I move amendment No. 9a:
In page 6, subsection (2), lines 7 to 9, to delete paragraph (d).
This amendment proposes the deletion from the Bill of paragraph (d) of section 3 (2) which requires a housing authority, in making an assessment under the Housing Act, 1988, to have regard to the need to house refugees. I would like to make it clear at the outset that the effect of the amendment which has been suggested by my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, will be to improve the position of refugees in so far as housing is concerned. There are a number of points that arise in relation to the amendment.
Subsection 9 (2) (a) (ii) taken together with paragraph (b) of the same subsection establishes that refugees are entitled to precisely the same level of housing service as Irish nationals. Furthermore, the Minister for the Environment is concerned that paragraph (d) of section 3 (2) could have unforeseen implications in relation to the carrying out of assessments of housing needs by housing authorities under section 9 of the Housing Act, 1988.
The purpose of the assessments is twofold. First, it is to identify specific types of accommodation required from the authorities. For instance, the permanent housing needs of homeless persons can be entirely different to those of travellers and elderly persons.
The second aspect is to provide data on the extent of different types of need. The actual effect of paragraph (d) could be to introduce an additional category to section 9 that would be related to personal political status rather than housing need. This would serve no practical purpose in the context of housing and would tend to marginalise refugees by treating them differently from nationals. Another point which has come to my attention is that paragraph (d) might also have the effect of diminishing the housing prospects of refugees. Under section 11 of the 1988 Act, housing authorities must determine their priorities for letting houses to persons included in assessments under section 9 of the Act. At present refugees could, depending on circumstances, be regarded by a housing authority as homeless and be treated with appropriate urgency in line with the authority's scheme of letting priorities.
It would be undesirable to give effect in legislation to a situation where, by categorising them separately, refugees could potentially be afforded a lower priority than nationals in terms of housing needs. In addition, the current thinking of European housing ministers in relation to the housing of refugees would not favour the creation of separate programmes. The view is that housing of refugees should be part of the overall national effort with nationals and refugees being considered for housing on the same basis. As I have explained that objective could be compromised rather than assisted by paragraph (d). For the reasons I have given I hope the committee can agree to the deletion of paragraph (d) of section 3 (2) because it is unnecessary and could work to the disadvantage of refugees.