It is far too long ago to go into when I was elected to this House first but in those days, I was particularly concerned about homeless people. We had a reasonably broad definition of "homeless", which was people who were unable to provide accommodation for themselves of a suitable standard or those who were living in shelters, hostels and such places. We came up against a wall of institutional prejudice, starting with the comment that there were no homeless people. It took a while to overcome that. I do not believe there is anybody left in either the health or housing areas of public provision who does not accept that there are substantial numbers of homeless people.
The next prejudice we met was that people were homeless because they chose not to take up the accommodation available to them, and we had the usual campaign to remove that particular one. We then had people saying it was somebody else's problem. The housing authorities said it was a health issue and the health authorities said it was a housing problem, and that had to be sorted out. One after another we knocked down the prejudices and got what I believe to be a remarkable consensus. First, there were homeless people, second, homeless people — primarily but not exclusively — needed housing, and third, the problem of homelessness would not be dealt with by housing people in ghettos because that was not the way to do it.
Over the years I observed that people were slowly learning that the best way to develop housing was by mixing it. That meant mixing various groups from the comparatively well-off to the comparatively badly off. We now have a provision before the House, which I heard the Minister say has been in force since 2004 but is now being enshrined in legislation, which states that people who cannot afford to pay for their own accommodation because their income is so low are a problem. In refusing to allow anyone from a category of people to live in an area, we are saying that anybody from that category will be bad for that area. I have no problem with a sophisticated, intelligent planning service declining to allow lazy planners and officers of local authorities to turn estates into ghettos and social dumps, as has happened in the United Kingdom more so than here, and let people be lost.
I know a good deal about this area. I chaired the committee which considered the regeneration of St. Michael's estate in Inchicore and the experience for me was extraordinary. I was amazed by the extraordinary resilience of the surviving tenants who wanted to make something out of their community. They were the bravest people I have ever met. People had to put steel plates on their doors because of what went on at night. Their first activity every morning was to go out and sweep up the detritus — used condoms, discarded syringes and so on — from the landing outside.
The fundamental problem was that Dublin City Council had turned into an absentee landlord because it allowed these places to be run down systematically. They were among the best apartments ever built in terms of size, security, space, etc. but when the assembled so-called nasty people, not many of whom lived in the area, arrived at night, they broke all the lights. These were not replaced because the retort from the council was they would be broken again. They also put black plastic on the windows to ensure they could see the gardaí arriving in the dark but the gardaí could not see them. I never heard the brave people who put up with all that and fought back say they did not want any poor people in their estate. What they did not want was people whose behaviour was offensive and threatening to them. The measure before the House is a plan to exclude a group of people for no reason other than they are poor.
I have no problem with the Minister saying he wants social integration. We are a country increasingly devoid of social integration. Our children attend different schools, especially in second level where the children of the affluent increasingly, and in my view foolishly, queue to get into fee paying second level schools when there are perfectly good non-fee paying secondary schools, but that is what people are choosing. We are dividing them up in terms of our health service. We will have a private health service and a public health service for the poor, and now we are enshrining in legislation a provision to exclude the poor from certain areas.
We should not concentrate on the extreme example. We all know about obnoxious tenants. We knew about them in St. Michael's estate and it took endless effort on behalf of the bravest people I know to get Dublin City Council to pay the least amount of attention to them, but the type of people who are indifferent to the plight of good, decent people in places such as St. Michael's estate love these simplicities because it makes it easy for them. They do not have to deal with the individuals who behave badly. They can exclude the whole class.
I have to be careful in what I am about to say about a particular housing estate in Cork, not one made up of people on rent allowance but a middle class estate where a friend of mine lived 20 years ago. He said his life was dominated by two houses in his street — both owner occupied — because on most weekends one or other of the families ended up out on the street for one reason or another due to alcohol or other factors. It was not a case of poverty or social problems, other than drink and a family disintegration. Can one imagine anybody putting into legislation a provision which stated that families would not be allowed to buy property in these areas if the husband has a drink problem; and that people would have to prove they do not have a drink problem, or that families would not be allowed to buy houses in these area unless a couple can show they have a stable relationship and there will not be any family violence?
One can imagine the furore if the legislation stated no affluent gay couples would be allowed. The world would blow up at the suggestion. What if the Minister said no black people would be allowed. I do not believe that is the Minister's intent, but this would be portrayed by at least one member of his party of whom I have nasty experience, as a way of keeping nasty people of different skin colour out of certain areas. This man has used every other index, and he will use this one, to point out that due to the restrictions on rent allowance, certain people will not be able to live in some areas.
I do not want to hear an argument about social integration, because we are in favour of social integration. No sane person would take the opposite view. Why is it only the poor who are the victims of this plan of social integration and what will happen if they are excluded from these areas? Will we have a queue of people seeking regeneration — wonderful risk-taking entrepreneurs? As I stated last night, it is about 25 years since anybody took a risk investing in property. Will we have wonderful risk takers looking to regenerate area X, knowing full well the consequence would be that the grotties will be outside the walls? I would like to hear from the Minister, not about social integration, but about why he believes it is necessary to have this most extraordinary legislative attempt to say, in effect, there are two kinds of people in society, those who deserve to be housed and to live in certain areas and those who are such an inherently threatening minority that we must keep them all out of certain areas?
The solution is to ensure there is a proper mix of ownership and tenancies. As any city manager will say, the demands for services from middle class estates are vastly greater than the demands from poorly run local authority estates. In spite of the fact that the middle classes have more going for them, they are the ones who demand better lighting, roads, cleaning and everything else. The people who need it most are the ones who are least likely to make demands. If the Minister's left wing colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, were to put together a proposal that there would be proper planning, I would have no problem with it. Does the Minister realise what he has written down here, that poor people will not be allowed to live in these areas? If Robert Mugabe said something like that——