Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am glad of the opportunity to discuss this Bill. I welcome the debate on the plight of the homeless. I admire the concern of the many religious and social communities, the Simon Community, individuals, local authorities, members and staffs of housing authorities and all organisations with one purpose, to alleviate the hardship on the most disadvantaged sections of our community. It is the duty and role of local authorities and health boards to deal with this matter. We have the necessary enabling legislation to deal with the problem, but the will and the spirit to implement are importantvis-á-vis the housing authorities the local authorities and the health boards.

Under section 3 of this Bill it is the duty of the housing authority to provide accommodation. This will operate throughout the country. In the newssheet of the Simon Community they spell out the variations between one county and another. I am glad to say that my county is regarded as one of the top counties in the Twenty-six for providing the best accommodation. In that magazine they said that that Department did not generally rehouse single able-bodied people. It went on to say that those people were expected to provide their own accommodation. When covering Mayo it said that first, when a single homeless person who was unable to provide accommodation for himself approached the local authority he would be provided with temporary accommodation, normally in the form of a caravan. It said also that a single person who was homeless was provided with immediate temporary accommodation, and, the normal type of accommodation provided by the council was caravans, demountable dwellings and one-bedroomed conventional type structures.

That is the policy in Mayo as against west Cork. While I am not critical of west Cork, the Simon Community were trying to find the variations between the different local authorities providing accommodation for the homeless. That is to be expected. Some local authorities feel this is the duty of the health board. There may be some friction in regard to where the responsibility lies.

In my county we are doing a reasonably good job with the enabling legislation we have at our disposal. It is all right for people to defend the homeless, but I know from my long experience of trying to house people that there is a big variation between individual cases. This situation must be approached from the point of view of the social worker. The applicant's case must be examined in depth: his suitability to live in a conventional one-bedroomed house must be considered and whether he can look after himself without outside care must be taken into account. Each case on the local authority housing list must be dealt with on its merits.

Every housing authority know the number of people in their area who require housing. When housing is being made available, these people are screened and the housing authorities do the best possible job they can. There are a number of different types of people to be cared for under this homeless persons legislation. There is a wide range of personalities covered in this Bill — people already in an institution who could live in a house if it was provided and people who could not live outside an institution without special care. It is not as easy to deal with the problem as one might think because we have different personalities on the housing list. Under a Bill we had recently, if I move to any county, declare myself homeless, take up any type of an old caravan and apply for housing I am now eligible to be put on the housing list. That does not mean I am eligible for a house; but I am eligible to go on a housing list. If I come from Great Britain and come into a local authority area, I am also entitled to go on a housing list, but not necessarily to get a house, because the people in that local authority have to measure the applicant's suitability for a house.

In my county a number of rural dwellings are being built. A fair measure of screening takes place to ensure that when the house is built the applicant is available for housing. This new Bill puts a duty on the local authority not alone to provide long-term housing, but to provide temporary accommodation while an applicant's case is being assessed. This would put a very onerous capital involvement on any local authority who have to provide a temporary structure, whether it be a caravan, a demountable, or a conventional one-bedroomed house for a homeless person because that homeless person may have moved to a different location or to a different county. We have problems with itinerants at the moment. In every housing unit built in County Mayo, one in eight is provided for a homeless person or an itinerant; one in every 16 houses after that is provided for an itinerant or a homeless disadvantaged person who may not qualify under the normal assessment that would have to take place to get the best possible administration of the scheme. I wish to draw to the attention of the Seanad the fact that local authorities in the past in housing these people have acted very admirably. I say this in all sincerity. If there is a variation or a lack of concern in some local authority it is because there is some bit of friction as to who is responsible for the building — the health board or the local authority.

The definition of homeless covers a large field of applicants. For the purposes of the Bill, a person shall be regarded as homeless firstly if he or any person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him has no accommodation and is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness, handicap or physical disability, pregnancy, or other special reasons and/or has no fixed abode and/or is usually resident in common lodging houses, refuges, night shelters or hostels and/or solely because of having no alternative accommodation, is forced to continue to reside in a general or psychiatric hospital, a geriatric home or other such institution; secondly, if he has accommodation but cannot secure entry to it because for example, of a violent brother, son or wife within that accommodation and is debarred from entry for that reason.

A homeless person is also defined in the Bill as a person whose accommodation is mobile, a vehicle or vessel. I take it that could be a boat on the Shannon, in Clew Bay or wherever. People threatened with homelessness, or likely to be threatened with homelessness inside 28 days, would be defined as homeless persons.

This Bill covers a wide ranging number of people some of whom up to now have been housed by local authorities. Under this Bill it will be mandatory on every local authority to house such persons firstly in a temporary way, while their case is being assessed and in a permanent way afterwards. While I am not opposing the Bill and would like to compliment Senator Ryan for bringing it before the House, it has far reaching consequences for housing authorities. The cost of the capital involvement to implement this Bill makes me shudder. If this were legislation tomorrow we would not have the necessary finances to implement it. If we had Marshall Aid right on our doorsteps in the morning in millions of units of pounds to cover the wide ranging number of homeless people defined in this Bill, I could still see no capital investment available for that type of housing.

There are weaknesses in the Bill in this respect — while a local authority are examining an applicant's case they have a duty under this Bill to provide temporary accommodation, and earlier in the Bill one will see that if we take people out of whatever environment they may be living in at the time we house them, we are responsible for whatever property and possessions they may have. Under this Bill, we are responsible for the protection of that type of property and for ensuring that it is kept secure by the local housing authority. It is not as simple as it might seem.

I would like to compliment the many organisations dealing with this problem and identifying for local authorities the problems that might go unnoticed were it not for those involved in this area of activity of dealing with our homeless people.

I welcome the debate on the Bill. It gives us an opportunity of identifying the problems, but it would need a vast capital investment that I cannot see forthcoming at this point in time. There are mandatory sections that I would have to have another look at on Committee Stage.

It is usual when a Senator comes in to speak on Second Stage to say that he or she welcomes the opportunity to speak on the Bill. In one sense I do, but I have a difficulty here. Last November, I prepared some thoughts on this Bill, on the basis of looking at what was a social problem, and I am bringing my thoughts to bear on this subject in that way. I listened to Senator Ryan and to Deputy Quinn, the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. In the meantime, Senator Ryan has supplied me from time to time with documentation, some of which I received today, and now I have listened to Senator O'Toole. Listening to the contributions and reading the documentation have raised a little uncertainty in my mind in relation to my initial ideas. Therefore, the House will pardon me if I appear to be disjointed at times.

There is one point — and I am sure Senator Ryan will accept it in good faith — which must be recognised here. There are various aspects of this situation, with some of which those of us who are members of local authorities already have been confronted. Indeed, while I might some months ago have been inclined to say that I had little experience in this subject, those of us who have served on local authorities have been confronted with this problem and it is a question of scale.

There is a comment in one of the documents which I received in relation to my county which I will deal with but at this stage I feel that the difficulties that have been there in relation to this matter have been successfully handled so far. However, I intend to stay with the thoughts that I started out with even though here and there I may diverge from them.

First of all, I join with Senator O'Toole and the Minister who spoke here on the last occasion on this matter, in complimenting Senator Ryan on bringing his Bill before the Seanad. By doing so he provided us with an opportunity of addressing ourselves to and measuring as fully as we could a very basic and human problem. I compliment Senator Ryan also on the content of his speech here, and not alone on that but on the amount of research that he put into the matter and the valuable information he provided on that occasion and has provided since then. Even today I found in my post a further document from Senator Ryan which I would have liked to study but I had not the time to do so. I had time to read it briefly. By putting forward the Bill Senator Ryan provided the incentive for all of us to face up to this matter and to see how we can find a solution that will be effective and lasting. I will put it this way. I do not think too many will disagree with me if I say that a nation or a country that neglects, fails or ignores the most basic need of the most vulnerable section of its people has lost its sense of values. That is a fairly general statement; nonetheless it sums up the sincere beliefs of all of us and of all people who have to deal with this or similar questions.

I would like to express also my appreciation of the Minister's response on the last occasion here. While Senator Ryan's speech and his efforts since then have been valuable and illuminating on this subject so also was the Minister's contribution. My interpretation of what the Minister said was that while there was no difference whatsoever between himself and Senator Ryan in relation to the existence of the problem and the need to deal with it, there might not be a meeting of minds on the methods to be employed in resolving the situation. I must accept the validity of a number of points made by the Minister here on the last day we discussed this as to the suitability of the Bill in its present form to achieve its aim successfully. I recognise to a degree, as does Senator O'Toole, that the Bill, being as wide as it is, could create certain difficulties in relation to the housing of other categories of people some of whom, as Senator O'Toole said, may well be included in the Bill but who nonetheless are candidates for housing as matters stand. I am sure that when I express these reservations Senator Ryan will avail of the opportunity later to clarify these and set the record straight from his point of view. I say to him that my mind is quite open on many aspects of the situation and I would welcome clarification from him on them.

I hold very strong personal views on one aspect of this and because of that I want to join with those who have spoken already on the Bill in complimenting voluntary organisations and voluntary people and recognising their work in dealing with those who are homeless. From my experience I believe that the work of voluntary people and organisations, particularly voluntary people who work in this area, who have that natural capacity to extend hope and comfort to those who would otherwise not receive it, has a value which we cannot overstate. However, I accept that the stage has now been reached when voluntary effort on its own is not enough and there is need for that effort to be supported by legislation. I use the word "supported" advisedly. As I have said, this is my personal view on the matter. I do not believe that the matter can be dealt with successfully by legislation alone or that we can replace the work and input of voluntary people in this field by legislation. Therefore, my attitude to the matter is that the work that has already been done must be supported by legislation and not replaced by it. It is a delicate area.

I interpreted this train of thought being expressed to some degree in what Senator Ryan said and in some of the documentation he has supplied to us. He referred to the fact that sometimes with homelessness goes a certain measure of hopelessness and it takes certain qualities that only some people possess to deal with people in that situation. From my limited experience I believe that within that overall cateogory of homeless people there are degrees of homelessness. We cannot gloss lightly over that psychological aspect of the situation and we must give due recognition to it. I am convinced from looking at the scene that voluntary workers, people who have dedicated themselves to working in that area, possess and extend that natural gift of kindness which is necessary to create a bridge and link with the people we are talking about. Therefore, any legislation we discuss must allow in full for the participation of these voluntary people who have this unique capacity in that field.

I do not want to sound disrespectful in any way to those who are homeless, but let me say that from what I know of those with whom I have come in contact, basically they are withdrawn. They are resentful of authority. Their self-respect in many cases is diminished, and I do not think that Senator Ryan will deny this. Their ambitions or any hope they have for the future, if they exist at all, are fairly limited. To get practical results in that field you need to win the confidence and the trust of the people concerned. That is an essential prerequisite to any satisfactory progress, and their trust and confidence can be won only by those voluntary people who are gifted in that area. That gift is something that a person is born with. You do not teach it to people and you do not train people in it. Therefore, I have reservations about replacing that very essential aspect of the scene, that voluntary effort, this natural capacity of people to work with those who are homeless and who are distressed or depressed as the case may be. You will never achieve a satisfactory conclusion if you attempt to replace that with bureaucracy, as it were. That is why voluntary effort must be continued and any legislation must support it rather than replace it.

That is the reason I believe that voluntary effort will have to be continued and that any legislation must be supportive rather than by way of replacement.

I want now to deal with some of the reservations I have and, in so saying, I should say that I am open-minded in this respect. Senator Brendan Ryan quoted a figure and indeed in the document I received today it appears the total number of people involved in this plight is approximately 3,000. Finding a satisfactory solution to the problems of those people should not be beyond our capacity bearing in mind the size of our country and type of society. It is not a large figure. I do not want to take up the time of the House dealing with an aspect with which Senator O'Toole dealt, that is the willingness of people to be housed. I have no doubt that the needs of those of the 3,000 who would be willing to be housed could be met without any great disruption. But if this Bill, in its present form, is enacted that figure of 3,000 can be multiplied by ten. I know that Senator Ryan will disagree with me here because, judging from the experience of the United Kingdom Homeless Persons Bill Senator Ryan said on the last occasion that no flood gates had been opened there. I do not want to sound flippant about this but it must be remembered that we are a different race. Those of us with experience of the capacity of people to qualify for placement on housing lists — bearing in mind the loopholes existing within the provisions of this Bill — would multiply that figure of 3,000 many times.

The document I received today states, in relation to County Clare, that Clare County Council have no record of any single homeless people even though Simon Shelters have people who can proudly trace their childhood and working life in County Clare. They make the further comment that other authorities, however, will adopt a more flexible and imaginative approach. Perhaps I am misreading the document but I believe there is there a measure of condemnation of my county council——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Ours.

——which is not justified. I know the Leas-Chathaoirleach will agree with me in that. Senator Brendan Ryan does not look at all convinced by the validity of what I am saying——

I did not mean to be disrespectful to Senator Howard. I was just laughing at the agreement between the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senator Howard on the issue of homelessness in County Clare.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Very seldom will the Senator find that agreement. Senator Howard to continue.

I have no hesitation in placing on the record that throughout the country the record of local authorities has been good in placing homeless families at the top of priority lists and that other homeless people — here I include the single and elderly — have been housed in flats. However, with all the effort in the world there may still remain some homeless people in the various counties of which local authorities may not be aware. I do not think Clare County Council can be justly criticised in that report because they have dealt with homelessness as and, when they have found it, have satisfactorily resolved the problems as they have arisen. Indeed, if that situation were to prevail throughout the country there would be no need for this Bill. In saying that, I do not dispute the figures in this document in relation to other areas but, as I said earlier, possibly it is a question of scale and that perhaps the problem is different in the bigger centres of population. But the problem with which we in our county have been confronted has been dealt with to the satisfaction of all concerned.

My main reservations in regard to the Bill, as drafted, are in relation to sections 3 and 4 which I believe to be open to exploitation on the part of people who would become homeless intentionally. Those of us who are members of local authorities who must deal with the housing of people, are well aware of the enterprise of individuals, if I might put in that way, in seeking on housing lists places to which they are not entitled. In that respect the provisions of the Bill certainly need to be tightened. Without such tightening of its provisions I fear that the 3,000 or so people we seek to help would finish up at the bottom of the queue, that others would devise means of getting above them, people who are not homeless at present.

It is in that regard I have certain reservations. Intentional homelessness is something the provisions of the Bill does not guard against and we need that protection. I shall not go into the various definitions of homelessness. That can be done on Committee Stage, but I do feel that the provisions of sections 3 and 4 are so wide we could have intentional homelessness on a scale which would be uncontrollable, resulting in those in genuine need at present — amongst the 3,000 — losing out.

I believe legislation is necessary to support the excellent work being done by the various people and voluntary organisations but it should be so framed as to deal only with the problem for which it is intended and not with an artificial problem which would be created by its enactment. That is my main reservation.

In supporting Senator Brendan Ryan on this Bill I shall commence by quoting a letter I received from a part of the Republic some time ago. I seem to receive quite a number of these sorts of letters in the far corners of North Antrim; it sounds a bit like County Clare at times. The letter says:

Dear Mr. Robb,

I am writing to you in the hope that you will help me with my problem. I am married with a wife and a baby. I have been married for two years. I am living in a very bad caravan. We have no water and no sanitary conditions at all and no electricity. The back of the caravan is falling apart. There is also rats in it and mice. The roof is leaking very bad. Every time it rains we are flooded out of it with water. The water runs down the walls of the caravan every time it rains and we have to keep the baby in between us at night with fear of rats. We cannot put him in his cot. The MOH has all of the authority in the say of who gets housed. He has come on one occasion and inspected my caravan. And the fact that I have no water, no sanitary conditions, no electricity and the very bad state of my overall living conditions I don't think these were considered enough. I fear for our health in conditions like these. We have a baby of six months old who has caught a chest infection from the damp. And conditions seem to be deteriorating more and more each day. I have nailed plastic bags to the roof inside in the caravan trying to deter the water from coming in but it does not help. I have looked for a flat but with no luck. I wrote to the MOH to come and do a further inspection on my caravan but he did not come. And so Mr. Robb I hope you will make a representation on my behalf to the MOH regarding my very bad living conditions and he could come and do a further inspection on my caravan. I hope you will help me Mr. Robb as I am in dire need of rehousing.

I received a very courteous response from the person to whom I wrote about this matter. The letter acknowledged receipt of my letter about the housing conditions of this person and stated:

He is at present living in sub-standard conditions in a caravan to which he moved from conventional housing. He is on the housing list but unfortunately council housing is in poor supply and does not in any way meet the demand. There are unlikely to be many houses available for letting until the next scheme is completed. He will, however, be considered for any vacancy that arises.

Probably there is not a corner of this island in which such a position does not obtain. One can see all sorts of strands in this problem. There is the inadequacy of the young person concerned to do much with the conditions in which he finds himself, where others with more initiative and more opportunity might be able to do more for themselves. A feeling of hopelessness comes through. Nobody wants to admit his inadequacy but everyone wants to provide a reasonable environment for a young wife and child. There is the contradiction of having lived in conventional housing and having moved to the caravan, perhaps bad choosing in the process of decision making. Perhaps there is some psychiatric weakness. Perhaps there is a deep-seated medical-social problem about which neither of the two letter writers has informed me. Nevertheless there is a very deep problem.

The measure of our society and its values is whether we are prepared to get involved in that type of problem and do something about it. Legislation on its own cannot possibly deal with all such problems. I am convinced that there must be room for freeing local communities and church congregations and the goodwill that exists among them in order to give people the opportunity to become more aware of this type of problem while feeling less threatened by it and adopting more positive and constructive measures towards its solution.

With this in mind I set off one night under the aegis of the Simon Community in Dublin to see at first hand the situation of the homeless in this city. I visited the Simon Community in Sarsfield Quay. One entered the premises by kicking the door and the person beside me fell through the opening. Inside people were being catered for and eating their evening meal. Some were singing and one or two were fighting. As I went through the house I found some elderly people in bed at a very early hour, and one old man was asleep with his dog beside him. To most of us who have homes of our own it would appear to be a very primitive form of dwelling. Yet one could not but be highly impressed at the degree of dedication shown by the young people, none of them out of their twenties, who were running this house for homeless people. It did not stop there. Those young people went out on a soup run near the bridge around 12 o'clock where the homeless gathered from many areas knowing there would be something to eat. I was the driver of the van because the fellow accompanying me could not drive. As I have some stiffness in my neck and am not too good at reversing, it was a very dangerous journey. We went up to Smithfield to see people living in broken-down cars. We went to the Morning Star Hostel but it was already locked up. We then went to Seán MacDermott Street and visited a hostel in which men were living almost in a family situation, supporting each other. There was a great feeling of a home rather than just a house or a shelter.

The greatest irony of that night was to go to the Custom House where the Department of Health is situated. People concerned with the health of people throughout the Twenty-six Counties move in and out of the front door each day while people sleep on pieces of cardboard on the other side of the building during the night. Then we went to the Salvation Army home and saw the enormous amount of cubicle accommodation which is available for the homeless. I came away with the feeling that it would probably be possible to say that in Dublin on most nights nobody need necessarily be stuck for a bed. There are many problems, because neither a bed nor a shelter is a home. Certainly we must make the distinction between houselessness and homelessness. Many people who live in a house have not yet found themselves in a home. We must also consider the problem of categorisation. Not all of these forms of accommodation are available in a universal sense to anybody who needs a bed for the night in Dublin city. It must be a very frustrating thing for an inadequate personality to go to the door of one hostel or shelter and find that he does not fit into the neat classification of the type of person for whom that accommodation is intended. This begs another question. There is surely a need for some type of bed bureau or co-ordinating centre, particularly in Dublin and in the other cities and large towns, so that the homeless know they can go to this place and find out where they can get a bed, rather than trundling around in a state of ignorance, panic or intimidation from one hostel to another.

I appreciate the definition of poverty which was possibly given to me by Senator Brendan Ryan. It is that poverty is the absence of choice. Most people who sit in this House have the possibility of making elegant choices throughout their lives. Those people do not.

Before I return to the Dublin scene, the Southern scene generally and the Bill in question, Senators may be interested to know what is happening in the other part of this island, particularly on this historic day of the publication of the report of the New Ireland Forum. The new Ireland at the end of the day will be an utter fiasco if it is only a matter of trying to amalgamate traditions and deal with threatened identities and does not deal with the marginal and minority people, giving them a sense of hope and a feeling of new opportunity in the new country to which so many people have addressed themselves in recent months and which they are trying to create out of the ashes of the destruction of today's Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland until 1972, a mandatory duty was imposed on county councils to make provision for certain categories of homeless people. Under the Welfare Services Acts of 1949 and 1972 welfare departments were required to provide residential accommodation for persons who, by reason of age, infirmity, mental disorder or other circumstances, are in need of care and attention. The year 1972 was a bit of an administrative watershed when the new area boards were brought in and there was general social reorganisation. In that year the job of providing for the old and the infirm on a permanent basis was transferred to the new health area boards which were set up to deal with matters of health and social service. It was provided that there should be co-operation with other statutory bodies. I feel it is most important in the application of the spirit of legislation that there must be a means of contact and communication between the whole network of agencies which exists in any locality with regard to social problems we may be confronted with, particularly in regard to the one we are dealing with this evening.

It was decided, in particular, to link the obligations of the area boards with the Northern Ireland housing executives. So there was this dichotomy of responsibility not unlike that which exists here between the health boards and the local authorities. The job of providing for emergency accommodation was transferred to the Northern Ireland housing executive. The executive, under the Northern Ireland Housing Act, 1971, is required to draw up a scheme for the allocation of housing throughout the province. In accordance with this obligation it has a hierarchy of priorities for housing starting with:

(1) Emergency housing

(2) Special health and social needs.

I would like the House to take note that that has been put as No. 2, emergency housing being No. 1. As the House knows in the troubled state of Northern Ireland the emergency housing will take priority over the special health and social service needs all too easily.

(3) Redevelopment etc.

(4) Housing for key workers.

Emergency housing was set up as a category to cover such situations as when a person becomes homeless or is threatened with homelessness because of fire, flood or other circumstances beyond his control such as civil disturbance, intimidation etc. For example, there may be successful court action by a landlord for the possession of a dwelling which the landlord may want for use by himself or for a member of his family. In those circumstances any person removed from his house would have a priority in the grading system.

Before 1972 under the old Welfare Services Act the authorities were bound to provide accommodation for those to whom the duty was owed even if that meant hiring bed and breakfast facilities for them. Under the housing allocation scheme the Northern Ireland housing executive, however, is not bound to provide anyone with accommodation. It is merely required to allocate the accommodation that is available in a given order according to the hierarchy of priorities which I have read out. For example, there is no obligation to provide bed and breakfast facilities.

It has become traditional in Northern Ireland that the first port of call for homeless people inevitably becomes the social services department. The social services department deal with the emergency situation in the hope that the housing executive will then be able to deal with the problem of accommodation. Just as there have been problems in this part of the country with this dichotomy of authority, so that has inevitably led to some friction where there is a blurring of the boundaries of responsibility. Neither the housing executive nor the social services department are under any explicit statutory provision to provide immediate help. This, of course, has led to some groups such as battered wives setting up their own organisation in a gesture of despair.

The British Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, 1977, which has been alluded to in the House, regarding the Bill we are discussing, does not apply in Northern Ireland. That Housing Act imposes an enforceable duty — I emphasise the word duty — on a single authority — I emphasise the word single — in each area to provide both temporary and permanent accommodation for all eligible persons. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, which was produced because of pressure from such organisations as Shelter and which resulted in pressure from them and central government on the local authorities to provide housing, has done a number of things. The fears that have been expressed here — I believe I heard the Minister express them the last time we discussed the Bill — that there would be a massive increase in housing has not, in fact, occurred because the Act has defined priority need.

Unfortunately this does not cover more than a small proportion of the total number of homeless. Many of those with the greatest need such as single couples without children and single people are very little better off than before. Many of the problems that have not been coped with by legislation derive from failure to make the distinction between homelessness and houselessness. You can have a roof over your head and yet be dwelling in a bad house. You can have a roof over your head in an excellent small house and yet have overcrowding in it. You can have all that makes up a house for a reasonable number of people and yet not have the feeling that it is a home because it has not got the supports, through family, health and community, that go into the feeling of home. You can build a house but you have got to create a home. In order to create a home you have got to have resources available to you from outside and to have, through good fortune in life, the opportunity to develop them from inside.

The main problem in Northern Ireland has been this overlapping of responsibility. The British statute has resolved in Britain the long-running bureaucratic battle between the housing and social services departments as to who should deal with homelessness and has created a legal right to immediate accommodation from housing departments for a restricted group of people.

There seems to be two real problems with that British Act. It does not deal with the single homeless person effectively enough and it cuts out the social services too much. In short, we need to have one authority, we need to have a co-ordination of a network of support systems available in any local community as well as regionally and nationally and, in particular, we need to have a very good liaison in respect to the needs for homes and housing between the professional social service, social workers and other agencies of social service, both voluntary and statutory, and those who have to build and provide the houses.

It has been said that there are 3,000 homeless in Dublin. This figure, I am sure, could be multiplied many times depending on one's definition of homelessness. We could go on all night going through the figures for Cork, Carlow, Dublin, Limerick and possibly even for County Clare but at the end of the day the principles and the legislation are what we should be concerned with. I support Senator Ryan's motion because it endeavours to deal with many facets of this very poignant problem of the homeless person, a problem which I have seen first-hand in Dublin and a problem which no doctor working in casualty and emergency departments — indeed working in hospitals — could fail to be aware of. There is always the difficulty of the long-stay patients, of where they will go. So many of us can easily close our eyes and say we have cured a patient from his disease and forget that that person must then go out into society and fend for himself. Again, in a hospital context, the need to liaise between the hospital institution, the community social workers, the clergy and the community in general is brought home to us time and time again.

I should like to try and probe the conscience of the country by asking if as long as there are homeless people in Ireland or people living in the conditions to which I alluded at the start of my submission, what are we to say about the second house, about houses used as a form of currency, we might even say land used as a form of currency. Are we to say anything about the need for a high proportion of the profit coming from these assets, particularly the second house, if not all the profit that comes from the sale of same, being returned, not to central government, but to the local community of the person who held the house so that it can be used in terms of capital to do something about the sort of conditions we are talking of? We would all need, particularly those of us who are privileged enough to live in good homes and to have a second house, to ask what are we going to do the day we sell that house. Who will profit by it, and are there any people within five or ten miles of it who need a home that is watertight and is supportive?

In many ways the fact that this Bill exists is a singular tribute to the dedication and energy of Senator Brendan Ryan. As everybody knows, the drafting of legislation is such a minefield and has been a source of great employment both for the Supreme Court and for the legal profession that one can only admire the courage of somebody who ventures into it unaided by such expertise as is available to the Government.

Having said that, the Government have a responsibility to look at legislation put before them by parties other than themselves and to highlight and point out the defects contained therein but if they accept the essential basis of the argument which Senator Ryan makes in this Bill and say, on the other hand, that the Bill is so defective that it could not be enacted, that it is so defective that it is incapable even by way of amendment of being made workable, then they also have a responsibility, having accepted that the problem exists, to produce their own Bill. This is what I understood the then Minister of State, Deputy Quinn, to undertake to do when he referred to the defects contained in the Bill as proposed by Senator Ryan. The Minister of State said then that his approach was one of framing a comprehensive and effective policy to alleviate the plight of homeless people and to underpin the policy by improved and appropriate statutory provisions. He said that for reasons which he would go into in more detail later, this Bill did not add up to what was required. He said it was so fundamentally different in its approach from the existing legislation on the provision and letting of housing by housing authorities that he was fully satisfied that both pieces of legislation could not exist comfortably side by side on the Statute Book without giving rise to severe practical and legal difficulties.

In other words, the Minister's assessment of Senator Ryan's Bill was that it was so defective as to be unworkable. He did then promise to come in with a Bill of his own. There is a responsibility now on the Government to tackle this problem which Senator Ryan has outlined so eloquently both when he introduced the Bill and subsequently.

The problems that the then Minister outlined and the fears that he expressed would be fears that Senator Ryan would accept as being genuine, that if the scope of the Bill is so broad that it creates as many or more problems than it solves we have achieved little or nothing. The difficulty the Minister then had was with the definition of homelessness when he said that the definition of homelessness in the Bill was much broader, that many families who are on local authority waiting lists could come within the terms of the Bill, that, for example, a family who are vulnerable as a result of living in unfit accommodation or in unhealthy or overcrowded conditions could well be covered. He went on to say that many travelling families or families involuntarily sharing accommodation such as men who are barred from their homes by the courts, would appear to come within the scope of the Bill. He said that even more of a problem in putting the Bill into practice would be the concept of threatened homelessness as defined in the Bill. That was that if it was likely that within 28 days a person would become homeless and in need of accommodation. The Minister of State said that this could well include a family where the breadwinner becomes unemployed and cannot meet mortgage repayments.

It is an unpalatable economic fact that we have a long way to go before we can meet the housing requirements of families, apart altogether from single people and so on. Instead of defining "homeless" we ought to be defining what homes are in view of some of the garrets and the pathetic conditions that one can see in every town and village in Ireland, where people are existing in appalling conditions. We need to define not what homeless is but what homes are. Some dwellings are not homes in any accepted sense. They do not provide a modicum of comfort or any sort of civilised standard of living. There are many people in that situation. With the resources available to any Government, it is obvious that some system of priority will have to obtain. The then Minister of State said at that time that there was not in the Bill a comprehensive system of priorities. In referring to the Housing Act he spoke about the imposition of a specific duty on those authorities to house all those who would come within the scope of the Bill and said that would put local authorities in an impossible position. He talked about disrupting the long established practice of allocating houses on the basis of relative need and having regard to the primary objectives laid down in section 60 of the Housing Act, 1966.

The Minister of State, Deputy Quinn also said the Act would create two different routes for rehousing, one through the existing schemes of letting priorities and the other through being homeless or threatened with homelessness. Because of the duty being imposed the Bill would,de facto, give preference to persons whose needs might not be by any means the most acute. Clearly there would be an incentive for ordinary applicants to have themselves classified as homeless or so threatened in order to gain priority. In this sense Senator Michael Howard was being brutally frank and practical when he said that what might pertain in Britain would probably not pertain here. The strokes pulled in relation to housing are so embedded in us that we could not guarantee that if there was not a logical system of priorities in trying to allocate what is in essence a very scarce resource that we would not have people creating a false priority for themselves. This is happening at the moment with the collusion of some landlords who are quite prepared to evict at your and their convenience in order to pressurise the local authority into moving you further up the list. This is fairly common practice, and it is unlikely to diminish as long as there is a shortage of houses for family units.

The Minister of State, Deputy Quinn, also said he would be worried about imposing a duty of local authorities to house the homeless as it would be very difficult to prevent abuses such as intentional homelessness. The Bill as currently drafted makes no attempt to deal with abuses of this nature, but once such an all-embracing duty is imposed it would be difficult if not impossible to effectively circumscribe it in such a way as to prevent abuses and preserve confidence in the fairness of the housing allocations. Senator Robb referred to the British Act that deals with the housing of homeless people, and that legislation does contain sections which are designed to prevent the abuses that I was talking about just now.

The British Act has been quoted a number of times already and says that the duty to house people extends only to those in priority need of accommodation because of very special reasons — dependent children, pregnancies, emergency or old age, disability, mental illness and so on. Generally speaking, present practice in this country secures priority treatment for those under the British Act. The application of that Act here would make no appreciable difference to the single and homeless.

On the other hand any concept of priority is missing from the Bill before the House. When the Minister was replying to Senator Ryan one of the concerns he had was that the Bill did not have a system of priority. If the Government thinks that the Bill is so defective that it is incapable of being amended to make it acceptable then they have a bounden obligation, with the resources available to them, to produce a Bill that is technically acceptable to the House and would be passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I support anything that can be done to help disadvantaged people and to provide homes for them. I want to quote a short extract from Senator Brendan Ryan's contribution on Second Stage on 9 November last. He said:

Perhaps some of the fears that people have expressed to me about the consequences of the implementation of this Bill are a little less than well grounded though it is obvious that most local authorities are not equipped to respond to the need for emergency housing. Meath County Council, for instance, are quite clear there is no emergency accommodation available from them. I find it astonishing that local authorities can state categorically that they have no emergency accommodation available. It seems to me to show a very dim and very limited form of planning for the housing needs that are liable to arise.

As I come from Meath I would like to give background information concerning Meath's record in this regard. It is probably fair to say that the most visible group of homeless people in County Meath over the last five or six years were the itinerant families, many of whom are and have been living in tents and inferior quality caravans. Meath County Council and the urbans combined to have housed a total of 51 travelling families over the past ten years. The council are continuing to house such families who are seeking housing as suitable houses become available. Having regard to the total number of travelling families in Meath this as an achievement which probably has not been met by any other counties. There are very few statistics available to the council on families who are actually homeless and unable either through themselves or their families to provide some form of housing accommodation. However, over the years where the council were made aware of families who became homeless due to fire and other circumstances they have always made an effort to house these families as an emergency. Indeed during the last year, two such families rendered homeless due to fire have been housed by Meath County Council in council houses which were vacant at that time. One of these families is being housed in Kells while the house damaged by fire is being reconstructed. Up to 1970 when the council were directly responsible for home assistance and were in control of St. Joseph's Home, Trim, destitute families were always catered for there and in other institutions as were available. With the setting up of the new health boards this function passed to them, and I am aware that they make every effort to house destitute families.

Meath County Council's ability to house homeless people is governed by two factors, the availability of suitable vacant housing and the amount of money available to the council for providing housing. While the council do not maintain vacant houses for this purpose they usually have a number of houses vacant at any given time which could be used and have been used for this purpose in the past. As Senators are aware, the demand for council housing far exceeds supply and all the applications for housing, including homeless people, are considered on their merits. In fairness I should have emphasised these points which do not come across from Senator Ryan's contribution. Over the years the county home in Trim has done an enormous amount of work and in fact has been altered over the last 30 years from a county home which had a certain stigma attached to it to one of the most up to date geriatric units in the country. Kells Urban District Council decided that they would provide a serviced site but the county council, on further examination, came to the conclusion that the number of travellers using such a site in that area would not warrant it.

While I am fully in favour of serviced sites on their own they are not sufficient — I have always felt that settled housing should be the norm for everybody, and indeed serviced sites provide some facilities. When we examine the situation in regard to private housing where, for example, we have new values and mandatory standards of thermal insulation and comfort, it is rather unChristian to consider that a serviced site is good enough for travellers who live in caravans which have no insulation and nothing to keep out the cold.

A letter has been circulated to Senators by a number of distinguished citizens urging us to support this Bill. It points out that the main purpose of the proposed Bill is to lay responsibility for providing accommodation for homeless persons on somebody. At the moment it is nobody's responsibility. Ireland, North and South, is the only country in the EEC where people have no statutory right to housing. This is deplorable.

I also notice that in the recent report of the National Planning Board it is stated that responsibility for the housing of homeless people should be transferred from the Department of Health to the local authorities who should work closely with voluntary agencies and with the community welfare agencies in developing appropriate programmes to tackle this problem. I hope it will be tackled and, in so far as this Bill sets about doing that, I am totally in favour of it.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to express my concern about the area of homelessness covered by this Bill. A tribute is due to Senator Brendan Ryan who has brought his concern about this matter before all of us. I accept that there are areas in this Bill which are defective and would make it extremely difficult from a legislative point of view to implement it. It is very important and significant that we are enabled to express our concern about what is a very painful issue, an issue of human degradation, a very unattractive issue and one which does not immediately bring about a ground swell of support and sympathy because it is so unattractive and because it reminds us of the depths to which humanity can sink.

While much is heard about the existence of social problems, it is rare to find a definition of what exactly constitutes a social problem. The most generally accepted definition defines a social problem as arising from any behaviour that is in conflict with the established norms and values of society. The family is charged with instilling these norms and values, as also are schools and churches. Many social problems can be seen to have their genesis in the breakdown of the family situation and in the breakdown of the relationship with the individual in the family context, in the educational context and in the church context. This breakdown is most apparent in the area of the deserted aged and children sleeping rough, which is a new phenomenon in Irish society and one which is extremely poignant.

Once a problem is defined as a social problem rather than accepted as personal misfortune, society is bound to intervene in some manner to alleviate the problem. This intervention may take the form of legislation. It may take the form of a therapeutic service. It is impossible to legislate away such problems as homelessness, and no amount of legislation will effectively reduce the incidence of children sleeping rough. These problems originate in something other than a legislative situation. State provided therapeutic services fare little better and are generally accepted as being inadequate to deal with the problem.

Therefore, I see the growth of volunteer organisations such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Simon Community, Hope, Alone and bodies such as these, acting as honest brokers, mediating between the State and the individual in situations such as homelessness. The problem of homelessness is nationwide. I will have more to say at a later date about the problem as I perceive it in Waterford where I live, and in the south east region on whose health board I sit. We all know that one-third of the population lives in and around Dublin and its environs. One must expect to find, therefore, the majority of the nation's deprived citizens in that area. Social pressure and economic need will attract or force people to find refuge where shelter, but more importantly anonymity is more readily attainable. This explains the reason why the problem is particularly apparent in the Dublin area.

When people like Willie Birmingham, to whom I pay sincere tribute, and organisations such as Simon or Hope, which are to be commended, take the lid off these dustbins of human degradation and legitimately cry aloud with horror at what they see, our response is often one of sympathy and concern that somebody else is not doing something about it. When one looks around, it seems that more and more social emergencies are being identified and are being dealt with by still more voluntary agencies, resulting in calls for still more social legislation and still more social benefits to deal with these problems.

The increasing and very welcome voice of women is adding to the din. We have Aim, Cherish, Contact, Hope, Care, Ally, Shelter Referral and in Waterford we have Oasis and Respond to take but two examples. These are some of the names which have been added to those of the long established bodies such as the Legion of Mary, the Salvation Army, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Samaritans. One wonders if the multitude of organisations sprouting up could not be co-ordinated in some way. Equally one wonders if they have the expertise and professional know-how to deal with some of the problems which they set out to tackle. Their compassion, idealism, commitment and capacity for hard work are never in question. I should like to see that on the record of this House.

Health boards should, and in most cases do, provide back up and support for voluntary agencies such as these and other groups. To my mind the best recipe in society, the best way for tackling problems of this nature, is for the statutory and voluntary bodies to work together in these areas. In most parts of the country the health boards offer to provide capital and revenue grants towards the provision and operation of suitable premises. It sometimes happens that the initial good will generated by voluntary bodies can be dampened by slow-moving, unresponsive statutory agencies. It is important that health boards give voluntary agencies a very clear-cut idea of the scale, the nature and the continuity of the financial assistance which they are going to provide. Otherwise the voluntary bodies could find themselves with major financial burdens such as an expensive premises or, indeed, salaries to pay to which they are committed. They can also have rapidly evaporating public support if they get into difficulties no matter how high minded the cause or how necessary it is to garner support for the particular social problem which they are tackling — in this case, of course, we speak of homelessness.

After doing a little research on this it seems that the St. Vincent de Paul Society seem to have a very well thought out and planned approach which takes care of the eventualities of which I speak. The general position in relation to the St. Vincent de Paul is that a separate conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society must be set up to run a hostel for the homeless. In other words, they do not tack it on to their existing programme in an area. This special conference must be approved in advance by the area and regional presidents and sanctioned by the national committee of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. A capital project for the purpose must be approved in advance by regional committees, 25 per cent of the capital cost of the approved project is met by the national body of St. Vincent de Paul and an interest free loan towards the remaining cost is met, maybe given, by the national committee. That sounds planned and co-ordinated and is a system of going about subventing a project which avoids the pitfalls to which I have already alluded and takes care of a danger of evaporating goodwill and major financial implications which a voluntary body may find itself in.

As a member of the South-Eastern Health Board I have been interested in this area for a number of years and I have been concerned about the lack of shelter facilities for single homeless people. When visiting geriatric hospitals, or what were called the county homes, members of the South Eastern Health Board were invariably given a run-down on what was called the casual situation. It became apparent from listening to staff in county homes that they were hard-pressed and over-worked — speaking about the generality of their work. When it came to the casual members of health boards, and I speak in particular of the health board of which I am a member, they felt that these hard-pressed over-worked staff could not cope with the nature and extent of the problem which was now manifesting itself in the casual situation. Over and over again problems of abuse, drunkeness and drug addiction were related to health board members. These staff were trained and appointed to deal with the care of the geriatric patient and they found themselves unable, compassionate though they were, to cope with what had become a deteriorating situation and they were at a loss to know what they could do. The elderly patients, those who were ambulant, became fearful. Perhaps the anxieties of the staff in some way were transmitted to them or they became aware of a rumpus very late at night and in some instances there were cases of theft. The risk of fire hazards, of course, increased and rows broke out. Altogether there was a very much deteriorated situation.

All the staff were agreed that the familiar knight of the road type image which one generally had when speaking of single homeless people had been replaced by a younger, more aggressive hostile client. It must be stated that these unfortunate people who have suffered so many of the burdens of life have an understandable grievance and, indeed, a very high level of anger. It came about that there was a change of policy in regard to the functions and roles of county homes and it was decided on the South-Eastern Health Board — I am given to understand on other health boards throughout the country — that county homes were no place for casuals. It now appears that about 53 per cent of the county homes have either closed or drastically reduced their provisions for single homeless people since 1969. Twenty-seven per cent have closed entirely and this change in policy caused hardship initially. So great was the hardship caused that it was raised in this House and Members were given an opportunity to speak about homelessness in their areas. There was a growth in the area of hostel accommodation backed up by the voluntary agencies. In some cases there was an existing facility which picked up the slack created by the closure of county homes immediately. In other areas there was a hiatus which puzzled the homeless, caused distress and, indeed, I feel very strongly, caused hardship, but one hopes that the situation is getting under way.

I would like to speak about the south-eastern region because it is the one with which I am most familiar and to outline the provisions made for the homeless in that area. Indeed, I want to pay tribute to the many members of voluntary organisations who so willingly and in such a dedicated fashion have given themselves specially to this work which is unglamorous, unattractive, hard but, I understand, extremely rewarding. It is certainly a most pressing and urgent need.

There is a hostel in Clonmel, the most recent project to be undertaken in the south-east. The capital costs involved were £21,000. The South-Eastern Health Board made a capital grant of £5,000 and £8,700 was raised locally by voluntary effort, which is a great tribute to the townspeople of Clonmel and, indeed, to the members of the voluntary organisation. The agreed deficit on running costs is met jointly by the board and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The health board's contribution in 1983 was £6,000 and this at a time when we are severely constrained in the South-Eastern Health Board region and are applying our minds as to how savings can be made. Nevertheless, we recognise that this is an area which demands our concern and financial input. In this hostel in Clonmel there is a full-time caretaker employed who sleeps in and is on duty from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.

There is accommodation for eight casuals but more may be accommodated if the need arises. It is important that all of these hostels have that kind of flexibility, that they can unfold a bed or set up some accommodation if it is required. These hostels must be well run with rules and regulations which are suitable to the clients they serve and they should have flexibility which will allow extra accommodation if it is necessary. There is almost a 100 per cent occupancy of that hostel, which is a tribute to those who run it. Volunteers, who are mainly the wives of St. Vincent de Paul members, and a number of young people, come in at 7 o'clock every evening to cook the evening meal. Casuals must present themselves before 7 o'clock each evening and they are routinely searched. This may surprise some people but it has been found that in order to effect a smooth-running hostel it has been necessary to do this, and of course it is done with the agreement and compliance of those who wish to avail of the facilities of the hostel. Admission is normally done by the members of St. Vincent de Paul on duty but if there is a problem the President, Mr. Brian Mordaunt is consulted. Initially there was slight opposition from some residents in Anglesea Street where the hostel is situated. This was because when the hostel was opened and it became known that such a facility existed, the tougher elements of casuals tried to gain admission late at night and when they were refused they caused disturbance. This no longer holds as word has got around that the rules of Mulcahy House must be adhered to — that is, early admission and compliance with regulations. There is a grapevine in the area of the homeless which is second to none, and word travels very fast about particular hostels and institutions, rules and regulations.

I will now turn my attention to Waterford and the hostel provision there. This is the longest running St. Vincent de Paul hostel in the region and was considerably extended and refurbished in 1981, towards which the South Eastern Health Board gave a capital grant of £30,000. The board has only given £1,000, approximately, over the last number of years towards the running costs, though £3,500 was given in 1983. There is sleeping accommodation for 38 people, ten of whom are permanent residents who contribute £14 per week. The permanent residents are very well integrated into Waterford and very many of them do odd jobs or help out in situations and have made the hostel their own home.

There is a proposal to increase the number of permanent beds by 18 by adaptation of the top floor of the building. A room in the basement where only beds are provided is used to accommodate the sort of client who might cause a distrubance or arrive in very intoxicated state. There is almost full occupancy and, especially for the last couple of months, the increased accommodation has started to be used by casuals who normally sought accommodation in St. Joseph's in Dungarvan. A caretaker and his wife live on the premises and voluntary staff help out. Breakfast is provided, and a full evening meal. The kitchen is manned on a rota basis by members of St. Vincent de Paul and volunteers. The catering and domestic staff from Ardkeen Hospital or, as it is now called, Waterford Regional Hospital, are particularly helpful and their input is considerable and is welcome. A feature of this hostel, and one which is to be commended, is that it has a number of mature committed men in the St. Vincent de Paul conference which runs the hostel. It is the dedication of these men which make the facility such a fine one and one of which we in Waterford are considerably proud.

There is a hostel also in Wexford. It is run mainly by Mr. Horan of St. Vincent de Paul with limited input from other members of the St. Vincent de Paul conference and the Garda. There is a full-time caretaker living in. It has accommodation for 24 people. Twelve elderly men are accommodated on a permanent basis and they give £15 per week. The criteria for admission are that the person must be male and over 30 years of age and be present before 7 p.m. There is a limit on the number of nights per month that a casual can be accommodated. Casuals contribute a nominal sum. Referrals are from Garda, health boards and from St. Vincent de Paul members. The South-Eastern Health Board contributed £20,000 in 1979 and £28,616 in 1980. The main portion of these grants was capital. In 1981 a running cost of £7,384 was paid and in 1982, £7,500, and £7,000 was paid in 1983. In the South-Eastern Health Board we are attempting to make up for the situation which arose when the county homes were closed and when a change of policy occurred.

In Carlow a volunteer group are anxious to establish a facility and discussions have taken place about this. It is understood that suitable premises are being sought, and when located the capital funding will be made available. In Kilkenny the purchase of a premises suitable for a hostel is currently under negotiation and capital and revenue funding will be made available. In Tipperary discussions are continuing with St. Vincent de Paul about getting involved in the provision of hostel accommodation. In New Ross the St. Vincent de Paul have a night shelter for destitute males. There is accommodation for six. They are seeking new premises and will apply for capital funding. A revenue grant of £1,000 was paid to them by the health board in 1984.

It can be said generally in that region that the problem is being sympathetically and intelligently addressed. All is not perfect or ideal — it never is. There are probably many areas in which we could effect improvement. We have a very sound basis on which to build.

I have generally covered the area of the single homeless male who is a poignant figure, one demanding our concern and consideration, but it is necessary to allude to what is a modern phenomenon of children sleeping rough. This is mainly a Dublin problem but it is surfacing in other large urban areas. It has arisen in Waterford lately along the dock area where youngsters have been found bedded down in containers.

We have a project in Waterford called the OASIS Project which is attempting to look at the situation of battered wives who find themselves homeless, and we are indebted to the Good Shepherd Sisters who have indicated a willingness to step in and run such a facility when we gather together sufficient money to get it off the ground. We have negotiated the purchase of premises with the Legion of Mary and an energetic committee of OASIS, backed by Waterford Rotary Club and other voluntary agencies, are busily setting about establishing this facility. In addition to taking care of temporary homeless people, such as battered wives, it is also envisaged that it would be possible to give temporary accommodation to single young women.

It is a feature of our times that young girls, for a variety of reasons, leave their family homes and drift towards cities. In Waterford, because we are a port city, we are very aware that there is a real problem that these young girls will be drawn towards prostitution. All the evidence suggests that this is a problem already in Waterford. Hence we are extremely anxious to get the OASIS project under way so that a facility can be given to these young women. It is hoped that the social services and the professionals who work in the field will have an opportunity to help these people untangle their problems and encourage them to get their lives together and embark on some clearly defined path in life for themselves.

As a member of a local authority, Waterford County Council, the problem of houselessness as opposed to homelessness is one with which I am familiar. I have seen some very distressing sights in my time. I was fortunate enough to put down a motion at a meeting of Waterford County Council looking for crisis accommodation to be made available to people who found themselves in a particularly bad position. I am happy to say that the council passed this motion. The only trouble is that all we are able to offer, given our difficulty with funding, is some sort of demountable accommodation, more commonly called a mobile home. We have, on occasion, when a situation was really catastrophic been able to come to the rescue with a mobile home and help people out in the short term. It must be said that a great number of young couples embark on marriage with very little thought for their future housing and this leads to enormous problems. One is hardly surprised when marriages which start off on such a basis become unstuck and add to the statistics of marital breakdown which are so revealing in this country.

The updating of legislation relative to the welfare of children and the establishment of a central council for homeless children were among the major recommendations of a special committee which reported some time ago. This committee was made up of members of the Eastern Health Board and Dublin Corporation. The committee were of the opinion that the problem of children sleeping rough could not be separated from itinerant children found uncared for and begging in the city or from children who did not attend school. This is largely a Dublin-urban problem. Of course, in most areas of the country it is well known that the itinerant children largely have this particular difficulty.

The committee came to a number of conclusions. The first one was that there are a number of children sleeping rough in the city. The statistics on the exact number of children sleeping rough were not accurate. It was noted that HOPE were engaged on a survey which would provide this information. The number of children who sleep rough on a regular basis is believed to be limited. There are a greater number of children who occasionally sleep rough and they do not really fall into the ambit of a statistic.

Boys and girls sleep rough and in the case of girls the problem is more acute. There is a very real risk of prostitution, although it must be said today that the risk of male prostitution is equally a problem. If it were not for the voluntary agencies, such as HOPE, and for the hostels, this problem would be far greater. There will be continuing need for such hostels providing a range of facilities to meet the varying needs of all children who, for one reason or another, must be accommodated outside their homes. There is a need to stress that parents have a responsibility to ensure that children have no need or desire to leave home and sleep rough. The problem of children roaming the city by day or begging in the streets and apparently neglected is a matter of concern.

There is difficulty in deciding where responsibility for dealing with this problem lies. There is a mass of legislation and rules and regulations between the local authority and the health board. It is time that this problem was tackled and that the boundaries of responsibility were clearly defined so that the homeless people who are marginal people in our society and who have as many rights as those of us who are housed, are dealt with sympathetically and intelligently and that we do all in our power to minimise this problem which is disturbing and distressing and crying out for remedial action.

Debate adjourned.