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

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

As the Chair will recall, the Second Stage of this Homeless Persons Bill was last discussed in this House on 12 December when I made a contribution which I had not completed. It is worth putting this on the record at the beginning of my contribution today. In the interim, we have had the publication of the report of the ad hoc committee on the homeless which was primarily convened by the Department of Health because they felt health boards had an increasing housing element in the problems coming before them, especially those dealing with homeless people. That report has not been widely circulated. It was with some difficulty that I managed to get a copy. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment may not be in a position to release it generally. The report went into considerable detail. It contains many serious comments on the position of the homeless and it is a document which would be of great interest to Members of this House and Members of the other House. Now, many months after it has been published, the Department of Health might take the trouble to make it available generally to Members of these Houses. That has not been done so far.

I said in the course of my contribution on the last occasion that a part of the problem with this Bill is the extent of the demand on existing housing accommodation available in the State and on the extent of accommodation being built at present. The present house building programme of the local authorities amounts to some 6,000 dwellings annually. There are about 30,000 family applicants. The elderly are creating an increasing demand on the services, given the longevity of people. Medical science has developed so much that people are living longer. I came across a statistic recently showing that some 30,000 people under the care of the Eastern Health Board are over the age of 75 years. This is an illustration of the extent of the demand on housing, not just from those who are family applicants but from those in the elderly category.

In the course of my contribution the last day I mentioned that within the housing category there are a considerable number of homeless people who either have applied or would like to apply if they knew how to deal with the method of applying for housing accommodation. It is fair to say that a very large number of the people whom we are speaking about have spent a considerable part of their early life at work of some kind. I described in some detail the fact that there is a high percentage of them men, that 46 per cent of them have been treated for an alcohol-related problem and very many of them have psychotic problems of other descriptions. In the main, they are people who find it hard to cope with making an application, pursuing the various ways in which one can bring about a situation where the points might be improved and where the system is used to its full to ensure that they have a real chance of being housed.

I mentioned also that Dublin Corporation, of which I am a member, and indeed my former colleague, the Minister of State, was a member until recently, decided this year to allocate 50 dwellings annually to the homeless. They are in the course of doing that at the moment in the flat schemes throughout the city. It is intended to pursue it and have another 50 in the following period. At least an attempt has been made to start in that direction. The problem is, of course, that you are dealing with an unknown number of applicants. It is very hard to say precisely, if there was a move, such as that intended in this Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983, whereby there was a statutory duty on the housing authority to provide accommodation for the homeless, how many you would have.

It is not just a matter of handling the 30,000 families who are applicants; there are some 1,400 elderly who are looking for accommodation from Dublin Corporation at the moment. They have a building programme, I understand, providing 300 maisonettes with warden and community rooms at the present time. If you open the gates, if there is a statutory duty to look after the homeless, you are not just talking of hostel dwellers, of which there are 1,000 in this city at present.

The record in Glasgow city is that 85 per cent of those people housed from the hostels have, in fact, been able to cope well in running their own homes. They have been given that opportunity. The pride they take in this is something that is very reassuring and should be considered very seriously in advancing the position of the homeless, in giving them a real position of strength in our housing allocation system in the forseeable future. The fact that they have been so very well able to cope in outside hostel and institutional environments is an encouragement to all of us here who are interested in finding a solution to the problem.

We are not just dealing with hostel dwellers but with people in private rented accommodation. It is fair to say that much of the private rented accommodation we are speaking about, throughout the city and elsewhere, in many cases is much worse accommodation than exists in any part of a public housing estate. The degree to which we have been able to provide decent standards of accommodation and insist on those standards being improved in our legislative arrangements to date is a very serious reflection on the manner in which the Department of the Environment and the local authorities have operated to try to ensure beyond the area of public housing that the housing that is provided elsewhere is up to a proper standard.

The last reform of the Public Health Act in this area relating to the standard of sanitary accommodation and other matters dates back to the last century. We did something about private rented accommodation when we were dealing with rent control two years ago, although we took that on in two swipes. We tried a Bill and found that it did not suit the needs of the category we are speaking about, mainly the elderly living in private rented accommodation, and we came in with another Bill. Both followed on a constitutional action won in the courts, and really should have been faced up to by the Department of the Environment long before that. Outside the area of protection in the private rented sector we do not seem to be bothered as a State, as a Department of the Environment, as a Government — I say that irrespective of which Government are in office — about the standards of private rented accommodation in this city and elsewhere. I hope this will be looked at by the Department in framing the new legislation which I understand is at an advanced stage at this time.

The Leader of the House announced on last week's Order of Business that there would be a two hour debate on the Homeless Persons Bill today. In dealing with that, the Leader of the House announced that the Government had given approval for the heads of a comprehensive Bill on housing matters and not purely on the way in which the Government would deal with the Homeless Persons Bill, but in other areas of need in relation to housing and in reforming the housing code. He told us there would be a comprehensive Bill before these Houses shortly and in fact the matter is now with the parliamentary draftsman to prepare the Bill. Presumably the Minister will be making a commentary during today's debate in relation to that matter. That would reassure Senators on all sides of the House that the Government are treating this measure seriously and that it is being advanced in an orderly way.

I hope the Chair will understand that I have to repeat some of my contribution of the last occasion. When one spoke approximately six months ago and one was building up to a certain point and then was asked to adjourn the debate, one has to lead in by repeating some of the points one made then. I said then that I think the history of public housing and the way in which the local authorities regarded their role, I suppose up to about a decade ago, was one of housing families. The old approach to things was if a mother or a wife went into the local housing authority — it was certainly the case in Dublin Corporation — and asked if she could get a house or a flat, whether she could move from her single room or from her mother's floor, as it is locally called here in the centre of Dublin, she was told "Well, Pauline, — or Mary — you better go home and get a few children". The housing code at that time certainly put great emphasis on the number of children you had. That emphasis was, up to recently, a very significant part of being housed at all. The emphasis has changed with the introduction of the points scheme. I am glad to say that the through-put of that has been seen in dealing with the housing of applicants. The number of young married couples with one child who no longer have to survive on their mother's floor, or in their mother's flat, or house, but who are housed separately as a new family institution has increased over the years.

One of the sources of a great amount of family disharmony and of family problems has been the fact that for so long we have done nothing about the position of doubling and trebling of families in a house or a flat. The Department of the Environment and the housing authorities have been responsible for that move. Indeed, members of local authorities make no mean contributions to these changes. We have moved ahead from that and are in a position now where in the city of Dublin the small family get a real chance of housing and of setting themselves up with a home in the early stages.

The record of the past was of families getting all the attention and those families being allocated accommodation on the basis of the number of children in the homestead and with direct encouragement given to increase the family size. In the last decade we have had changes relating to the arrival of the points scheme which is widely used by local authorities throughout the country, a scheme which deals with the sharing of accommodation, sanitary conditions and so on, of housing applicants. We have a much more humanitarian approach to the applicant. Applicants know in detail where they stand, what the chances of being housed are, what is being built and how that might fall into their overall possibility of being housed in a suitable way.

Apart from that, we moved into building a significant amount of dwellings for the elderly. The maisonette developments that are going on throughout the country now for the elderly, those particularly who are in sheltered accommodation of one form or another, are a very important contribution to the housing needs of the people. Although I do not believe for a moment that we are matching the demand for these services, we certainly have made great steps forward in this area.

As I say, remaining outside the scope of the housing authorities are the homeless. That is not to say that there is not an occasional homeless person housed or that an occasional homeless person has not been housed over the last decade. The numbers are remarkably few, largely because there has been no real attempt to assist those homeless people who, as I said earlier, are in very many cases those who have had a psychiatric, alcoholic or psychotic difficulty in their lives. If you live in a private rented house with sizeable rooms but have very little sanitary accommodation, very little opportunity to treat yourself as you should be treated by others, where the rent is high, where the arrangement is not permanent and where very often there is squalor, there is not much opportunity to get out of such places. You can get a closing order and there can be steps taken to house people elsewhere but these are of an emergency nature. There are people living in buildings where the arm of the State has not budged for far too long in ensuring a decent standard of accommodation, in improving bathroom accommodation, improving services within the house and ensuring that those services are provided for a due rent.

The area of rent restrictions, which we spoke of earlier, is quite a separate category. I am speaking of those who live in private rented accommodation, but whose standard of accommodation is not affected in the main by the State, by the Department of the Environment and, worse still, the housing stock is badly affected by the lack of attention, by the lack of involvement by the Department of the Environment in the upkeep of standards. It is because of the encouragement of housing grants into these situations that there is an improvement in standards and an improvement which in the long run will take some of the pressure off the public housing list.

It is very encouraging to hear that the ad hoc committee of the Department of Health not alone had their report published but within the report there are a number of things that are significant and there are important messages from those who took part in the debate, those who were responsible for preparing this document. The committee had representatives from a variety of health boards throughout the country — the Eastern Health Board, the Western Health Board, the Midland Health Board as well as representatives from the Department of Health, the Department of the Environment, the Kilkenny County Council, the Westmeath County Council and Dublin Corporation. Mr. Des Flanagan, who up to recently was an assistant city manager in the corporation, was on that committee and indeed served after he retired. He is a man with considerable experience in housing in the city.

This group got together and the document was made available, as I said earlier, in a manner that is not normal in the sense that you had to work hard to get a copy of it. I can only give the Minister my experience, which I will go into in detail with him later if he likes. Senator Brendan Ryan lent me his copy and after I got it I wrote to the Department of Health looking for a copy. Some two months later I was conveniently looked after by the Department of Health. That comes from a Department who were to some extent involved in the matter we are talking about, who had set up an ad hoc committee.

It would seem to me, given the significance of this document and the fact that it says a number of things of quite considerable importance relating to the category of homelessness, that it might have been appropriate for the Minister for Health, or the Minister for the Environment, to have let the press know, to let the country know that this document is now available and can be purchased. It would be a welcome kind of approach to a document that is of considerable length.

It contains appendices covering about 50 or 60 pages. I will not set all the matters contained in this report on the record but there are a few matters about which I feel I should certainly alert the House. They say in paragraph 4.7:

The distinction between the needs of a homeless person for temporary or permanent accommodation in towns by which agency that need should be met is not clearly drawn and practised. While primary responsibility for the provision of housing to those not able to house themselves rests with local authorities it is inevitable, given the limitations and resources, that there will be single homeless persons whose needs and capabilities may suit them for permanent housing but who will not be able to obtain such accommodation because of the relatively low priority accorded to them on housing authority waiting lists. These persons may then be forced to fall back for accommodation, often for a protracted period, on those institutions either operated or financially supported by health boards, who should only have a minimal responsibility for the provision of housing accommodation.

That is a very important statement. We have been hearing for a long time about the history of the institutions run by the health boards and the county homes in which, traditionally, many of the people we are speaking about ended up. That statement seems to give the view of the ad hoc committee that the health board will from now on have a minimal responsibility relating to homelessness. It is important that we put that on the record and that we look at it from a number of aspects because it means that this is another area of less demand on the county homes and psychiatric hospitals. It should help in the switch of those who are in these institutions who could be cared for in the community. There is one very clear way in which we could be assisting that service in moving people into the community by discharging our responsibilities for the homeless.

It goes on to say in paragraph 4.8:

In discharging their responsibility to house persons in need housing authorities direct their efforts primarily to families and individuals.

Those individuals are the individuals I was speaking about earlier, the elderly, those in need of permanent housing rather than temporary accommodation or capable of holding an independent tenancy. Over the years the authorities catered for many families rendered homeless for one reason or another. Any homeless family comprising of parent or parents with one child or more is normally quickly accommodated by local authorities.

I shall mention two more things relating to the ad hoc committee's report. The report also emphasises what I said earlier about the experience in Glasgow where 85 per cent of homeless persons were, after a period of years, found to be able to live outside the environment of an institution, outside the hostel, were able to build their own homes and get considerable pride from the new accommodation they were in and survive there with the dignity that each human being in our community should at least be given if at all possible. Many homeless persons make the transition quite successfully from a state of being homeless to settling in permanent accommodation given adequate preparation and minimal support. There are those among the homeless whose problems cannot be solved by the provision of permanent housing, some do not want to settle in permanent accommodation and others would not be able to hold down an independent tenancy. Many require special medical and other care. The problems of these persons are not answered solely by the provision of housing.

I have spoken of the tremendous work being done for the homeless in Dublin; it is a European example of how this matter should be looked after. That is the work of Dr. Joe Fernandez who runs a very important assessment centre at St. Brendan's Hospital. It is both an inpatient and an out-patient facility. I would like to compliment Dr. Joe Fernandez, as I did before on this arrangement. What he does there is well known. He has a large number of homeless people visiting his assessment centre and in many cases being treated there, either on a day basis in the day care centre or for a period in the institutional or the inpatient facility. Many homeless people here as in Glasgow would be able to live outside the institution where many of them live almost permanently or have lived almost permanently. The Salvation Army hostel in York Street is a very well run establishment, as the Minister of State and I know from visits there at times of elections and otherwise. I recently discovered that some 50 per cent of the people who live in the Salvation Army hostel live there permanently; it is their home. There is rarely a night when there is a vacancy within that hostel. The 50 per cent stay on there forever. There are other cases where there are big voids, where people do not want to live. There is some very good accommodation but the charges for staying there for the night are high and the administration run things differently; people are expected to be in by a certain hour at night and be out by a certain hour in the morning. Perhaps the breakfast is better in the Salvation Army hostel. I had it there one morning not long ago.

The Eastern Health Board are involved in considerable subsidisation of these hostels. This is another aspect of the need to find a solution to this problem. It must be possible for us, instead of putting money by subsidisation into these hostels, to move forward into recognising that the individual client in many instances is quite young, has had a problem — possibly a marital problem — problems within the family and so on. Many of these young people are well educated and, if facilitated in the right way, could be back to work after a short period.

With the availability of the centre in St. Brendan's Hospital, with the considerable experience that Dr. Joe Fernandez has in this area, I believe that the support services are there to assist those who are housed in a much more generous way by the local authorities, to assist them to cope with life outside institutional care and to get over the temporary problems they may have in surviving outside care of that kind. It is possible for us, with the advantages we have in St. Brendan's Hospital, to assist people in that transition in the housing situation.

The report also deals with the question of homelessness in another respect. It says that the committee recommend that housing authorities should seek to improve the information available to them on the level of needs in their area, having particular regard to the needs of groups such as the homeless who may be under-represented on the waiting list for housing. Information on the nature and extent of homelessness in the authority's area should be compiled on a regular basis, drawing on sources such as the authority's own social workers and housing staff and voluntary bodies operating in the area and so on. The authority should also have regard to homelessness in their assessment of housing needs carried out under section 53 of the Housing Act, 1966. The committee note that the Department of the Environment have, since 1983, obtained information on the number of homeless persons on the housing authority waiting list and the numbers housed by housing authorities.

What is fundamental to this whole issue in the foreseeable future is for the local authorities to compile lists of those who would be treated as homeless, those who have not been treated as homeless up to now. Public representatives dealing with an urban area in Ireland, and certainly in Dublin, would regard homelessness as an issue affecting those who, by way of eviction or otherwise, find themselves on the street. We are speaking of people who might have been housed but were not housed and given the dignity of their own dwelling, people housed in institutional care, in a psychiatric hospital or elsewhere, with the assistance of Dr. Fernandez unit in St. Brendan's Hospital. I am speaking of those who were very inadequately housed in private rented accommodation where the standards date back to the last century, to the 1898 Public Health Act.

There is a need to advance and take from this ad hoc committee's report the encouragement, which presumably would be a statutory encouragement, to housing authorities that in the foreseeable future a Bill, which is at present with the parliamentary draftsman will be before the House. There are many worthy reasons for having this Bill published. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the initiative of Senator Brendan Ryan in bringing this matter before the House, a matter which concerns an area that is not spoken of; people do not talk about it; it is not a big electoral issue. It could be, but so far these people are sufficiently well scattered not to affect anybody too much.

Homelessness is a humanitarian issue which deserves recognition. It has been recognised in other countries and other democracies. It is essential that we assign the statutory duty to the housing authorities and ensure that it is a duty which they take on as a special one, that it is not just included under the great arm of the housing authorities of cities like Dublin; that they manage to deal with it in a very special way; that they respond to it in a humanitarian way; that they expect from the applicants something different from what is expected from the normal applicant and that they give special points for the form of homelessness that we are speaking of. We should go to some trouble to ensure that they are on the list, are encouraged and looked after, and that we have a building programme under way to suit people of this category.

One of the problems of the housing situation generally is that in the period from December 1983 to the end of the year, a total of 1,500 units were built by Dublin Corporation, only 72 of which had fewer than three bedrooms. There is now a recognition of this problem. There is an attempt to put in 5 or 10 per cent of dwellings with less than three bedrooms in new housing developments in the city and county of Dublin. It is a very welcome development. The two-bedroomed cottage or bungalow or house was the "in" thing some years ago but went out of business in the course of the sixties, seventies and indeed half of the eighties. We did not build them. We did not build them because we thought the thing to do was to answer the problem with three-and four-bedroomed houses; indeed, that was answering a problem but it was not answering the whole problem. There was a demand for accommodation coming from couples who had an adult member of the family living with them. Any Member of this House who has to deal with them knows the trouble you have in getting suitable accommodation for them; the limited extent to which dwellings are available for that category is an enormous difficulty. It is much easier — believe it or not — to house the elderly person. It is very much more difficult when you have two elderly persons with an adult daughter or son living with them who need to be housed; in the housing jargon they call them a non-expanding family. That kind of family does not seem to fit into the way in which the resources have been spent over the last 15 years. It is high time we recognised that and did something about it. There has been an element of change but there is need for much more change.

Coupled with this, there should be a move, in the foreseeable future, to not just house the elderly — that is the over-sixties — but to start dealing with the homeless people under 60 and over 40 who perhaps require to be housed, who need to be given some space within the capital provision of each housing authority. It is not just a simple matter of housing them within the already built housing estates, in the low priority flats complexes where when a flat comes up occasionally one is offered to these people and you mix them in. I do not suggest either that you have a building filled with the homeless people who lived in the Salvation Army hostel or the Iveagh hostel. Within each new housing area it must be possible to introduce some units for this category, in the same way as we introduced some units for the small, non-expanding family. We should begin to give a mix to our housing development and we should ensure that this category, as well as other categories, is given the benefit of resources and that the resources are spent to provide for them.

I very much welcome the fact that I hear the Government Bill is now with the parliamentary draftsman and we may have a Bill of substantive nature shortly and that Bill will give a statutory duty to the housing authorities. I hope that as a follow-up to that, the Government of the day, the Department of the Environment, will see to it that the mix of new developments will include facilities for the small, non-expanding family and for the homeless, which is the principal motivation of this Bill, and that we will advance to a stage where we will not need to be spending to the extent which we now are in supporting the hostels and in supporting psychiatric hospitals where people are detained much longer in institutional conditions than necessary, because we have not recognised them and we have done very little about solving their problems. I hope we will move forward to a stage where we will direct the money in a much more positive direction and assist the housing of these people, give them a roof over their heads, give them a chance of dignity and pride as a result of the warmth and understanding of the community.

I believe that in a decade from now, if we take these steps and if the Government ensure that part of the capital housing allocation is earmarked for these categories we will end up with a much better balanced and healthier community instead of the situation in which we now are. A lady who lives in the Coombe in a new five-bedroomed house visited me the other day. She has one child living with her. Things happened whereby she was housed there; she had other members of her family with her at the time but now she has only one child there. Quite a number of people are living in very large new houses, built by the corporation and by other local authorities within the last five years. This is accommodation above their needs. We need a system which includes everybody, especially the small family and the homeless person. I believe we will get a more satisfactory housing code and response from the people in this direction.

When we are talking about homelessness we are talking about an offence against human rights. Human rights, as understood internationally today, and especially inside the whole European system, means that we have to avoid the charge of offending human rights, we must provide shelter, education, gainful employment and all the things that a civilised society should provide to satisfy human rights.

As long as homelessness, a high degree of unemployment and a shunning of the disadvantaged remain in our society, these factors are an indictment of our failure to cope. Having said that, I must also say, from the point of view of balance, that housing legislation of this nature is to be commended. It means that we are a caring society. When legislation setting up the Combat Poverty Agency is implemented it will mean we are a caring and compassionate society. When we proceed to implement the National Development Corporation to provide gainful employment it will mean that we are a compassionate and caring society. These three things must be seen to be corelated. If we are talking about homelessness — and I might say that we are now talking almost half way through the last quarter of this century — we still remain, in the lifetime of our country, a democratic society trying to do our best. This must be said about the legislation I have mentioned.

Homelessness in Ireland is not the same as homelessness in North Africa or southern Spain. It is a very harsh life when you are without shelter. You cannot sleep on our beaches with a blanket pulled over you. Homelessness and its cure by providing shelter is only one aspect of the problem associated with it. I believe it is related to poverty. I also believe it is related to other aspects of one's own behaviour. I am not going to criticise the homeless; I am simply suggesting that the Combat Poverty Agency will find fruitful work in eliciting the causes of homelessness. I believe it is an aspect of poverty. The Government are to be applauded for proposing to bring in this legislation to provide shelter for the homeless.

I can claim to speak with some little authority in the whole housing field. When the troubles began in 1968-69, the two local authorities, the rural authority and the city of Derry authority, were suspended and eliminated by the then Unionist Government. A nine-man commission was then set up to run the two areas in those dreadful times. The earlier years were worse even than today. I was vice-chairman of that commission. The housing situation was not so much one of homelessness in Derry, even though I had experience of a housing area in Derry; it was one of homelessness in Belfast. There was overcrowding plus some homelessness in Derry. I chaired the housing sub-committee and the situation was so bad — the local authority in Derry had been building eight houses a year — that I had to build 1,000 houses a year. It took three years to make a dent in the housing problem.

The question of allocation brings me to ask: how do you award shelter to a homeless person? I had a model village inside the commission area some miles from Derry and the Unionists before they went out of office had allocated them before the plans were dry. That was unique in a so-called democratic society. On examination, I reversed the allocations and allocated them on a points system which took me nearly 24 hours without sleep to draw up. That became the precursor of the points system now operating under the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland. In emergency cases — which homelessness is — you cannot apply a points system. You cannot even apply a residential factor: it is not right. I was very perturbed to see on the front page of The Irish Times some time ago a young woman with her chattels and her baby on the street in Dún Laoghaire because she did not have the residential qualifications. That is wrong. Homelessness is an emergency situation and should have first preference without points. There is one condition: provided that they have not deliberately worsened their conditions in order to gain a house.

In Derry, I used caravans and any dwellings I could requisition — broken down houses, houses not occupied, hotels not used etc. Any space I got I used as transition material until our building programme got going. That comes into the technicalities of providing shelter for people which is satisfying a human right albeit a bit late, but we are doing it. That is the point.

The second experience I had was when I was called to Belfast as vice-chairman of the commission when the troubles had got out of hand. There was a very big meeting in the Stormont Cabinet Office. Sir Chichester-Clark was in the chair. After five minutes I was put in the chair. He was Prime Minister. The housing problem was brought to the forefront. The army, police, politicians, trade unions, universities, business and commerce were all represented there and I pointed out that the first priority was housing the homeless, especially the people who had fled in fear, the people who had been burned out and the people who were without shelter. Those meetings were attended by the Northern Ireland civil service and they did a very good job, including the settling of income levels to maintain homes. They did a very good job and I pay them tribute here today. That operation lasted three months but the meetings gave me experience which I carried into the Derry Commission

The Minister will have to say something about the points system. I did not make my point to evoke some loose statement about it. I want the Minister to reply to that, and say whether homeless people will be treated as emergency cases. I could not conceive any other mechanism, remembering always that there is a condition attached that the persons seeking shelter, having categorised themselves as homeless and specified they have no shelter, must not have made their condition worse deliberately. That has to be watched very carefully.

It is a mark of a civilised society to do this exercise because it satisfies human rights. We claim to be a democratic society and I think we are. The degree of democracy runs very high in the Republic but democracy does not end with the use of the ballot box. Democracy, if it means anything, means fair play, social justice and the satisfying of it and not just voting for a candidate to go in on a mandate. Basically, it is to satisfy social justice. That is what society is about. Governments exist because people say, "You will be our Government for a period of time; you are our servants". It is not the other way around. People must always hold the position that they, as individuals, are more important than the State and the homeless person becomes very, very important in the context of a civilised, democratic society which does not end at the ballot box.

I am not going to delay the House long on this Bill because in a sense we are speaking in a vacuum. People are expressing views on a Bill which has been brought in by a Private Member when every Member of the House knows that this Bill will not be passed by this House. It will be superseded by a Bill which will be brought in by the Government at some stage. The only benefit in discussing this Bill is that it may give the Minister some ideas on which he can base the legislation which is supposed to come before us in a short time.

It is unfortunate that this debate did not take place six or eight months ago. That would have given the Minister an opportunity to listen to the debate and he could then have drawn up the heads of his own Bill and brought in a Bill which could be based not totally on what has been said in this House by the very concerned Members who are here but at least he would have had a good indication as to what he might put in the Bill. Every time Senator Ryan asked when the Government Bill was going to be brought in he was told that the legislation was with the draftsman or it was with the Government. It was always with somebody for a long time. I hope it will come in here very shortly.

There is no point in pretending that Senator Ryan's Bill has any hope of becoming law. This House could be better used than by addressing ourselves to something that cannot become law.

The problems of the homeless in this country are enormous. Homeless people create problems which are unrelated to housing problems. The fact that people are homeless sometimes causes them to get involved in civil disobedience in the sense that they break into deserted houses, caravans or sheds to get shelter for the night. Under the Vagrancy Act, if they are found there they are brought before the courts the next day and they may go to jail for a few weeks. Generally that is what happens to people who are considered to be vagrants. It is hard to deal with people who are transient in their lifestyle and move from place to place. There is no legislation we can bring in here which would provide for these people on an ongoing basis. If we were to provide that type of accommodation we would have to over-provide in every area. We would have to provide for everybody who is transient or homeless.

I hope that the Minister will be able to address himself to the financing and the organisation of such a massive job. There are the emergency homeless who today are being used by landlords to fill their own pockets. Landlords charge for very bad accommodation and they can continue to over-charge because local authorities are not being given the funds wherewith to provide for people in very bad accommodation. The landlords can continue to charge because they know the local authorities cannot close down very bad accommodation, they cannot make an order against a landlord because the local authorities have not got the funds to provide for all the people who are looking for accommodation as a right.

Homeless single persons are a major problem. No local authority is providing accommodation for this type of person. Senator FitzGerald mentioned a few of the hostels in Dublin where these people can be accommodated either on a semi-permanent or casual basis. In rural areas there are no local authority single persons' complexes. Local authorities are doing a better job than private building concerns in providing smaller type dwellings for elderly people, for couples who have no children. They are called OPDs but in many areas throughout the country they have been used to house elderly sisters or perhaps married couples who have no children and who would not normally, on a points system, obtain a house.

There is grave need throughout the country to provide some type of flat accommodation. It is necessary for local authorities to have funds to provide flat accommodation. Possibly this could be done under the aegis of the schemes which we have in certain areas where the health boards and the local authorities have become involved and complexes for handicapped persons have been built. If a person is mentally or physically handicapped, there is an excellent chance that he or she will get accommodation which is suitable for single people. In country areas if people are elderly there is a reasonable chance that through the health boards and voluntary contributions they will get accommodation. But for the younger, homeless person there is no hope of getting accommodation either on a semi-permanent or even a casual basis.

It is somewhat hypocritical of us to be discussing this Bill at all because we all know that it will not be passed by this or the other House and that it will be overtaken at some stage by the Minister's Homeless Persons Bill. For that reason we should not spend too much time on it. The sooner the humbug of this exercise is over and we see the Government's Bill, the better.

If we allowed this Bill to go through in its present form, there is absolutely no way that local authorities could provide for what is contained in it. There is no way I could see the Minister providing the funds necessary to establish what this Bill proposes to establish. The sooner we see the Government legislation in this House the better because there is a grave need for it, particularly in the bigger cities.

Because of the way the social welfare system is geared against young people who are unemployed, they tend to leave rural areas and head for the big cities and this exacerbates the position in the big cities. Not alone are they moving to the bigger cities but they are going across the water looking for jobs in London and the other bigger cities of England, Scotland and Wales. From the articles in The Irish Press this week, it would appear that a growing number of younger people are going to the United States illegally and that if one were to go into bars and places of entertainment in San Francisco and New York one would find there large numbers of young people from Ireland.

Young people are discriminated against under the Social Welfare Acts because if they live at home their unemployment assistance is cut. It is suggested that if they live at home they must be getting sustenance from their parents. I would suggest that in the majority of cases their parents are on unemployment assistance or benefit and they have to feed these young people. A young person who is in any way vigorous feels he deserves a little more from life than £12 per week. Is it any wonder we see young people going around vandalising cars, breaking into houses and creating problems of every kind? I cannot see why a young person who reaches the age of 18 years of age should not get the full rate of unemployment assistance and not have this farce of having it cut back because he lives with his parents. He is a burden on his parents and in too many cases the burden is not just a financial one. Because he has no work, because he cannot get what he was educated to get, he causes disruption in the household. If the father is unemployed and is at home he is constantly harping at the young person to go out and get a job and the young person cannot get a job. It is no wonder we see a rebellious youth growing up.

There is a need to look after these young people who leave home or who are thrown out and who have to be dealt with on an emergency basis but since at present we cannot get enough money to deal with the ordinary housing list it would be virtually impossible for the local authorities with the funding they have, to deal with the very grave problem of homelessness.

I should like at the outset to thank the House for giving me the opportunity of making a short intervention in the debate on the Bill introduced by Senator Ryan. I do so mainly to keep the House informed on the progress being made with the legislation the Government have promised on housing. Last week the Government approved of proposals made by me for new housing legislation which have now gone for formal drafting and which I am confident can be published later in the present parliamentary session.

The specific details of the new measures must necessarily await publication of the Bill. I am, however, in a position to give a broad outline of the direction the legislation will take. The Bill will be an extensive measure embracing different important facets of housing. First of all, and most importantly in the context of this debate, local authorities will be made primarily responsible for the accommodation needs of the homeless and will be given the necessary powers to meet and properly discharge their new responsibilities in the area. In this respect, the proposals will reflect the recommendations of the ad hoc group on homelessness whose report was published in December last and will meet the objectives of Senator Ryan's Bill. Therefore, the Government's Bill will seek to ensure effective access to housing accommodation by the homeless while avoiding serious disruption of the prospects of those on local authority waiting lists whose housing needs are acute by any standards. Apart from the homeless, the Bill will cover other major areas of housing policy. It will include provisions arising from the Government's statement of 20 July last on policy in relation to travellers. It will embrace such other major initiatives of the Government in the housing area as the £5,000 grant, the scheme of assistance for voluntary housing, the scheme of structural works to “low cost” and other rented houses etc. The Bill will, therefore, be the most significant piece of housing legislation to be brought before the Oireachtas in the last 20 years.

I want to emphasise that the Government are facing up squarely to their undertakings to tackle the problems of the homeless. We do not take issue with those supporting Senator Ryan's Bill on the need for legislation. Where I find myself differing from Senator Ryan is on the effectiveness and suitability of his approach. I am compelled to conclude that his Bill, as it stands, does not offer a workable solution. It seeks to graft on to an existing legislative framework new provisions which are at variance with the existing provisions of the housing code and which would only undermine the existing powers of the local authorities to provide and allocate housing to persons unable to provide adequate housing from their own resources. To achieve its objective, legislation to cater for the homeless must be properly integrated into, and be compatible with, the wider housing code. It cannot stand in isolation if an effective framework is to be provided within which the needs of different groups for housing can be met.

The present Bill, if enacted, would do little to improve the position of the homeless persons now residing in night shelters or sleeping rough and on whose behalf it is mainly claimed the Bill is necessary. The housing needs of these persons would, in fact, be overtaken by more knowledgeable and assertive persons exploiting to their own advantage the loopholes in the Bill. The intention behind the Bill is entirely acceptable but its terms are so vague and widely drawn that its practical effects are wholly unpredictable. The statutory duty which the Bill would impose on local authorities to house homeless persons would mean effectively that homeless persons would have to be housed before all other categories of persons in need. This priority would be absolute and would be an incentive to families and individuals dissatisfied with their housing conditions to become homeless as a sure way of obtaining a local authority house. It is not, therefore, a harsh judgment of Senator Ryan's Bill to say that it is a charter for "queue-jumping" by those seeking local authority housing no matter how well intentioned and socially concerned a measure it is.

An example of the shortcomings of the Bill is that it does not recognise that some homeless persons are incapable for medical reasons of living independently in a dwelling and that housing accommodation is not the remedy for their problems. Furthermore, the Bill provides no safeguards whatever against abuses such as intentional or deliberate homelessness. However, the definition of the homeless person is not of itself particularly the problem, but rather the combination of the broad and unqualified definition and an extremely specific binding duty on local authorities to house all persons coming within this broad definition. I emphasise that I am not taking issue with the approach of imposing on local authorities a specific statutory duty towards homeless persons.

I have mentioned some of the difficulties presented by Senator Ryan's Bill. I do not intend to repeat in full the drawbacks of the Bill since these have been dealt with in some detail in previous contributions to this debate. The Government are, as has been made clear throughout this debate, determined to seek a solution to the problem of homelessness. Homelessness in our society is as distasteful to me and to the Government as it is to the sponsors of this Bill. However, the problems of homeless persons would not be overcome by the passage of the Bill; on the contrary, it would do little to improve the position of the homeless as one of the most disadvantaged groups in our society and would cause confusion and uncertainty in a most sensitive and important area of housing policy, that is, access to and eligibility for local authority housing.

I am confident, on the other hand, that the proposals for which I have obtained the approval of the Government will offer a real prospect of finally coming to grips with this distressing problem. I hope that Senators will accept my own and the Government's good faith in regard to the forthcoming legislation which I look forward to having published as early as possible.

In considering this Private Members' Bill we have to be very careful to distinguish between the problem of homelessness and the nature of the Bill that is being proposed. We cannot make a judgment on the Bill unless we can give a clear answer to two questions; what is the nature of the problem of homelessness and would this Bill solve the problem? Senator Ryan in introducing his Bill a considerable time ago said, at columns 436-7, Volume 102, No. 4 of the Official Report, that his Bill could be summarised as having three objectives, firstly, an objective of defining "homelessness", secondly, an objective of placing a clear responsibility on the local authority and thirdly, the imposition of a statutory obligation to house the homeless who have been thus defined. As the Minister has just said, what really is at issue in this debate is the question of determining whether the Bill in the form put forward to us will achieve the objective that it has, whether it will tend to resolve this problem. It is a difficult problem to discuss and a complex one but I must say, in all frankness, in the presence of the Minister, that I do not think it is all that complex that the Seanad should have had to wait as long as it had since the Private Members' Bill was introduced in order to get a firm Government response. We must be grateful that that response is now on the way but this does not lessen our regret that it was so long coming.

If we take up the first of the objectives of Senator Brendan Ryan's Bill, the question of the definition of "homelessness' and it is defined here in section 4 of his Bill, there is an immediate difficulty here in the manner of this definition because the definition of "homelessness" has been taken so wide here that it creates a very real difficulty and, as the Minister has indicated, raises the question of whether there might not be an aggravation of the situation rather than an amelioration.

The definition in section 4 of the Bill which Senator Brendan Ryan has given us is related in some respects to the definition of the United Kingdom 1977 Act but is much broader even than that definition. One of the problems that arises in regard to this definition is the inclusion of what could be called "threatened homelessness" and once that is included in the definition and linked with the statutory obligation on the part of the local authority to house, the way is open to abuse as the Minister has indicated in his contribution just now.

Quite recently there was a discussion in Northern Ireland in regard to this problem. Incidentally, it is of interest to note that the UK Act of 1977 was not applied to Northern Ireland. In this particular respect the situation in Northern Ireland is pretty much the same as it is here in this State. During a public meeting there was a discussion of this problem in Northern Ireland and it was indicated that in drawing up legislation for Northern Ireland it was hoped that the mistakes of the UK legislation would not be repeated. There was nothing to indicate what were the shortcomings of the UK legislation. Indeed, if we could get on to the Statute Book in this country legislation dealing with the homeless which would be as broad in scope as the legislation under the UK 1977 Act, as extended by judicial interpretation to cover people in hostels, then we would be on the way to dealing with this problem. If we attempt to go beyond the definition of the UK Act and if we attempt to reinforce this extended definition by a statutory obligation to house then we are introducing what may well be an unworkable Act.

We would all welcome the fact that the Minister is introducing a Bill, a Bill which as he has indicated will not only deal with the question of housing the homeless but will be a general housing Bill amending the housing code. We have been operating under the Housing Act, 1966 for almost 20 years and it certainly was time for a general review.

When dealing with this Private Members' Bill in regard to the housing of homeless persons we must consider how it would graft on to Part III of the 1966 Act. Section 53 of the Housing Act, 1966 lays down what are the duties of local authorities in regard to housing. It lays down that they must survey the situation in their local authority area every five years, that they must then draw up a building programme and that they are empowered to provide accommodation under that programme. Under the 1966 Act the local authority are required to have a scheme of letting priorities. In this scheme they must take account of certain statutory objectives which include the very relevant cases of unfit housing and overcrowding but our housing code does not preclude other special cases and in particular we have the provision which has been operated by our local authorities for many years now whereby there is the provision of some 10 per cent of housing accommodation for the elderly and the disabled.

What we require in regard to the housing of homeless persons is a further movement in this direction. It is true to say that some homeless persons are being housed under our housing code and schemes and under the housing operations of our local authorities at the moment. The number is certainly not as high as the 10 per cent allowance for the elderly and the disabled and is somewhere between 1 and 2 per cent of all our housing applicants. What we have to see is a very considerable shift in that percentage.

If we take the key provisions which are in Senator Ryan's Bill, a key definition in section 4 and the statutory duty under section 6, there is a very real danger of distorting the whole housing code and of establishing a position whereby the very deserving persons who he hopes to benefit under this Bill will be displacing from housing those who are at present living in unfit housing and those who are subject to serious overcrowding.

As I said in the beginning, we have to distinguish clearly in this discussion between the nature of the Bill we have before us and the nature of the problem it attempts to solve. Nobody is satisfied with the present position. That is clear from the debate we have had in this House. One of the most unsatisfactory things has been the degree of confusion in regard to the position of the homeless. There is the provision under section 54 of the Health Act, 1953 whereby the health authority have an obligation to provide shelter and temporary accommodation for the homeless. This particular provision has given rise to quite a degree of confusion and diversity in practice, something which was most undesirable. It is all to the good that we did have the ad hoc committee dealing with this particular problem which reported in December last and which certainly gave in its guidelines a basis for the removal of this confusion.

I would like to say in regard to this report it is perhaps a pity that the report was not publicised to a greater extent than it was. People like Senator Brendan Ryan and Senator FitzGerald who were interested in this question were aware of the existence of this report but I think most Members of this House were probably unaware that this particular work had been completed and that this report had been published. I understand it was available on application to the Department of Health but I think most Members of the House are hard put to get through the things that come across their desks and sift through them to see what is useful and they are not inclined to go seeking out material which is available in Government Departments and of which they have not heard. If this report had been circulated to Members of the House they would immediately have spotted it as something important, something, indeed, highly relevant to the work of the House in regard to the discussion of this Private Members' Bill and in regard to the discussion of the Minister's Bill which we hope to have before us very shortly. I would say that while Members of the House like myself may well have been remiss in our duty in that we did not go searching out this report which would be helpful to us in discharging our work as Senators, I do feel also that the Department of Health, perhaps, should have been aware of the fact that we had a Bill before us and that this was something which should have been automatically circulated to Members of the Seanad and in that way brought clearly to their notice.

The real difficulty I have in regard to Senator Brendan Ryan's Bill is in regard to the obligation to house this particular group which, apparently, is an essential part of his Bill. If it were not an essential part of his Bill, if it were something that could be removed on Committee Stage, then my mind certainly would be far more open to the Bill as it stands. Imposing an obligation to house one particular group in a statutory fashion above and beyond the duties in regard to other groups who have solid claims to be considered for housing is undesirable. I do not think that this can be considered in isolation. I think in fact that the Minister was right in considering that the matter should be dealt with in the context of a general revision of the housing code but, as I said earlier, I think it was a pity that the Department were not able to come forward earlier. Having said that, I am quite conscious that the Minister and his legal staff, which is not large, have been involved in urgent legislation in other areas and I am glad that, indeed, they are now dealing with this problem.

One of the features in Senator Ryan's Bill which is entirely commendable, is in section 5 in dealing with inquiries. I should like to say that I think it is terribly important that all of our local authorities should be fully informed in regard to the extent of the problem of homelessness in their areas. There has been a tendency in the past for the health authority on one hand, the housing authority on the other hand, not to consider this as being completely their problem and not to be making themselves fully aware. These statutory authorities must make themselves fully aware and, having made themselves aware, they should make the public aware of the exact position in regard to groups such as the homeless in their statutory areas. If we can get information here it will help movement forward but, once again, there should not be any delay in regard to movement while we are waiting for further information. The Bill is useful in that it has concentrated our minds on this problem. The ad hoc report has been extremely useful in so far as it has laid down guidelines, as it has, for local authorities and for health boards in regard to the responsibility for the accommodation of homeless persons and for the manner in which these duties may be carried out.

Finally, I would say that I trust that it will only be a matter of weeks before the Minister's Bill is circulated. This House, then being fully informed of the alternative proposals of Senator Ryan and of the Government, will be able to discuss this matter and come to a conclusion so that further time is not lost.

Firstly, I should like to say that I always find it very difficult to argue with the reasoning of Professor Dooge. However, I might say since he was speaking in the context of what exists and what has happened in the lifetime of various Governments with regard to housing advancement and the difficulties that confront us because of previous decisions and so on, that it is not possible to go into the broader concept. It has to go on the record of this House that it is a ringing condemnation of the society we live in in this day and age that we actually have to be talking about the question of homeless people. Senator Lanigan spoke about emigration and so on. I did not see the relevance of that because emigration is not a new thing. It existed in my time. I could not understand the relevance in that sense. What was more puzzling was that he seemed to suggest that in preparing any legislation we must have accommodation to suit people who may be squatting in London. I could not follow the reasoning in that.

I should like to compliment Senator Ryan on bringing this Bill before the House. Senator Lanigan felt we were going through an exercise, that the Bill would not be voted through and that the debate was a sham. I do not think that is the case at all, to be quite frank. From the very beginning all Labour Senators were very enthusiastic about this Bill. That is the factual situation and coupled with that is the fact that the Minister said today that the total debate on the legislation is not complete. More discussion will take place later and, therefore, the contributions today are very useful.

As far as I am concerned it is the duty of the State to protect the rights of all of us, but it is essential that the most deprived must be seen to be protected in the first instance from the effects of any difficulties they are confronted with. In the case of the homeless there is no category in the country more vulnerable. We can in fact argue that the term, "the most deprived" covers many people but the ultimate in being deprived is to be homeless. The extraordinary thing about all this is that it is not new. It is, and has been, a feature of our society for as long as most of us can remember. I should just like to give my experience of it. In my time living in the Dublin tenements, the homeless were helped by a more charitable society in the sense that other deprived people living in the tenements actually provided what were called lobbies for them. Lobbies were the landings in the houses. The tenants provided the people who were very badly off with some sort of covering at night. There might be four landings in a tenement house and one person was facilitated on each landing. Somebody would stitch together a number of flour bags, and that was used as a cover. In the morning the homeless got a cup of tea, bread and margarine.

That was the charity of the day. It is nothing new to talk about the homeless in this society, but nothing strong enough has been done over the years to help them, irrespective of the differences that may arise with regard to whether a person wants to be housed. There may be people who do not want to be housed and want the freedom to be out all day. The very principle of homelessness is something that has been with society for a long time. We cannot make the excuse that we did not have the time. We had plenty of time. Some of us may have run into more difficult circumstances than others when trying to deal with the problem but we had plenty of time.

The position now is that the tenements are gone. Many years ago some homeless people slept in stables where there were a lot of horses. The owner of the stable provided the straw, and that helped the homeless. That type of help has gone. Even in the old days nothing drastic was done to bring about a solution to the problem. In relatively good times, when the cost involved would have been small and the numbers less having regard to the population and the extent of emigration, nothing was done. There was a good opportunity to deal with the problem in general housing programmes in relatively good times but that did not happen. I never suggested at any time that the tenements were adequate but they were a help. They were a means for the poor to help the poor. Certainly, it was not the case of the rich helping the poor.

I am also critical of the fact that the Church — in recent times they may have been much more helpful — who had all the necessary means to secure a proper end to the problem of the homeless people did not do much. The Church seeks proper ends in a lot of other things but one wonders where the homeless fit in their proper ends. My criticism would be unfair if I did not recognise the fact that the religious societies in general have been providing meals and some shelters for the homeless. That charity is very noble and welcome. I am concerned about the natural right of the homeless. I do not remember, ever in my lifetime, except the odd reference in an encyclical, any passionate pleas from the pulpit that the homeless be housed or that it was immoral not to house them. In my own simple logic I could not understand that, and I still cannot understand it.

The State must have regard to a moral situation and the fact that the moral law is being broken when we do not provide in a society of plenty homeless people with good accommodation. To deprive people of a home is a breach of a natural right. I hope that the Minister's Bill, despite the difficulties that exist, will tackle the problem. When the Government consider the issue the debate that is taking place in the House should help Ministers deal with the question. The problem should be tackled despite the difficulties with regard to local government reform and so on.

The Labour Party were very enthusiastic about the Bill. Even if we do not welcome it as an end in itself, we certainly have to go with it as a means to an end. We may feel that it is not possible to get everything set out in the Bill or meet all demands but, nevertheless, we are enthusiastic about it. We are very enthusiastic about it for the reason that it embodies the principle of what a caring society should do for the most deprived.

I see an urgent need for temporary measures although that may not please Senator Ryan. If we do not get much further with the Bill we will still have by highlighting the need for some sort of contingency arrangements to deal with the problem.

I can appreciate the Minister's difficulty with the number of people on the housing waiting lists and the prospect of accusations of queue jumping, but that does not, and never did, in the minds of Labour Senators prevent a Labour Minister having a look at how the best possible results for the homeless can be achieved. We are delighted Senator Ryan brought the Bill forward. I do not believe all the problems can be solved. I do not think legislation remedies a problem to the full extent although it makes the problem less acute. On the other hand if the Bill had not been brought into the House for a full debate we might not have got very far because of the difficulties we are having with finance. There is also the fact that the problem has become a little aggravated by the great demand for houses. There are something like 36,000 people waiting to be housed. We can understand the problem and the dilemma of the Minister. It might have been easier for the Minister to introduce a Bill first proposing to accommodate the homeless rather than housing the homeless. However, even then he would probably have had to go to outside organisations to see if they would build some sort of sheltered accommodation. Obviously, the proposer of the Bill wants the homeless to be housed. That is consistent with Labour Party policy.

The Bill addresses itself in section 4 to accommodating the homeless but section 2 means, in effect, providing accommodation as distinct from shelters. It refers to people who are in common lodging houses, night shelters or hostels. If one includes children of from eight years to early teens the problem becomes more difficult for the Minister. The real problem for the Minister is that he has to look at the situation as it is. That should not take away from the fact that we should go on record as condemning the society we live in because it is only now that we are talking about doing something adequate to house the homeless. There are special problems associated with this.

The Minister for Health will be looking at the problem with regard to young children fairly shortly. We will have to deal urgently with housing the homeless but we must bear in mind that we cannot put teenage children who do not have parents into homes. There is an urgency about getting homeless children off the streets and this has to be done with the aid of the appropriate caring organisations throughout the country. We must also consider the question of the adults who sleep rough. I do not know how long it will take before the Minister circulates his proposals, but the matter is urgent and I would stress to the Minister that it is important that the matter is not allowed drag on too long. In fact, in the not too distant future we should be speaking again of the problem of the homeless people. I am talking about homeless people who are in hostels and common lodging houses. I am sure the house is unanimous about this.

The Minister, in accommodating children and taking them off the streets, will have to ascertain if they are on the run from home, if they belong to families and, if so, do the families want to give them up, or were they put out by their parents who were unable to cope with them. It must be ascertained if the parents want their children housed away from home. I am referring to this in the social context rather than in the context of suggesting that children of the type I have described should be put into houses. We cannot talk about housing the homeless unless we take in the broader aspect of the whole question of homelessness.

The question of queue jumping will have to be taken into account when housing the homeless. For example we must consider the case of people who declare themselves homeless because of an angry mother. There may be a family dispute because a person was not employed. Those people may be inclined to throw themselves out on the streets and seek help from the local authorities. That is another form of queue jumping. It is queue jumping in an indirect way because a person could not tolerate the conditions under which he or she was living any longer. I am aware of cases where people who could not get assistance were expected by their mothers to hand up money no matter where it came from. In such situations people may find themselves on the streets. If they are over 21 years of age they will be looking for rights whether they are married or single.

The sentiments and compassion expressed in the Bill must be greatly appreciated. There must be an understanding of the problems facing the Minister on this matter, as it is not easy to find a solution to this tragic situation. It may sound contradictory to say that society should listen to the ringing condemnation of itself and at the same time say that I appreciate the difficulties of the Minister. I do not see any contradiction there. The Minister is presented with difficulties and he has to live with the situation he finds himself in. Therefore, I have the greatest of sympathy for him. At the same time we cannot make excuses for not introducing the right type of legislation to alleviate this problem to the maximum extent. No authority, or politician, can ignore the fact that people have to sleep on the Custom House steps with a newspaper under and over them or sleep on the Mardyke covered by newspapers. Nobody can take pride in the fact that in 1985 we have homeless people. If it were not for the parapets of the Custom House and some slight sheltered areas of the Mardyke walk, we would be in a lot more trouble.

As I have already stated, there are people who want to be free from living in a house and we cannot legislate for people to go into a house if they do not want to do so. However, we can give them the opportunity to get on to the housing list. We can encourage as many people as possible to come off the streets. It may be that some of these people abhor the whole concept of sleeping rough, but, gradually, tolerate it. In the final analysis we cannot force such people to live in a house. We can only introduce the provisions for them to apply for a house. If the housing situation improves priority should be given to housing those with a serious sickness.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

As it is now 4.30 p.m. I ask the Senator to move the adjournment of the debate. It was agreed by the House on the Order of Business that No. 2 would be taken at 4.30 p.m.

Debate adjourned.