs to face up to it and do anything possible to stop the further persecution, suffering and hardship of people who are at the sharp end of this catastrophic failure by housing and governmental authorities. That is all this Bill does.

Beyond that, it allows for the right of advocacy groups, the homeless themselves and others to oppose planning permission for anti-homeless measures - the phrase itself is extraordinary. What will happen if we do not stop these anti-homeless measures is that we will get more deaths. If someone cannot sleep under a shelter that exists at the side of an office building or shopping centre, or under a bridge at a canal, where will he or she end up sleeping? Will this person magically get somewhere to stay? No, he or she will not. This person will end up sleeping in an even more dark, dingy, dangerous, unhealthy environment, down a back lane where we know that the likelihood of death is greatly increased, and deaths will increase significantly. That is what this specific measure proposes: it is to end the further persecution of the homeless.

Beyond that we are saying that the solution to this crisis is a massive increase in directly provided council housing on public land, rent controls that bring rent down to affordable levels, where rents are set at levels to prevent vulture funds or unscrupulous landlords from increasing rents to unaffordable levels, and stopping economic evictions by landlords or vulture funds.

I will conclude by answering why we keep going on about council housing. I have heard the Government's response, which accuses us of only wanting to talk about council housing but that it is providing other types of social housing which is just as good. It is not just as good. There is a reason we are going on about council housing and its miserable levels of delivery. Can the Minister answer how many council houses were built in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which is one of the best performing areas for meeting the Government's targets? There were six. There are 6,000 people on the housing list and that will be 10,000 by the end of the year. Last year the council managed to build 54, so the figure is decreasing but it looks better because we have approved housing bodies and more Part 5 schemes. That is not good enough and I will give a few examples why that is the case.

Nicola is 13 years on rent allowance and after all that time she is 98th on the list. She has four children, of 13 years, nine years, three years and one eight months. All four children are in one bedroom. The mother's bedroom is too small for even the travel cot that the eight month old is in. The three year old is also in a cot which is far too big for the room and the 13 and nine year olds are in bunks and have to get dressed in the one bathroom. They have no hope of getting housed. She does not want to get a HAP, which is social housing, because at least the landlord of this rotten, insufficient, over-crowded place happens to be a not-bad landlord who will not evict her. If she goes to a HAP house that could be slightly bigger, she could be evicted and homeless again within weeks because HAP is not like a council house. One can be evicted from it and people are regularly.

In the case of the Joyce family, there had been ten of them in a two bedroom house. Most of the members of that family have been in and out of homeless accommodation all their lives. Kayley, who is one of the children in the family, and is now a mother herself, decided that emergency accommodation would be better than living in those overcrowded conditions, with ten people over three generations in a chronically overcrowded house.

Sarah Jane has four children. Her sister, who also had four children, passed away and now she looks after eight children in a three bedroom house and no garden. She is in an approved housing body house. The problem in this case is that it is not possible to transfer from approved housing bodies to a council house because of overcrowding.

HAP is not like a council house. It does not give the sort of security, support and back-up that a council house provides. That is why we keep going on about council houses, but the Government continues to resist building them or is doing so in miserable numbers even though, as highlighted last week, we have sufficient land to build 38,000 council houses, where last year the Government built 400. The targets are miserable compared to demand. That is the solution: the Government must start using public land and resources to build council houses so we adopt a serious long-term solution to this crisis.

As we face the crisis in homelessness and work to resolve it and help these people our first priority must be those who are most vulnerable, namely those who are sleeping rough. I will focus my comments on the actions being taken to help these people during this crisis. I will not use my comments to demonise people working in homelessness to help these people into supported accommodation, to misrepresent others, who cannot come into the Chamber to defend themselves, to normalise rough sleeping which is what this Bill tries to do, or to make homelessness a political football which I believe the Deputy and his colleagues are doing.

Then why does Fr. Peter McVerry support this Bill?

This year we will support more than 21,000 tenancies in social housing supports. Next year we will build almost double the figures built by local authorities, housing bodies and social houses this year which was four times the 2015 figure. We will not return to the era of monotenure massive social housing estates because we do not believe in segregation and division, but in mixed communities. That is what we are doing with Rebuilding Ireland. There is €6 billion of capital ring-fenced with which we can provide for the needs of people on our social housing lists. We will be able to get people out of homelessness into secure, supported accommodation. That is what the Government is trying to do. We will not use this issue as a political football.

At a housing summit in September, I emphasised the need for all local authorities to have sufficient emergency beds and appropriate facilities for every person sleeping rough on any night of the week. Today, the Dublin Region Housing Executive has reported a total of 184 people who were sleeping rough across the Dublin region on the night of 7 November 2017. We are in the process of delivering 200 permanent emergency beds so that a bed and all necessary supports will be available to anyone who needs it. All these beds will be brought into use over the coming weeks and will be in place by 18 December. There are already 1,850 beds in supported temporary accommodation to which these 200 are in addition.

Exit from rough sleeping into Housing First will continue in parallel with this work. We support the Housing First model, for which we put beds in place and in coming weeks I will appoint a national director for Housing First. The Dublin Region Housing Executive will also implement its targeted programme to reach out to all those sleeping rough and provide them with the interventions and supports they need. Housing First is the best solution, but some people need beds immediately and these new beds will provide them on a permanent basis. These supports are being put in place with partner organisations. The facility I visited today on the Cabra Road will be funded by the Exchequer and operated by our partners in the Peter McVerry Trust. The people who use this facility will also have access to a range of health and welfare supports, as well as food and sanitary facilities which they would not have on the streets. Facilities such as the ones being delivered between now and Christmas will enable some stability so that the housing authorities and the HSE can work with individuals to see how they might exit homelessness into independent living. These beds are not just for the Christmas period. They are not temporary beds: they are permanent emergency supports. Our first priority when dealing with homelessness must be to look after those who are most vulnerable and that is the 180 people, and more, who are sleeping rough on the streets tonight, to get them safe shelter and sustainable supports.

We are entering a cold weather period when people will be particularly vulnerable and it is imperative that we have in place a co-ordinated and robust response for anyone who might be sleeping rough over this period. Accordingly, I requested that a contingency arrangement be put in place in the event that any additional requirements arise during the winter and cold weather period.

I welcome the DRHE's cold weather strategy, which was published today. This will see the availability of a further 50 temporary beds, if required, in addition to the 200 new beds that were also announced. There will be more than enough spare capacity in the system as an additional precaution. The cold weather strategy can also be activated during more extreme weather conditions. We saw the response for vulnerable homeless people during the recent Storm Ophelia, which was testament to that. This was implemented with our partner organisations in the voluntary sector. Given the cold weather expected over the coming days, arrangements are in place since last night with our partners, such as the Peter McVerry Trust and Focus Ireland, to ensure that additional temporary shelter will be brought into use across a range of existing services and facilities for single people and couples on a temporary basis. A contingency emergency response is in place permanently for any family who may be at risk of sleeping rough at any time. These beds are in addition to the 40 emergency beds that have already been delivered in the past number of months.

Across the country, cold weather plans and initiatives are also being advanced. Local authorities in major urban centres have confirmed to me that they have robust contingency arrangements to meet any additional homelessness requirements as they arise during the winter period. In Cork, an additional 25 temporary beds are in place. In Galway, 34 temporary beds are in place. In Limerick, an additional ten temporary beds are in place.

As the emergency beds and facilities are delivered over coming weeks, the DRHE has a targeted plan and programme to reach out to all rough sleepers and provide them with the interventions and supports that they need. As I have stated, my priority was to deliver permanent emergency accommodation in 2017 and there will be enough beds in place by the end of the year to meet the needs of all those who are currently rough sleeping. The officials in my Department and I will continue to monitor and review the situation as the winter progresses.

We continue to face a crisis in homelessness. However, the situation is beginning to look like it is stabilising in Dublin, which is where our homeless problem has been most severe. The numbers continue to increase outside of Dublin, however, so we must take the actions that have arrested the increase in Dublin and apply them elsewhere. In October, the Dublin region experienced a decrease of one in the number of homeless adults and the number of families in emergency accommodation increased by one despite 88 new families entering services during the month, meaning that 87 families successfully exited homelessness in the same period. This follows two months of a decline in the numbers of families in emergency accommodation in Dublin. In the same month, the number of families exiting commercial hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation also reduced from 690 to 676, which is a 22% decrease in the number of families in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation since the high point of March 2017. Last week, during Private Members' business, I spoke about the new family hubs which provide family appropriate transitional accommodation. I can now say that between now and January 2018 an additional 185 hub spaces will become available in Dublin and an additional 45 spaces in Limerick.

Since the beginning of Rebuilding Ireland, in addition to securing housing for those who have already lost their homes, DRHE has worked tirelessly to prevent people from losing their homes. This has resulted in more than 600 preventions of homelessness in addition to more than 2,000 exits from homelessness since the beginning of this year. That is more than 2,600 people who would be homeless today if not for the coordinated efforts led by the DRHE and Eileen Gleeson. This is the product of many hours and weeks of work by the DRHE. We ask those who feel they are at risk of homelessness to link in with the DRHE at the earliest opportunity so that it, with its partner Threshold, can begin, in the first instance, to prevent the eviction or, where this is not possible, put the correct supports in place to ensure the housing needs of the household are met.

The number of people accessing emergency accommodation in October was 8,492 nationally. This comprises 5,298 adults and 3,194 dependants. While the figure has increased, the rate of increase is much smaller and we are seeing the number stabilising in the Dublin region. The delivery of homes is key to meeting the needs of those experiencing homelessness. We will provide social housing solutions for more than 21,000 individuals and families this year and my Department, local authorities and approved housing bodies will continue to work closely, quickly and proactively to identify further solutions and increase social housing supports so we can give those in emergency accommodation the help they need.

I am concerned that the effect of this Bill is to imply that rough sleeping is somehow acceptable and that owners or tenants of properties should in some way support this or at least not prevent it. We are well aware of the many anti-social behaviours that happen, unfortunately, on our streets during the day but we have the supports in place at night for rough sleepers to get them into secure accommodation, keep them safe and then get them into successful pathways to more sustainable accommodation in the future. I fundamentally disagree that this Bill is an appropriate response to homelessness. I believe that providing Housing First is a better solution and I know that I am supported in that view by our housing partners, such as the Peter McVerry Trust, which supports the Housing First model.

Peter McVerry supports this Bill.

He supports this Bill as well. One can do two things at the one time.

Please, Deputies.

It is the traditional response when the Deputies do not like what they are hearing.

We are just telling the Minister that Peter McVerry supports the Bill.

Allow the Minister to speak, without interruption, please.

The Housing First programme provides direct access to housing and to the intensive health, addiction and personal supports required for people who are homeless and have complex needs to maintain their tenancies. We all know that emergency accommodation should only be a first response. We want all homeless people - individuals and families - to be moved on to more permanent housing quickly. Many homeless individuals have complex needs that require supports beyond housing. We must work with the homeless individuals one-on-one so that root issues can be addressed and managed to help with independent living in the long term. This includes rough sleepers, long-term users of emergency accommodation, young people exiting care and those exiting institutions such as prisons and hospitals.

The Housing First programme is critical in this regard and provides direct access to housing and intensive health, addiction and personal supports required for people who are homeless and have complex needs to maintain their tenancies. While using this model, 180 new tenancies have been created in Dublin under a consortium contract between the DRHE, Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust. We are now extending Housing First to all major urban areas outside of Dublin. The housing authorities in Cork, Limerick and Galway are working closely with the HSE and non-governmental organisations with a view to delivering 100 tenancies starting next year. As I said earlier, we are moving to appoint a national director of Housing First, who will be recruited shortly, to support the delivery of this important programme.

This programme is being extended to other urban areas and we will work with the HSE and NGOs to ensure that those tenancies are delivered next year. In addition, €350,000 in funding is being provided to NGOs to appoint exit co-ordinators to support those exiting homeless services and report to the DRHE. The homeless inter-agency group established following the housing summit in September to deliver homeless services in a coherent and joined-up way between the relevant Departments and agencies has also met on several occasions and is working specifically to improve the homeless help supports and mental health addiction services in emergency accommodation facilities. In 2018, community mental health services and support teams will engage with homeless action teams to improve outcomes for people who are homeless and have mental health issues. Multidisciplinary teams, addiction and mental health and primary care will be part of the Housing First initiatives for individuals in Dublin and other main urban areas. These are real, tangible services and supports available to individuals who find themselves in this unfortunate situation which can have a meaningful and positive impact on their lives. They are more structured, more secure and safer and more likely to lead to a long-term solution for homeless people than the proposals in the Bill. For that reason, the Government must oppose it.

I will share time with Deputies Smyth, Casey and Ó Cuív.

The Bill was described by the proposers as a mechanism to ensure that planning permission would be necessary to install anti-homeless devices which are currently exempted development. I would have thought that, historically, the majority of such exempted development structures and edifices were put in place by property owners and business owners in an attempt to protect their property from intruders, burglars and vandals and not to discourage specifically the use of their property as a refuge by homeless people.

Deputy Cowen does not get out a lot then.

It is disturbing and sad to hear of such instances. It is sad to hear the contention that Inland Waterways somehow allowed the level of a canal to be raised to force those who were living in tents on the side of the canal to move. This should be investigated and the situation clarified. Rather than ruling this Bill out of hand, if actions such as those contended are prevalent, there is an opening for the Minister to explore whether, in the course of planning applications, guidelines could provide for such measures instead of disbarring genuine attempts by property owners, business owners and land owners to protect their property as they see fit from, as I said, intruders, burglars and vandals, especially given the week that is in it and the debate last night on the vast up-scaling in the level of crime in both rural and urban areas.

It is sad to hear the frustration and anger expressed by many people and their fears for their property and themselves. It is sad they are contemplating the provision of tasers and other weaponry to protect themselves and their property rather than joining the Garda Reserve or ensuring the Government lives up to its obligation regarding the recruitment of gardaí and their deployment where required.

I do not wish to enter into another protracted debate on the housing crisis because I, along with many others here, have made suggestions and proposals, passed motions and introduced Bills in this regard. One such Bill, on vacant sites, fast-tracking the provision of units over shops and providing accommodation in towns, villages and cities much more quickly than at present, will be taken on Committee Stage tomorrow.

Bearing in mind the background to the legislation under discussion, it is sad that people in positions of strength and power have definitely given the public the impression, in an orchestrated way or otherwise, that our homelessness crisis is somehow normal and that we compare reasonably well against international norms. The figures collated in the first page of the OECD report constitute a warning against doing this, as has been said by many others. The comments of the Taoiseach, the Minister, his Minister of State and the chairman of the Housing Finance Agency some months ago to the effect that there was no housing supply problem and the more recent comment that our figures are somehow normal are a sad reflection on them. They have sought to retract or clarify the comments but, as was stated, perhaps it is time for them to put their hands up and say they were inappropriate, ill judged and wholly unsatisfactory and that they apologise for having made them and for the effect they have had on society.

The Minister of State got completely muddled when he said the international reputation was being damaged because many firms that wish to locate here in our cities and regions are worried that, if they do, there will be a major question mark over the provision of housing and affordable housing. Today I met representatives of IBEC in my region, the midlands, and they were laying out their stall in the context of the national planning framework. One of the recurring themes, from company after company, was that of housing and its availability and affordability. It is now proving to be an obstacle to them in attracting a relevant and well-qualified workforce.

I accept the intent of the Bill. I am surprised, worried, alarmed and saddened that it was felt necessary to put forward a measure such as this. I do not support it but I do believe there is an opportunity, under the planning guidelines and legal framework, for the Minister to address the matter and ensure that nobody is planning developments with a view to preventing the homeless from having a refuge. God forbid.

The intention behind this Bill is worthy. We all agree there is a problem with the construction of spikes that prevent rough sleeping. It is a sad reality that, on the streets of our cities and towns, homeless people seek shelter in doorways and porticos. It is regrettable that property owners feel the need to place spikes at ground floor points to prevent this. Introducing planning legislation to prevent the placement of spikes is the wrong way to counter the practice, however. In our view, planning guidelines should state the specific security measures and locations that require and do not require planning permission. This would involve each local authority taking account of the particular circumstances of its area, for example, the acute circumstances of rough sleepers in Dublin city centre compared with circumstances in rural local authority areas. A common-sense approach would involve not only each local authority but also, in the Dublin example, local chambers of commerce co-operating to ensure spikes that are unsafe, unwelcoming and ugly are avoided at all costs.

Most home and business owners are willing to engage with the practical issues that arise from rough sleeping on our streets. The text of this Bill is so poorly drafted, however, that its effect could easily have an impact on the legitimate rights of property owners to protect their homes and businesses from criminal damage or burglary. The critical section of the Bill states, "development shall not be exempted development which has the object or effect of deterring a homeless person from obtaining shelter from a structure, building or land". This is a very broad definition as nearly all legitimate security measures could easily be said to have the effect of deterring a homeless person. This is not the intention but I repeat to those who introduced this Bill that this is the wrong way to deal with planning matters such as this.

Just last night, this House debated the dreadful fear that home owners and businesses are experiencing because of rural crime. Rural property owners, in particular, are vulnerable to being attacked, almost at will, by gangs that use our roads, such as the M11 and N81, to target properties all over Wicklow. This Bill could easily be misused to deter rural property owners from using legitimate security measures to protect themselves, their families and their properties from these criminal gangs. One has only to read the text to realise what I am talking about. I have been dealing with planning applications for more than 15 years, so I know the implications of the text.

The Bill is not workable, not practical and can easily be misinterpreted. The issue of homelessness, with all the human tragedy it entails, and the issue of rough sleepers deserve far more comprehensive treatment than is evident in this Bill, however well-intentioned. There are complex reasons people are forced to sleep on our streets. Irish people are compassionate and regard the homelessness crisis as an unacceptable blight on their society. The Parliament of the people must take this crisis as seriously as it has taken the financial crisis. This Government still does not get it, and it still regards this crisis as normal. This is not good enough.

My colleagues, Deputies Cowen and Casey, have been front and centre in addressing the housing crisis and have put forward some key priorities from Fianna Fáil's perspective. We have put forward numerous Bills, such as the Vacant Housing Refurbishment Bill, to get to grips with the crisis. We successfully pressed for further investment in social housing.

The Taoiseach has claimed homelessness is not increasing and that it is low by international standards. That is simply untrue and misleading. The most recent figures show a total of more than 8,000 people homeless in Ireland, a record high. Nationally, there are in excess of 5,000 adults and 3,000 children homeless. This points to a clear example of a Government that has focused on spin over substance to date and that has downplayed the prevailing crisis.

The change that is proposed will impose a larger burden on property owners in proving that minor development is required. Currently, there are more than 100,000 on social housing waiting lists. Despite this high number, only 658 social houses were built last year. In addition, rents have soared to in excess of 32% above the peak in 2008. This means that Dublin city dwellers are spending as much as 55% of their take-home pay on rent alone.

The high house prices, combined with the Central Bank's restrictive rules, have meant that the home ownership level has reduced to a record low of 69% throughout the country. This is largely because the Government has scrapped the affordable housing scheme of 2011 and never re-established it. Although the Government launched its housing plan several times, it has not built a single unit in a number of counties. It has deliberately removed local authorities' role and slashed the Part V proportion to 10%.

This restrictive policy has meant that the State is well behind. To put the numbers into perspective, in 2007 to 2010 Fianna Fáil built more than 14,000 social houses. That is, on average, more than 3,500 per year and 117 homes per local authority per year. The record high for Fine Gael is between 2011 and 2016 when it built 3,050 social houses, which is 508 houses per year, on average, and only 16 per local authority per year. The approach Fianna Fáil would take is different in that it would focus on the home first. We would focus on new units and wraparound service. We believe HAP recipients should not be removed from the social housing list. In order to make homes more affordable, we would establish a new affordable home purchase scheme on State lands, as well as establishing an affordable rent scheme on State lands.

When we talk about homelessness and the housing crisis in Ireland and while I accept much of what has been said today, there is a perception that it only affects the larger urban areas. Even in rural constituencies such as mine in Cavan-Monaghan, people are on the social housing waiting list for three to four years. My local authority does not seem to have the capacity or wherewithal to build the types of developments that are needed when it comes to social housing. We have generations of families, including married couples, living with their parents because they cannot get on the property ladder and own their own home. In his endeavours to address this crisis I also ask the Minister to recognise the fact that it is not just urban areas where housing issues arise. It is also an issue in rural areas, especially when it comes to council housing.

Cé mhéad nóimead atá fágtha?

Cúig nóiméad.

Roinnfidh mé dhá nóiméad dó sin leis an Teachta Breathnach. I wish I had a much longer time to address the Bill. The first thing that is obvious from the Bill is that the local authority will be required to read into the mind of the proposer of a development as to the purpose of the development. That will give rise to a very strange situation.

The greatest scandal of housing in this country, as well as people sleeping in the streets, is the way that over a long period, Travellers have not been properly accommodated in suitable Traveller-specific accommodation or in houses, whichever is their choice. There has been a total failure of society in general to deal with this issue. The Bill would provide an out to local authorities to continue to renege on their responsibilities to deal with this issue and to continue with irregular housing arrangements that Travellers are forced to adopt. It is time that we dealt with the Traveller housing issue. I have been working with Travellers for many years. One of the greatest scandals was the Carrickmines fire but an even greater scandal was the aftermath of the fire, where locals objected to the rehousing of those families on a NIMBY basis, not in my back yard, despite the fact that there are Travellers living in the area who have been housed for a long time and cause no disturbance. The usual NIMBY arguments often do not stand up.

Above any group in society, Travellers would be the group most affected by the Bill and if anyone is really serious about dealing with this issue he or she should make a suggestion to the Minister. For many years we have relied on local authorities under Part 8 to vote for Traveller-specific houses. Many local authorities, including Galway City Council, have failed to grasp the nettle year after year. Galway City Council is in flagrant contravention of planning in Galway County Council's area. Despite the ruling from An Bord Pleanála, it will not grasp the nettle. I suggest that we stop leaving the decision on Part 8 planning for Traveller-specific housing to local authorities. Local authorities can make the plan for Traveller-specific housing in the normal way but related planning applications would be referred directly to An Bord Pleanála, which would have to take cognisance of the plan when considering any planning application and would allow for people to make objections in the usual way for a critical infrastructure process. If we were to do that it would do ten times more to provide high-quality, long-term suitable housing than the way outlined in the Bill, which just provides a quick lazy fix to a very serious problem.

When speaking on the homeless Bill last week I spoke about the onus on us to come up with some practical solutions but I do not consider the Bill before us to be a practical solution to solving the housing crisis. There is no doubt that it is a time of crisis and that at such times we must come up with emergency solutions and often desperate measures are required. Many young people with children are presenting for social housing and in some instances they are being driven out of their home by certain circumstances.

As a member of a local authority I was accused many times of dealing in the micro rather than the macro but I wish to deal with the micro and I will offer some practical solutions that might help to address homelessness. Currently, people who are in council houses are rightly obliged to advise the council of the occupancy of their house and that occupancy dictates the amount of rent paid. The living alone allowance is a vital source of income for many households together with the fuel allowance. Surely, during this crisis, and until such time as the Government gets to grips with the situation, a relaxation of the scheme would be allowed to operate to incentivise families to provide accommodation for relatives or friends in need. Figures have been touted of up to €1,500 being provided to HAP clients where housing is made available to accommodate a family unit and a lot more than that in the Dublin region. Surely a worthwhile scheme would be to offer genuine households an additional income of, for example, €500 that would be untaxed for making rooms in their home available until we get to grips with this problem.

I asked a question last year about the number of people and the number of approved housing bodies. The response was that there are 547 housing bodies with 6,500 staff. Surely, if some of those staff were relocated back to local authorities to do the job they need to do, we would be able to solve some of the problems. I am very conscious of the fact that I seem to be always allowed in last. Last but not least I wish to refer to half acre sites that have been abandoned in rural areas. Consideration should be given by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to allowing some form of septic tank on them as that would bring back a considerable number of small housing units in the countryside of which people would be delighted to avail.

I wish to share time with my two colleagues, Deputy Dessie Ellis and Deputy David Cullinane.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill. It is very simple and it is very reasonable because it is not looking to outlaw these devices; it is just placing a requirement on businesses or public bodies who would seek to put them on their premises to justify that through planning permission and to allow the rest of us to engage in that process. The Bill comes down to something very simple. If one thinks it is wrong for public or private property owners to put spikes on the ground or sprinklers under their doorways to stop homelessness, then one supports the Bill. If one thinks that it is justifiable, legitimate or appropriate, then one opposes the Bill. It really is that simple.

This is not an argument to support rough sleeping. Contrary to what the Minister said it is not an argument to normalise rough sleeping but it is an argument against the further stigmatisation of people who, because of the failure of the State to provide adequate emergency accommodation, have no choice but to sleep rough.

It is also an argument for common decency. I listened very carefully to my Fianna Fáil colleagues and I accept the sincerity of their remarks in terms of crime and the right of people to protect their property. However, there is nothing in the Bill that would prevent anybody anywhere from doing anything to protect his or her residential or commercial property because the specific devices we are talking about are spikes that go along the ground underneath a shelter at the front of a building or a sprinkler under such places. They are of no use to protect the properties the Deputies so rightly say are being affected by crime in rural and urban areas. I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív, in particular in respect of Galway County Council and Galway City Council and on Traveller accommodation generally.

Do not blame the county council.

I was referring to both Galway City Council and Galway County Council.

Why the county council?

Moreover, I maintain there is nothing in this legislation that would have any negative impact on Traveller accommodation. It is disingenuous of the Deputy to suggest otherwise.

Contrary to the claims of some people, no one chooses to sleep rough. I am pleased no one has made that claim in the Chamber today. However, sometimes in the public debate about homelessness we hear that people turn down emergency accommodation and choose to sleep outside. I work with some people who are rough sleepers. They tell us they are too fearful to go into emergency accommodation, especially dormitory-style emergency accommodation, because of the fear of theft and violence as well as the fear of being in proximity to drug use when they are going through detoxification. On these grounds, the decision to sleep rough is not a choice. These people simply believe they have no other option because of the failure of the State to provide either adequate emergency accommodation or any emergency accommodation.

In some of the locations where rough sleepers tragically died recently outside Dublin no emergency accommodation of any kind was available, whether adequate or otherwise. Those people did not choose to sleep rough. The absence of a safe and secure emergency response or a better permanent response was the cause of their difficulties.

It is appropriate to debate the matter today because three sets of figures have come out between today and yesterday. These figures are bad news on the homeless front. Other Deputies have already referenced the Dublin Region Homeless Executive figures for rough sleepers, which are disturbing. We have seen the Department's figures on emergency accommodation as well. I do not have time to go into the details now but I do not accept the Minister's interpretation of the figures as stabilising. A great deal is going on behind these figures. Yesterday, South Dublin County Council published its quarterly homeless figures report, produced by the strategic policy committee. Alarmingly, not only did the report show a significant increase in the number of people in emergency accommodation – the figures do not record children separately - but it also gave us figures for the number of presenters. The number of repeat presenters is especially alarming as is the frequency of repeat presenters at the emergency accommodation desk at South Dublin County Council. This confirms what we are hearing anecdotally, in other words, large numbers of families are presenting as homeless and there is no emergency accommodation for them. These families must present repeatedly throughout the month. In other cases, they may get into homeless accommodation in a hotel. Then they are put out because of the commercial decision of the landlord. Consequently, they are forced back into the system. What the Minister sees as stabilisation has more to do with the absence of adequate emergency accommodation. Families who have an emergency need are being pushed away from the emergency system and have to continue to repeat-present. If we had similar figures for the other Dublin local authorities, we would see the same pattern.

I have no wish to take any time from my colleagues. I fully support the Bill. If Deputies are against the spikes on the ground and the sprinklers under the shelter that further undermine the dignity of people who are forced to sleep rough, then they should support the Bill.

My colleague was diplomatic in responding to the Fianna Fáil contributions. I will not be as diplomatic because I believe some of them were rather cynical. It seems there was almost a competition among some of the colleagues to see who would come up with the best excuse not to support the Bill. An Teachta Ó Cuív won hands-down with his cynical remarks to the effect that there was some correlation between accommodation for Travellers and this Bill.

This is a practical Bill. No one on the side of those who proposed the Bill - I heard them speak earlier - presented it as a panacea for the housing crisis. Of course it is not. Everyone in the House has put forward practical proposals to Government. In fact, I said to the Minister the last time we spoke on housing in the Chamber that not a week goes by when we are not in the Chamber challenging the Minister and his Government on the housing crisis. Not a week or a month goes by when the housing crisis does not get worse. Yet, solutions are available for the Government. The problem is that the Government is simply not implementing them.

I have already had a discussion with the Minister about the all-party Oireachtas report, which was supported by all parties in the House. The Government is not even implementing the recommendations in that report. We would go further, but if the Government implemented the recommendations across a range of areas in that report, especially in respect of the number of new builds – the recommended number is 10,000 per year - it would solve many of the problems. This Bill deals with one problem and one problem only. Some businesspeople and some who own premises are using devices such as spikes and sprinklers to prevent people from sleeping rough. The spikes are dangerous generally. I have seen them in many different parts of Dublin in particular. I do not understand how anyone could see them as anti-loitering devices. They are dangerous. They should be regulated and the Bill is perfectly reasonable in this regard. It simply proposes that before any businessperson or anyone else can erect sprinklers, bars or spikes, they should seek planning permission. That is all the Bill seeks to do. It is one practical proposal to deal with one element of how we support those who are homeless.

Those of us who support the Bill absolutely understand that more accommodation is necessary. We also need more supports and shelters for those who are homeless and all the other practical solutions which, unfortunately, the Government has not put in place.

There is no more open expression of hostility to some of our most vulnerable and deprived citizens than the appalling use of anti-homeless spikes. The cynical term describing these inhuman barbs is "defensive architecture". With whom do these people think they are at war? What are they defending against? The city belongs to everyone as does the space within it. There are some positive controls, including traffic lights, to alert people to various dangers. There are acceptable barriers and rails in place for our safety and to stop people wandering into cars and buses. There are benches in the parks and picnic tables. These are inviting features and offer people a chance to rest and a place to bring their families. However, metal spikes in doorways and on ledges clearly make a hostile and aggressive statement. They suggest the owners do not want that sort of person there. They suggest such people are not as good as the rest of us and are somehow lesser beings. These are ugly statements to make to those who are destitute and homeless through no fault of their own. They represent the antithesis of Ireland of the welcomes. There is no céad míle fáilte for the homeless here. These features are not defensive architecture but abusive architecture. They do nothing to address the problem of homelessness; they force the problem to go somewhere else. The idea is that out of sight is out of mind. God forbid someone working in a big bank might have to look at a homeless person. Such anti-homeless devices are a direct assault on the homeless and on our humanity and dignity. They blame the victims for their plight. They divide us into the haves and the have-nots. This is not how I want us to be defined. This is not how I want our city and country to be defined. I have no wish for the problem of homelessness to be brushed under the carpet. I have no wish for the homeless to be labelled as some sort of untouchable caste. I want the homeless to be treated with dignity, respect and humanity.

For many years, mention of social housing by councillors or deputies from the bigger parties was always frowned upon. This has led to the situation now facing communities. The idea has been filtered down over the years that social housing and homelessness are bad and that the people affected will cause us problems. That is nonsense. We built social housing estates in the 1960s and 1970s in large numbers. The biggest problem was that we did not put the facilities in place. That is what we need to do: we need to build social housing estates.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is important to support the Bill, which seeks to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000.

I wish to express my disappointment at the number of rough sleepers in our streets today. The Government has done little to fix the current housing crisis. It is now more than 15 months since A Programme for a Partnership Government was introduced. In the programme, the Government dedicated a whole section on ending the housing shortage and homelessness. Yet, today the Dublin Region Housing Executive published figures, including the figure of 184 rough sleepers in the city on the night of 7 November last. That was the highest this figure has been since the official count began more than ten years ago.

I cannot see any substantial efforts being made to fulfil the promise of ending homelessness. I cannot see any actions being carried out to reduce it by the Government.

In the first place, it is shameful that families are moving around our towns and cities, sleeping in doorways and under windowsills as they seek to find shelter from the weather. What is much more shameful are the barriers, spikes and water sprinklers put in place by property owners to stop homeless people from gaining shelter. These are truly inhumane measures that should not be allowed.

Every week, new motions from all elements of the Opposition are introduced in an effort to tackle the housing crisis but we have seen little action on the Government side. Recent figures show that 1,442 families are homeless, an increase of 25% since this time last year. While I appreciate that the housing crisis will take a long time to fix, we have heard much talk but seen no action on housing shortages in my constituency of Cork South-West. Every day of the week, constituents on the verge of homelessness call to my office and visit my clinics. Many are sleeping in the homes of family members and plead with me to find them a house. The sad reality is that no houses are being built to meet demand.

I received a telephone call today from a young man who expects and fears that he will be made homeless before Christmas. He is married with two children and cannot find a home for his family. All Deputies are dealing with homelessness.

The motion is different from previous motions on homelessness in that it refers to the use of sprinkler systems and spikes. I have not seen these measures being used and I do not believe they are in use anywhere in County Kerry. Some people will choose to sleep rough because they are afraid to use hostels or places of refuge for various reasons, for example, the ready availability of drink or drugs, but I sometimes wonder if there are others who would not take any place to sleep to get them off the streets. I may be wrong in that regard.

While Kerry County Council is proactive in providing housing and emergency accommodation, it appears to have stopped providing demountable homes. Planning permission is now required for this type of home. That was not always the case because I remember once when a family home caught fire that the council provided two demountable homes the following day. The large family concerned were living in these homes in their own yard the following evening. Why have local authorities stopped providing demountable homes? I am sure many local authorities have land on which they could provide such accommodation on an emergency basis to give families and single persons a place to sleep. At least they would be dry and would be looked after in some way, rather than being worried, as the couple who telephoned me today are, that they will be homeless before Christmas. The family in question has land but the local authority will not accede to my request to provide them with a demountable temporary home. I do not know the reason for its refusal to do so but I will try to find out again tomorrow.

The Minister stated that money is not an obstacle. While demountable homes are a little expensive, they are an option that is not being explored.

In case anything I say could be construed as a conflict of interest, I should declare that I have an interest in this matter.

I compliment the staff of Kerry County Council's homelessness unit on the excellent work they do. Our housing investigating officers do the best they can to ensure people in the county who are facing homelessness are treated with respect. They do their best with what they have but the trouble is that private and council accommodation is extremely scarce.

When plans are being made to address the accommodation crisis, I insist that all persons in rented accommodation have their own bathroom. The requirement to have a shower, toilet and so forth is sacrosanct. However, people give the impression that bedsits are awful places to live. If a bedsit is nice and provides proper space, there is nothing wrong with it. Years ago, people from Kerry moved to Dublin and spent years in bedsits until they were able to get on the housing ladder and buy a home. They were glad to have affordable accommodation.

I welcome the recent television programme which showed people living in cramped conditions. These outrageous conditions should not be tolerated. However, there is nothing wrong with living in a bedsit. I ask the Government to consider this issue because bedsit accommodation is a sensible way of dealing with circumstances in which there simply are not enough places to live.

Every village has empty houses. A system should be introduced to incentivise and encourage people to provide accommodation in empty units. While I acknowledge the Government is moving in this direction, we must make progress on this issue and try to have vacant dwellings turned into places where people can live safely, happily and with dignity. All we want is fair play.

The argument is made that accommodation must be big. There is nothing wrong with small accommodation, especially for single people, provided it is nice, clean and has been done up. I ask the Government to take my suggestion on board.

The old saying, "Not in my back yard", applies in this context. It is sickening and in no small way ironic that the House should debate this motion on a day when homeless statistics were published showing that the problem is not being solved. This will not come as a surprise to most people.

Increasingly, Departments and business premises are taking measures to prevent homeless people from finding some semblance of shelter when they cannot secure a hostel place. Some may not feel safe using a hostel, which is very much an issue. Those of us who woke up during the night to the sound of torrential rain will not have been surprised by reports of flooding this morning and will find it hard to reconcile this with people being denied the possibility of finding a degree of shelter outdoors last night. While I sympathise with some small business owners who have health and safety concerns and must try to open their premises every morning, I find it hard to accept the practice by which Departments erect inhumane structures to prevent people from finding shelter, particularly given that the growth in homelessness is very much a failure of successive Governments.

The issue is not the barriers per se, although I find them offensive and they make matters worse, but the need to deal with cases where people do not have a roof over their heads. My office is in Agriculture House. The side of the building could provide a decent shelter, although I certainly would not like to spend the night sleeping under it. However, a structure has been erected specifically to deter people who had previously used it as a shelter at night from continuing to do so.

Deputy Paul Murphy noted that Fr. Peter McVerry said dignity is the first thing that is lost. This is compounded by virtue of the fact that people who do not have a place to sleep, to wash, to go to the loo or to eat are being told, by means of a physical structure, that they are not wanted even in an outdoor environment. When one gets the No. 66 bus to come into town and sit upstairs, one cannot but see tents in the Phoenix Park. None of us would have ever expected that we would have got to this stage. While rough sleeping is something people undoubtedly understood as homelessness, there is a whole range of other types of homelessness as well. It is deviating a little from the Bill but I refer to split families and several families often living under the same roof. I remember the housing rights campaign in the 1970s of one family, one home. It is shocking to think that in 2017, we are further away from what was aspired to at that time.

The homeless figures released today show there are 5,298 adults and 3,194 children who are homeless. I never thought I would see a child who was homeless. The first time I encountered a child who was homeless and sleeping in a car was five or six years ago. I remember coming in here and speaking about it. I was horrified at the idea. We have stopped being horrified. We talk about numbers. That sense of outrage must be the driving force, for example, for Government. The language that has been used in comparing Ireland with other countries has diminished the sense of outrage we should rightly have. It is not normal. It should not be normal. It is not acceptable. It is particularly offensive for Departments, in particular, to erect barriers when they are part of the problem.

I wish to share time with Deputy Gino Kenny.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I will use my time to reply to some of the points that have been raised in the debate by those who voiced their opposition to the Bill. However, I will start by commenting on the information that has been provided to us and to the country today on the number of rough sleepers in this city. We are told there were 134 such rough sleepers six months ago and that on the night of the count in October, that figure had increased to 184. Moreover, if one includes the 50 people who stayed that night in Merchant's Quay, there were 234 people who could not be accommodated elsewhere. That is a shocking figure. It is not a small marginal increase. It is not an increase that has happened over a period of years. It is an increase of more than one third in the space of six months on the Minister's watch. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to listen to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come in here and state, it is "beginning to look like it [homelessness] is stabilising in Dublin" on the day that those figures are released. This is a shocking failure on the Minister of State, Deputy English's, part and on the part of the Government.

The Minister tried to recruit the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust as an ally in making the case against this Bill stating that the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust is for Housing First and is for providing homes instead of this approach. Fr. Peter McVerry supports this Bill. He participated in a press conference with us yesterday in support of this Bill. The other homeless charities also support this Bill. Let us have a little bit less of the political football from the Minister in that regard.

In arguing against the Bill in the media during the week, a Government source incredibly stated, "We do not want to enable people to stay on the street, we want to enable them to find a home." That is not an argument against this Bill. A homeless person who goes tonight to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection office in Gandon House, across from Connolly Station, but who cannot sleep on a bench underneath a shelter because there are iron bars all along the line, will not get up and walk into a house because the Government has failed to provide housing or even a roof over that person's head. Instead, he or she will go somewhere else. If the person cannot get a place in such a building, he or she will go to a darker and quieter place, and the Minister of State knows where that leads to. There have been years of anti-homelessness laws in the United States and they show us where this leads to, if this policy continues. There were hearings recently in the state of Colorado about the anti-homelessness laws. They heard about the homeless man, who could not sleep outside a building, who went to sleep down a dark lane and was run over and killed by a car. They heard from five different women who had gone to sleep in dark quieter places and had been raped in those places. This is a criminal type of policy that the Minister of State, Deputy English, is defending with these anti-homeless devices.

Fianna Fáil, in the course of the debate, made points about rural crime. It is a complete red herring. The idea that people will put sprinkler systems up outside their homes to stop the homes from being robbed is nonsense, as is the idea that iron bars on benches outside of buildings will stop burglars. They would be stopped from what, from having a fag after the deed has been done? The point is Fianna Fáil knows that it is nonsense. I will not go into it in any great detail.

It is interesting that we did not see an appearance in this debate from the Independent Alliance. It is a busy day for them - the tickets to North Korea are officially being cancelled today. On the silence from the Independent Alliance, I would have liked to have seen the socialist Minister, Deputy Finian McGrath, or the socialist Minister, Deputy Halligan, come in here, look me in the eye and justify voting against a Bill that would ban sprinkler systems dousing homeless people with cold water on a cold November night.

I will save my final word for the Fine Gael Members of the House, many of whom say that they were inspired to come into politics by the ideas of the "Towards a Just Society" document that was produced in the 1960s. The Minister of State, Deputy English, cannot defend the idea of a just society and oppose a Bill that would make it easier to stop spikes, iron bars and sprinkler systems being used against those who the Government's policies have denied even having a roof over their heads.

Obviously, I support the Bill.

This is a symptom of how society deals with people who find themselves homeless, not because they choose to be homeless but because society makes them homeless. Many Members in this House have stated how many are homeless today. There are 184 rough sleepers in Dublin today. That is 42% more than last year's figure. If anybody finds that normal, he or she is in the wrong game. They would be better off walking out the door here and walking away. That is not normal.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, even stated over the weekend that we have not seen the worst of this crisis. The Minister is right but the previous Minister said the exact same, as did his predecessor. Obviously, there is something wrong.

I also want to refer to comments that were made about people who are homeless, including by the Minister of State himself, the Taoiseach and others. They were completely crass and insensitive to people who find themselves in a crisis of homelessness. As I said in last week's debate, it is almost like social whitewashing of homelessness, such is the level of debate on the matter.

The devices to which this Bill refers are completely crude and dehumanising. The term for them is "defensive architecture", which is quite incredible. This is even worse than the term "gated communities". The message is "stay away, don't come here". There are other cities across the world where the situation is similar to that in Dublin but they try to cater, aesthetically for want of a better word, for people who find themselves homeless. I was in Lisbon last year where I discovered that lockers are provided for people who find themselves homeless. Homeless people are provided with lockers to store possessions such as clothes and blankets. I am not saying that is normal. It is abnormal but in a society where homelessness is prevalent, it is a good thing.

These devices are completely alien in a civilised society. Any business that erects such devices should be boycotted. It would be a good thing if the Government tried to eradicate homelessness, although I do not think it is capable of doing so. I do not mean that personally in respect of the Minister of State. I do not think Fine Gael is capable of doing it because it is ideologically wedded to a market system and it believes that homelessness is acceptable in a market economy. As long as that belief system prevails, we will always have homelessness. We need to change the system. There are 8,000 people in emergency accommodation, which is a disgrace. There are 190 people homeless in this city today, which is also a disgrace.

I urge the Minister of State to support this Bill. While it is largely cosmetic it will send out a message that this is not acceptable and that homelessness is not acceptable.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House on this matter. It is very important that we are here again, discussing housing and homelessness for possibly the seventh or eighth week in a row. That is where the focus has been for everybody in here. It is our number one priority and as I said last week, it is wrong to argue otherwise. Week in and week out, everyone in this Dáil chooses to make this the number one issue and that is right.

We have today's figures, which the Government published. We count them and put them out there. Nobody is trying to hide from these figures. We admit that they are not acceptable and Deputy Gino Kenny is absolutely right in that regard. Regardless of ideology, nobody would accept homelessness as normal or want to accept it as thus. I acknowledge Deputy Kenny was not referring to me personally but my party does not accept or want that either and neither does any other party in this Dáil. That is not what we are about. This House has agreed to spend €6 billion to fund solutions to homelessness and rough sleeping. There is a commitment there in the form of funding.

Today I met all of the housing teams from the local authorities to discuss delivery timelines, moving projects forward, trebling our pipeline of projects and so forth. Deputies Cowen, Ó Broin and others have been saying for months that we need to improve the delivery timelines and so forth. In my discussions with the housing teams I make it clear that the minimum target in Rebuilding Ireland, which is to reach 10,000 social housing units per year has cross-party support. Many Deputies in this House want to do more and that is fine but we must have a plan to get there. However, I make it clear to everyone concerned that there is cross-party support for this. The Government has announced the amount to be spent but everybody here agrees that it is the least we will do. I stress to the local authorities that Deputies view them as the number one, front-line bodies to solve this problem. Local authority housing is key and local authorities, in conjunction with all of the other stakeholders, must drive this. We want them to do that and every week in the Dáil, Deputies argue that local authorities should do this and the Government agrees. I stressed to the local authorities, on behalf of everyone in the Dáil, that everyone here supports this. Some Deputies want them to do more but the money is there and the local authorities must make it happen and put projects in place. I do not want to bring ideology into this at all because we are all committed to solving this problem and if we are not, we should not be in here.

I welcome the discussion on this Bill. However, it is misplaced and unworkable, albeit well-intended, legislation that will not solve the problem. The use of these devices is wrong. I do not agree with these devices, which are not needed. Their use is not something I would encourage but I do not believe this legislation will solve the problem or even help the situation. It is not an appropriate response. We are in this House every week trying to explain what we are doing. Again this evening we heard some Deputies saying that the Government is doing nothing and that nothing is happening but that is not fair. It is not fair to all of the people who are working, week in and week out, to improve the situation. It is not fair to all of the people in the various housing bodies, non-governmental organisations and voluntary groups who are working night after night and week after week, spending fundraised and taxpayers' money trying to help people. People still come into this Chamber, week after week and say that nothing is being done. I have no problem saying that not enough is being done but it is wrong to say that nothing is being done. That does not reflect the work that is being done night after night and week after week.

I welcome the debate on this issue and would welcome more solutions to address the problem. We do not see this legislation as a solution, however. I accept that these devices are wrong and unnecessary but this legislation will not help rough sleepers or address their issues. That is what we need to face up to here. The issues faced by rough sleepers are complex and require nuanced and comprehensive solutions. A simple change to the planning code is not going to provide that. Some Deputies argued that the legislation aims to send out a clear message and I can accept the motive behind it. However, the legislation is unworkable and will simply complicate what we are trying to do, which is to prevent rough sleeping. We want to be able to help rough sleepers into different housing solutions, whether that is emergency or permanent. Mention was made of the Housing First option, which works very well in Scandinavian countries, in Canada and elsewhere. We introduced it here in the last year and it is working quite well. Approximately 180 people have gone through that system and while that is not nearly enough, it is certainly a solution for some rough sleepers. The idea is to get them a home first and then to wrap the services around them. In the past, the approach was to try to get the services in place first before moving rough sleepers into homes. We are turning that on its head and rightly so. We are working with the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland and others to make that happen. We are using taxpayers' money to make it happen and we want to do more of that. That is what we should do, along with all of the other solutions.

I am not convinced that this Bill is going to help. We are all in agreement that no person should have to sleep on the streets without shelter at any time of the year. The figures are horrific and there is no denying that. The latest figures indicate that there are 190 rough sleepers. I would argue that the core figure of rough sleepers is between 160 and 180, for whom we are trying to provide solutions. At the same time, there are far too many people living in hotels and other emergency accommodation, numbering approximately 8,500 and we must intervene with different solutions for those people.

Rough sleeping is an issue that we particularly want to address, which is why the Minister will announce changes to the cold weather initiative. We will put in place more emergency beds of a permanent nature. There will be an additional 200 such beds, building on the increased number of emergency beds that were put in place last year. We want to make sure that we can say, hand on heart, that there is a bed available for every rough sleeper and that such people could engage with the homeless services, although not everyone will want to do that. We try on a nightly basis, through both formal and informal arrangements, to engage with people and to encourage them to use the system. I understand that some people are afraid to engage with the services, having had a bad experience in the past. We are trying to provide a top-class service in all of the new facilities. While nobody wants to be in emergency accommodation, we are trying to improve the service and the standards therein. We are also trying to ensure that the existing facilities are improved. That said, all of these facilities are emergency in nature and are only meant to be temporary. We need to find permanent solutions and that is what we are trying to do. By the middle of this year, we had found an emergency solution for more than 2,000 people. Moreover, more than 600 people who would have been in emergency accommodation in hotels have found homes through various housing schemes. That is what we have to do to get ahead of the figures. It will take a bit more time because with roughly 88 homeless presentations per month, the problem is still getting worse. It is hard to get ahead of the figures. All of the interventions that were made last year and all of the solutions that were put in place were not enough. More money will be spent next year on more solutions. I would be very happy if Deputies would come into this House with more ideas and more solutions that could make a real difference. Some good ideas have been put forward and we have tried to implement them but I am not hearing any additional magic solutions over and above what we are already doing. We are committed to building 10,000 social housing units and are doing that. There have been good proposals in respect of affordable housing and other options and we will do more on that. However, nobody in here is providing additional solutions week after week. However, if good suggestions are made that we believe will make a difference, we will try to get them off the ground.

We will try to do that, genuinely, because the resources are there to do it.

Deputies Danny and Michael Healy-Rae raised a couple of issues around vacant properties. I repeat to both Deputies that there are solutions to this issue. If anyone has a vacant property, we urge them to bring it forward and talk to the local authority. There are a number of schemes they can avail of to put the properties into use. I point out to Deputy Breathnach that Louth County Council has been a fine example of how to do this, and when people do not come forward, it can take their properties through other means. There are many options for people who own properties but cannot afford to get them back into the system. We will spend money on that and we will make changes to the system to make it a little easier. There has been a lot of feedback on the repair and lease-back initiative, for example, that it is too complicated, with too much red tape and requiring too long a commitment. We will make changes to reflect that. We change things when we get feedback.

As I said, the Minister, Deputy Murphy, has announced an extra 200 emergency beds. They will be up and running during December and all beds will be in place by 18 December. In addition, other temporary emergency beds are being put in place for when the weather conditions get so bad that the people who do not normally engage with any service come forward. We have allowed for that and will try to deal with it as well. It is hoped that will give an opportunity to engage with them on long-term solutions. I think the Housing First approach is the right option. We need to do more of that and it is something I hope we roll out a lot more.

Deputies made the point that local authorities need to lead this and I cannot stress enough that they are leading. We have put them front and centre. At this morning's discussion, the head of the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, Michael Walsh, said that in the past local authorities were driving the construction of social housing but they were told seven or eight years ago to stop and just to buy, lease and so on. He said we have now put them back in the position to do that. We are giving local authorities increased teams, increased powers and increased finances to be back in the space of leading the challenge to deliver more social housing. The approved housing bodies also do excellent work and I have asked local authorities and councillors to strengthen their relationships with them. Any proposed solution that comes through an approved housing body comes through the local authority as well. The local authority is in charge of that and it says yes or no before it comes to us. Local authorities are at the front of this and I want to reinforce that point, given it was raised in the debate.

Deputy Ó Broin raised the point about repeat presentations. We are trying to intervene where, for whatever reason, people end up in a property or housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme and it does not work out. In some cases, the landlord withdraws the property, but in others it does not work out for the individual or family that goes into the home. We try to work with them more closely, perhaps by providing more services in order that they can stay in the house. For some families who are homeless for a long time or have a very complicated case, a traditional family home is a good way to get back into operating their own home in a secure environment with extra services and then, eventually, move on to a house. The Deputy is probably raising two different categories but he is focusing on those who were in a rented house or HAP house and it did not work out due to reasons associated with the landlord. That is something we are trying to deal with. We have put in increased teams to make sure we do not have people who come back again and have to re-engage. There is nothing worse than being in a homeless situation and living in a hotel or bed and breakfast, then finding a housing solution only to be back in the same situation six months later. We try to intervene to prevent that happening.

There is a pipeline of projects but we have told the local authorities it is not enough and that we want it literally doubled or trebled. We have asked them to engage in a new system to make it happen more quickly and they are up for that. They have done it in the past and they are in that position. Now we have to make it happen even more quickly. I am asking all local authorities with their councillors to get involved with us on the new timelines and the Part 8 process to make this happen. Again, we have stressed that the local authority management should engage much more with councillors and the community to get acceptance for projects at a much earlier stage. The issue of Traveller accommodation was raised and it is one on which we are trying to focus, with changes, to make sure we get that money spent, as well as increasing the budget.

The last time I debated with the Minister of State in the House, he made the astounding statement about our international reputation on homelessness. A constituent wrote an email to me about that and I wish to read a little of it before I give my presentation. She wrote:

Dear Taoiseach,

I write this email to convey my concern and absolute disagreement with recent comments made by Eileen Gleeson of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, Minister of State Damien English and yourself. I won't repeat the comments but Minister English's comments about this concern for Ireland's reputation abroad were particularly galling. I write this not as someone living on the margins or at risk of homelessness, or as someone with any political motivation, but as a concerned citizen of Ireland and a resident of Castleknock, Dublin 15, who is fortunate to have a well-paid job. You could say I am one of people who get up early in the morning, to use your words.

I do not have time to read the whole email but I think the Minister of State will get the tenor. If he, the Taoiseach, the Minister, and the homeless and housing officials who are representing their agenda think their particularly contemptible attitude towards homelessness is going down well among people, they are wrong. I could read the rest of it but I do not have time. I will send it on to the Minister of State.

The Deputy heard my whole speech. She should read that as well.

I want to begin by congratulating the Government for breaking a record - the highest number of rough sleepers since records began ten years ago, as my colleagues have said, with 184 in Dublin on one night plus 50 in the Merchants Quay café who were not able to get somewhere. They are not counted, by the way, in the Department's official homelessness report of October 2017, which counts only those availing of private supported or temporary emergency accommodation. Therefore, the homeless figures are obviously limited. In Dublin, there are 3,536 adults homeless and, nationally, it is 5,298, with 3,194 dependants, generally children. Obviously, we have the numbers on the housing list. As Peter McVerry, whom the Minister of State's colleague tried to use as a "partner", said, this does not include sofa surfing, people in massive overcrowding or those staying with family, given we have many parents with two children in rooms with their grandchildren or people in completely insecure and unaffordable accommodation.

The fact these anti-homeless voices are being led by State agencies is particularly shocking, and this includes Waterways Ireland which should be condemned for what it is doing. The Government should issue an instruction tomorrow that it desist from doing that. The Government has obviously stopped counting deaths but 345 people have died on the streets from 2005 to 2015, and the number of males in particular has sharply increased.

This is a serious problem of on-street homelessness but it is all interrelated. It is related to the people who are in emergency accommodation, to the people on the housing list and also to the people Fine Gael claims to represent, the people who are struggling to pay mortgages and rents. It is all interrelated. The Minister of State asked for a solution. It is not a mystery. We do not need to go searching for solutions and we do not need special committees. The solution is very simple. It is public lands and public homes. Yesterday it was revealed on RTÉ by a planner, Mel Reynolds, that local authorities have 12,000 hectares of land that could provide at least 38,000 homes. That is not to mention NAMA or other State agencies, just the councils themselves. The lands are already zoned and serviced, yet Dublin City Council last year built 56 public homes and my own council, Fingal County Council, built ten. Why, when the resources are sitting there, are they not being deployed?

This brings home the fact there is an ideological issue. It is not, as the Minister said, that the Government does not want mono-tenure estates. It is because there has been a change in policy in recent decades. In the 1970s, some 8,000 to 9,000 public homes were built by local authorities routinely but that is now gone. Neoliberalism has reigned for the past 20 to 25 years in particular. That particular Thatcherite philosophy says no society exists. It slashes public housing and demonises those in local authority and public housing. The unfortunate thing for ordinary people is that the private sector is on strike. Land is being hoarded, as we know, and there is no willingness on the part of private developers to build until prices rise even more.

Those prices are rising relentlessly. As my colleague showed at the start of the debate, this is working very well for a small number of people.

Before I continue, I will briefly give examples of what could be done to address opposition to the Bill. One of the reasons cited for opposing it is the possibility of unintended consequences, for example, squatter's rights, but someone needs to have stayed somewhere for 12 years to get those. The excuses have actually been funny, particularly Fianna Fáil's. We have heard everything from concern for Travellers to burglars. They must be the dumbest criminals if they cannot overcome a few spikes and a sprinkler system. We have heard it all. Clearly, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have decided that the business class that they ably represent at the best of times should not have to suffer the terrible difficulty of having to apply for planning permission for these devices.

Of course this Bill is not a solution to the housing crisis. If the Minister of State recalls, we tabled a Bill last January that could have banned most of the evictions that have since taken place on grounds of, for example, the sale of a property or its refurbishment. However, the Government turned its back on that. We have proposed other solutions. This Bill is designed to highlight the Government's attitude in particular to the homeless.

The Minister of State asked for solutions and said he never hears of any, but if all of the local authority land that I mentioned was used and planned out and the almost 200,000 vacant units-----

We will introduce that one.

-----in the country were acquired, everyone would have a house. That is the solution.

We have a proposal regarding Dublin West, which is the Taoiseach's constituency, and I challenge the Minister of State to support it. The council has sat on 90 acres of land in the greater Blanchardstown area for a number of years and has not devised a development plan. We could comfortably build at least 1,100 homes without any high density construction. They would be a mixture of apartments and houses. We could create a community with parks, facilities, an outdoor fitness area and a youth centre. We have called it "Damastown Village" and suggested a way to develop it. It would not be monotenure. If the Government wants to ban monotenure developments, it should change the local authority rules. This is simple. Allow more people into developments.

We are proposing that 50% be affordable housing, with mortgages for the very people who are suffering with large rents that account for as much as half of their incomes in some cases. The other 50% would be social housing for homeless people in the area and those who had been on the social housing list for many years.

We had an architect draw up plans, which Fingal County Council did not bother to do in recent years despite the homelessness crisis in the area escalating. We can pass these plans on to the Minister of State.

The cost would be approximately €170 million. The Government claims that money is no object and the former Minister, Deputy Noonan, stated that there was no shortage of money. Approximately half of that amount - €87 million - would be paid for by the affordable mortgage aspect and accrue profit of around €15 million over the 25 years of those mortgages, allowing money to be paid for community centres and community infrastructure. The other half would require Fingal County Council to use its capital budget, borrow €10 million from the Housing Finance Agency and receive an injection of €48 million from the Department. This is not a major request, given that 35% of the homelessness problem in Dublin is located in Fingal County Council's area despite it only having 22% of the homeless population.

Is the Minister of State prepared to support something like this or does he want working people to travel up the road to Hansfield where McGarrell Reilly, which was named in the Paradise Papers, is selling houses for €315,000, which the Taoiseach believes is affordable? Houses in Damastown could be sold for approximately €170,000. It is being done in Ballymun, which shows that it can be done in Damastown. Why is it not being done?

The Minister of State claims the Government does not need cross-party support, but it will get none from us anyway because there is an ideological divide. There are parties like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party that are committed to, and put all emphasis on, the private market, and then there are other parties that believe in prioritising public need. Instead of cross-party support, a left alternative must be built and strengthened in this country. We need a left alternative that would break the EU rules for the common good, commandeer wealth and resources to end the crisis, pass emergency laws to stop evictions and run society, not in the interests of the 1%, the vulture funds and the developers, but in the interests of working class people as a whole.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 23 November 2017.