Peter McVerry Trust

I welcome the witnesses. I remind witnesses and colleagues to turn off their mobile telephones or put them into flight mode.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

The opening statements submitted by the witnesses will be published on the committee's website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I thank Fr. Peter McVerry, Mr. Pat Doyle, Mr. Brian Friel and Mr. Francis Doherty for attending to represent the Peter McVerry Trust. Their submission has been made available to committee members. I invite Mr. Doyle to make the opening statement, after which I will invite colleagues to ask a number of questions.

Mr. Pat Doyle

I thank the Chairman. I will ask our national director of housing, Mr. Brian Friel, to read the opening statement.

Mr. Brian Friel

The committee will be aware there are in excess of 6,000 people in homelessness across Ireland, of whom 2,000 are children. In addition to the family homeless emergency, there are more than 3,000 adults with no dependants in homeless services nationally. Individuals and, indeed, couples face enormous challenges in accessing housing. The people Peter McVerry Trust supports can often be excluded by mainstream social housing providers. Inadequate housing provision and housing supports mean that it is single individuals who face the longest wait for housing and the greatest risk of damage and institutionalisation by the system. Despite the deepening emergency across Ireland, there are only five counties where there are more than 100 people in homelessness. However, the situation is shifting dramatically. For example, in Kildare, the number in homelessness has doubled since 1 January and, in Tipperary, the figure has gone from four individuals to 54 individuals in just three months. In Dublin there are, on average, eight new adult presentations per day.

What must be done? First, there must be an emphasis on prevention. An obvious point that needs to be stressed is that the turning point in the fight against homelessness arrives when the number exiting homelessness exceeds the number entering homelessness. Without radical and robust interventions to fix our broken housing system and improve our child, health, education and social protection supports, we will not move towards eliminating homelessness. Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months, prevention measures must take on huge additional importance and a dramatic increase in prevention funding is required.

I turn now to youth homelessness and the question of children leaving care.

An issue of particular importance is young people exiting care settings. An analysis of the 4,705 unique individuals supported by Peter McVerry Trust in 2015 shows that at least 20% of these had a history of under-18s residential care. A specific example of the impact the inadequate aftercare supports for young people leaving care can have on homeless figures is our service at St. Catherine's Foyer in Dublin. This is a supported temporary accommodation service providing homeless accommodation for young people aged 18 to 26. It accommodated 70 young people in 2015 and of those 70 young people, 37, or 52%, had a history of under-18s care. Those 37 young people should never end up in adult homeless services. The solution is a robust and effective aftercare programme with ring-fenced, step-down and independent living units for young people exiting care.

Another cohort of people who end up accessing homeless services are those who are engaging in drug treatment programmes, be they stabilisation projects or the completion of residential drug treatment programmes. Individuals who have successfully detoxed or stabilised their drug use find themselves re-entering homelessness and more often than not are offered emergency accommodation with active drug users. The creation of health-funded stabilisation beds and aftercare beds for these individuals would ensure that they receive appropriate accommodation outside of mainstream homeless services.

One further group becoming homeless as a result of the failings of another Government Department are those exiting prisons. The committee has heard of persons with acute and terminal illnesses being discharged into homelessness from hospital settings. Similarly, far too often people are freed from prison to go directly into our homeless services. These are further examples of one Department wiping its hands of the vulnerable and expecting the Minister with responsibility for housing to deal with the consequences. The solution is for the responsible Departments to fund alternative programmes. For example, the Department of Justice should fund a Housing First model for ex-offenders at risk of homelessness. This programme would provide multidisciplinary supports to ex-prisoners so they can secure accommodation and reintegrate into community and society. Peter McVerry Trust currently runs a small-scale and very successful programme of this nature.

Rent supplements must be increased as a measure to prevent those in private rental accommodation from becoming homeless. To prevent landlords simply increasing the rents even further, it should be accompanied by legislation linking rents to the consumer price index. An increase in rent supplement is not designed to free up more rental properties. It is designed to keep those on rent supplement in their current accommodation and out of homelessness. Rent supplement has been reduced by an average of 28% since 2007 but rents are now back to or beyond their 2007 levels. Peter McVerry Trust believes that rent supplements must be increased by at least 28%. The Department must ask itself whether it will choose to raise rent supplement or watch the numbers in homelessness spiral upwards.

The problem of mortgage arrears is a ticking time bomb. There are currently about 33,000 residential mortgages and about 15,000 buy-to-lets in mortgage arrears of more than two years. The vast majority of these are irrecoverable. Currently, 18,200 repossession cases are going through the courts. The Government needs to agree a programme whereby the most distressed mortgages would be purchased by approved housing bodies, AHBs. The households would then pay what rent they can realistically afford to the AHB. The balance between the rent paid and the costs being borne by the AHB would be paid by the State in the form of a HAP payment. The tenants would have a buy-back option. The approved housing body would commit to housing the existing household. The Government should also introduce legislation preventing the financial institutions - and in the case of Travellers, preventing the local authorities - from evicting families and individuals into homelessness.

Peter McVerry Trust believes that in order to address the housing emergency, it is imperative that a single overarching national housing policy is developed. The action plan for housing should include recognition of the right to adequate housing and be centred on the principles of affordability, equality and social inclusion. The action plan for housing should also recognise that we have a housing system and not just a housing market. There must be a targeted, evidence-led supply of housing. Supply alone will not deliver reductions in homelessness or help to address failures in housing policy. Supply must be designed to meet housing needs of those across society. Housing delivery must be State-led. We believe that the current social housing strategy, by which three out of four households on the social housing waiting lists are to be provided with accommodation in the private rented sector through the HAP scheme, is both unrealistic and undesirable.

Two decades of trying to accommodate low-income families primarily in the private rented sector has been a major contributor to the current crisis. Trying to get out of the crisis by accommodating even more households in the private rented sector seems illogical and, given the dire shortage of available private rented accommodation, unrealistic. Furthermore, under the existing loosely regulated private rented sector, households have no security of tenure and, for families with children, security of tenure while the children are of school-going age is a prime consideration.

With regard to the delivery of new supply, the Peter McVerry Trust makes a number of recommendations. To maximise the use of existing building stock, an urgent audit and compulsory purchase programme of empty private buildings should be initiated. This would allow these units to be returned to active residential use. There must be continuous real-time monitoring and management of our building stock and sites. An example of an empty building in Dublin is No. 31 Mountjoy Square, which is two doors away from the Peter McVerry Trust’s head office. It is an empty building containing nine one-bedroom apartments. In April 2012, a receiver was appointed to the property. Since then, and more than likely for a period before that date, the property has remained vacant with the exception of a brief period during which people squatted in it. This is a prime example of a perfectly good building being held from the market, thereby restricting supply and, ultimately, increasing homelessness.

Modular housing can play a crucial role in the delivery of new supply. Local authorities need to deliver an additional 1,000 units of modular housing for individuals, couples and families who are homeless, low-income households, those in student accommodation - to provide some level of integrated housing - and people on the social housing waiting list. A separate relatively small-scale fund for approved housing bodies to build 500 units of modular housing in the greater Dublin region would fast-track the delivery of these units and create greater breathing space for local authorities. Any remaining voids should be turned around by approved housing bodies. In the context of a housing emergency, the question arises as to whether local authorities are best placed to use their limited resources to return voids to use or would they be better off focusing their attention on new build projects. Peter McVerry Trust believes approved housing bodies can quickly and effectively return voids to use, allowing local authorities to get on with the job of building new social and affordable housing. An intensive programme of renovation and restoration should have all appropriate voids inhabited within 12 months.

There also needs to be major investment in student housing. A rapid building programme involving 3,000 to 5,000 units of student accommodation in Dublin, Cork and Galway would immediately lessen pressures on the rental market, freeing up houses and apartments across those cities. Local authorities and third-level institutions must immediately meet in order to begin drafting plans for large-scale modular student accommodation on campuses or public lands. Removing students from urban rental markets would significantly lessen pressure on supply and free up housing options.

The Housing First model, which focuses on the rapid rehousing of homeless individuals and the provision of intensive wraparound supports, must be rolled out nationally. A rapid rehousing approach must become the standard approach to homelessness across Ireland. In those counties with fewer than 100 homeless individuals, Housing First is a much more logical and cost-effective response, rather than opening any further homeless shelters. In those 21 counties, a rapid rehousing programme could eliminate homelessness quickly. In the larger centres of homelessness, Housing First can play a critical role in tackling rough sleeping and long-term homelessness now and in the months and years to come.

Any decommissioned and currently unoccupied bedsits should be listed and analysed by the local authorities, together with approved housing bodies. Any units that can be renovated and reconfigured to deliver high-quality units of accommodation for single people should be compulsorily purchased or leased on a long-term basis. A programme of works, to be delivered either by the local authority or approved housing bodies, should be instigated and the resulting units used to alleviate the social housing crisis.

A major investment programme is required in the area of cost rental. As a critical development to achieve a functioning rental system, a cost-rental model must be fast-tracked. The cost-rental pilot earmarked for 2016 must be ramped up, with investment rising from €10 million to €100 million, and be led by non-profit housing associations, either local authorities or approved housing bodies. The cost-rental model should not be reliant on private developers.

I thank Mr. Friel for his presentation. To put it in context, the committee will be short-lived and is due to make recommendations by the middle of June. I thank the Peter McVerry Trust for the concise nature of its report with its specific recommendations, which is primarily what the committee has sought. It is now open to colleagues to ask questions.

I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee.

Like the Chairman, I thank them for their concise report and the clear recommendations. That is what this committee is about. Having spoken with all stakeholders and everyone associated with this emergency, we hope to make a detailed analysis of the situation and offer clear and concise recommendations for the Minister to implement thereafter.

Regarding CPOs, has the Peter McVerry Trust examined the legislation and how it might be approved? Many local authorities assert that the powers within the legislation are not sufficient to meet the difficulties surrounding property rights and so forth that they face. We need a clear and concise indication from all and sundry as to whether emergency legislation is required in order to give the correct and meaningful powers to local authorities, a suggestion that is prevalent across the sector. The aim would be twofold, in that it would address the housing situation and help with the lack of vibrancy that exists in towns and villages around the country where the retail industry is not what it once was. Those towns and villages need life and residents' participation and our housing and homelessness situation needs to be addressed. Everyone - I could be accused of doing this as well - is saying that CPOs could be used for more beneficial purposes, but I hear from local authorities that they are facing difficulties in that regard. I need the witnesses and others to give their perspectives on where the roadblocks are and how they can be surmounted. We will then be in a position to ask the Dáil to introduce legislation that can make our aspirations a reality.

If the witnesses would like to hold on for a moment, we will take two or three further questions. The witnesses might respond to them together.

We all know of the work that the trust does, but will the witnesses give us a sense of the numbers of people they are actively working with and the kind of accommodation they are providing? What is the capacity of the trust to do more and what is stopping it in that regard? For example, what would it take for the trust to get the house on Mountjoy Square or other places? Is it down to funding? What would prevent the trust from delivering its service further?

I congratulate the Peter McVerry Trust on its tremendous work and the example that it has set down the years. I am not a great admirer of approved housing bodies, AHBs, which everyone knows at this stage. Fr. McVerry knows as well, since we have had this conversation many times.

Then there is no need to have it again now.

I wanted to refer to it in passing. There would not be a need for AHBs if the local authority system had prevailed. Unfortunately, the weight of the housing issue is being thrust upon AHBs, which are not capable of dealing with it and were never suited to it. As the Peter McVerry Trust shows, though, they are capable of dealing with specialised issues, for example, addiction treatment and sheltered housing. There is a growing need for such facilities, and it is a need that will continue to a greater extent than we have ever known.

The problem is that, on top of the trust's work, responsibility for ordinary, general housing is falling to it, but doing it that way is not possible. Fr. McVerry will be sitting there in ten years' time discussing this issue if we do not revert to the original system, which I support, of local authorities providing housing with specialised issues falling to AHBs, which handle them well.

Rent levels have risen to what they were in 2007. We discussed this matter with the Irish Property Owners Association, IPOA, a couple of days ago. As a result of many contributing factors, however, incomes are sadly not what they were in 2007. Nor are they likely to be for some considerable time. We must address the issue of affordability. Various proposals have been made.

I will conclude now, but I wish to repeat an issue that I have raised previously. I am not a communist or socialist-----

We have heard that.

-----and I like to say so occasionally in order to achieve consensus. I see nothing wrong with the institutions that lent so liberally in the boom times bearing some responsibility for picking up this tab. I am not suggesting that they provide write-offs but rather that they lengthen repayment terms and so on. It is wrong that others would be expected to pick up that tab. In that context, I am not in favour of the approved housing bodies or any other housing bodies picking it up. Many of us have engaged on a one-to-one basis with the lending institutions on these issues and have been in court with them on countless occasions. Time and again we have asked them why it was sustainable to lend so liberally in 2007. Circumstances since then have not changed. The only thing that has changed is the economy, such that many people now find themselves in an impossible position. I urge careful consideration of the need to implant in the minds of the lending institutions that they bear some degree of responsibility and culpability for what happened. If we do not do that the result will be that nobody will accept responsibility. If we divide responsibility for housing among a multiplicity of bodies, the result will be that everybody will have responsibility and then nobody will have it. Responsibility for housing provision must be the remit of the local authorities.

In the context of leasing in Kildare and the adjoining counties, I am well aware of the issue. It is a serious matter and the position is becoming worse on a daily basis. The local authority is purchasing houses and making them available but it needs to purchase more. The Government has approved the necessary funding in that regard. We must impress upon all concerned the need to ensure that we achieve what we can, including the provision of modular housing, in the shortest possible timeframe.

A number of the points made by Deputy Durkan will be addressed by the committee during its final deliberations on its recommendations. I ask the witnesses to respond to the specific questions regarding compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, and services. Also, Mr. Friel stated in his commentary around institutional discharge that the Peter McVerry Trust currently runs a small-scale and very successful programme. Perhaps he would elaborate further on that.

Mr. Pat Doyle

On the issue of compulsory purchase by local authorities, we have not looked at the legislation but we are aware that it has not been tested in the courts. In our view, one local authority needs to act as the lead in this regard. What we have been seeking is a mapping exercise in one city or town to allow for identification of available stock there. Some landlords will want to do deals. The Peter McVerry Trust returned 39 voids to use last year on behalf of the local authority in Dublin. The average turnaround time per void was 12 to 18 weeks, the funding for which was secured by the trust. There was no cost to the Exchequer. We believe a similar exercise in the private market and further engagement with landlords is necessary. We also believe that where landlords refuse to engage, those cases need to be tested in court. Somebody needs to test the provision in court to see if change is required. The former Minister with responsibility for housing said that there were constitutional and other issues around CPO in respect of private property. However, the provision has never been tested in the courts. We should test it.

On the question regarding what the trust does, we had 669 people in our care last night, 145 of whom are in our housing stock. We are not into empire building. We do not want to become a large approved housing body. We became an approved housing body because some of our most vulnerable and challenging clients could not get access to the local authorities or some of the other big housing bodies.

We became one ourselves to give them a key to the door. Last night, 145 people had a key to their own front door. They are no longer clients of the Peter McVerry Trust, but tenants of the trust. We also see the need for specialist providers like ourselves. One of those clients was a person we picked up on St. Stephen's Green. He is in a unit off Merrion Square. He has a Peter McVerry Trust addiction counsellor and psychiatric nurse and access to a trust therapist if he needs one. It is possible to give housing to the most vulnerable.

We have 19 children living with us who are under the care of the State, between the ages of 12 and 18. If they come in between those ages, the State will pay about €500,000 towards their care. We see no sense in putting them into homelessness. They already have the label of being in care and sending them towards homelessness services is another label and another failure. We want to see them going straight into housing. It is all about housing access. We have given over 10% of our current housing to children in care. They need more support - otherwise it will turn into a party - but that does not mean they cannot be supported or that they have to end up in homeless services.

We have 25 drug-free beds for people coming out of treatment. Those making the step to go through treatment should not also have to go back to homeless hostels or be around people who are actively using.

The project the Chairman mentioned is our specialist programme for people coming out of prison. This is a very low-key programme; we do not talk about it too much. There are housing units scattered around the Dublin city area, primarily. We go into the prisons and know that the individuals are already deemed as homeless, as they will have stated to social protection, the chaplaincy service or sometimes to the probation services that they will be homeless upon release. Some of them will have done very long sentences and are therefore also slightly institutionalised. Their best chance of survival and of not becoming repeat offenders when they come out is not to go into a hostel where they have to be out during the day and all of that, but to go into their own housing unit and let the work begin from there. We have 22 people in units around the city. We give them up to six months and then get them into private rented accommodation.

That is why we want to see a rapid build of student accommodation, as we said in our statement. The highest population of young people in the country and the highest birth rates are coming from Kildare now. We run services there. Maynooth University is soaking up the private rented accommodation in Maynooth, Celbridge, Leixlip and Clane. At the same time, we have 14 young people in a hostel in Kildare. I am just taking that as an example. All of those 14 people are ready for private rented. They are all young and single. The avenue would always have been private rented accommodation for them but they cannot get near that market as it is all taken up by the university. In the future, whenever planning permission is given for extensions to universities, it should include modular, rapid-build units that can be built through a public-private partnership. It does not have to cost the State. The University of Limerick is a great example of providing large-scale student accommodation. Greater student accommodation provision would free up the market. It is the same with St. Patrick's College in Drumcondra. We have a lot of young people from Dublin's north side needing private rented accommodation, yet between St. Pat's and DCU there is nothing to be got out that way.

Going back to our specialist programme for prisoners, primarily the market for them would be the private rented market. We have 22 in our care at the moment and last year we had 48. The only blockage for us in taking more of those people from institutions is the move into private rented. We want to see a vibrant private rental market again. One of the ways to do that is to give greater supports to landlords. Another way is to take some of the other cohorts out.

In response to Deputy Durkan's point, we do not want to become the job of the banks. However, we heard from Ulster Bank this week that 2,900 loans are going to be handed over, possibly to a vulture fund. Some 900 of them are family homes and we know one of those families. The family has offered to pay €1,500 a month to the bank but the bank is saying no.

The bank will sell that loan and write it off. Whoever buys the property will probably pay €1,800 per month on a mortgage. We are going to spend €45 million this year on hotel accommodation. I am not saying that the trust would take over 2,900 loans but we could, as Deputy O'Dowd said, ramp it up. We would certainly like to see the trust expand to approximately 600 specialist units for vulnerable people. There are others, such as the local authorities and approved housing bodies.

I will conclude. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will shortly announce two capital assistance schemes, the purpose of which will be to acquire properties. These loans could be bought and we could keep people in their homes very quickly. Let us not forget that they are being sold very cheaply as well. It could be a great saving for the State.

Fr. Peter McVerry

To return to CPOs, I do not know what is the local authorities' problem. The National Roads Authority had no difficulty compulsorily purchasing houses and land when it wanted to build motorways. There was no constitutional problem with that. Why can we not compulsorily purchase houses for the far more important issue of providing people with homes?

I agree with Deputy Durkan that the local authority has to be the primary mover in terms of providing social housing. The housing associations and approved housing bodies are simply not capable of addressing the scale of the problem. We are going to get the housing needs assessment this year. There are certainly going to be well in excess of 100,000 households on the social housing waiting list. The approved housing bodies have no way of coming anywhere near that figure. It has to be the local authorities. However, I believe local authorities do not want to build social housing and that they do not want to manage social housing, certainly not on a large scale. I have a problem with them purchasing on the open market, although it is necessary. They are competing with private buyers and thereby pushing prices up and reducing the stock of private housing, which is also an issue.

With regard to the banks, I agree that there is a moral argument that the banks should take responsibility but I do not think they are going to respond to moral arguments. We must make the mortgage-to-rent option obligatory. Banks have a responsibility to explain to the courts why that option is not appropriate in any particular case. It seems to me to be the obvious answer. It would mean that a family would be kept in its home and continue to pay rent - whatever it can afford - to either the local authority or to an approved housing body.

I would like to see legislation preventing anybody - local authorities or banks - from evicting people into homelessness. I do not believe that young people leaving residential care should be allowed to leave into homelessness. We had one young 18 year old who was discharged from residential care on his 18th birthday. It was a Friday afternoon, he had no money in his pocket and there was no accommodation arranged for him. That should be illegal. It should also be illegal for the local authorities to evict Travellers from unofficial halting sites until alternative accommodation is available. It should be illegal for the banks and the vulture funds to evict families into homelessness until alternative accommodation is available. If the mortgage-to-rent option and the inability to evict people into homelessness was in place, I believe the banks might accept their moral responsibilities.

Does Deputy Cowen wish to respond on the topic of CPOs before we move on?

I take the point on CPOs. I was on a council myself for 18 or 19 years. Unfortunately, the laws associated with CPOs for land and buildings are not as strong as they appear to be for the NRA. They need to be strengthened and it should be incumbent on this committee to seek professional legal advice in this regard. The Government has access to the Attorney General's office. I remember being on the council and producing a county development plan. The executive had expertise at its disposal but the members, whose views and opinions might have been contrary to that of the executive, did not have the relevant expertise available to them in order to include in the plan the sort of content which they aspired to include. That is a fault that we must rectify on this committee. We must analyse the CPO legislation and make firm and forceful recommendations that the Dáil can enact in an emergency situation in order to address the seriousness and immediacy of the problem.

We need the same powers as are available to the NRA to compulsorily purchase land and dwellings in order to provide pivotal infrastructure such as the NRA has provided in the way of transport and connectivity in recent years. I ask the Chairman and the committee to consider seeking professional legal advice on this issue, as well as the mortgage-to-rent issue. There was legislation on it in the last Dáil, but the bank veto remained in place and it was the opinion of the majority of the Opposition that it would put us in the position we are now in. It was relaxed towards the end of the last Dáil, but a court ruling meant the position was slow to change and we now see the result - a terrible calamity facing many people.

The committee, with the relevant expertise available to it, can make specific recommendations to amend the legislation governing the issue of mortgage to rent and to ensure the courts are given the capacity about which Fr. McVerry spoke to instruct a resolution. Delegates have testified before the committee on the bank veto and when it was called into question and the courts were asked to adjudicate on it, in eight out of 11 cases they found in favour of the debtor. This proves that the legislation in question was flawed. It could have been much better if there had been adequate scrutiny, debate and information and reasonable proposals had been allowed to be inserted into the legislation at the time. Given the current configuration of the Dáil, an open and frank debate can take place. Ultimately, the Dáil will instruct the Government to act accordingly, but the committee needs relevant professional legal advice to be available to it to make effective recommendations.

I remind the Deputy that on 10 May the Master of the High Court came before us.

We had two sessions on this issue.

They did not result in specific recommendations being made by the committee.

There were specific-----

No, they merely gave an opinion on what was taking place. They cannot and are not obliged to do any more, but we, as legislators, are elected to make recommendations to the Dáil. I am not getting sufficient information or advice on the CPO legislation for me to recommend change. The Government, on the other hand, has the Office of the Attorney General and her staff at its disposal.

At those meetings advice on the CPO legislation was sought. It might not be sufficient, but this meeting should not be held in isolation from it. It is a matter that we, as a committee, will have to deal with.

I agree with the Deputy, but in a lot of towns CPOs are made for listed buildings. It is a no-brainer for somebody to develop a listed building and if we are to change legislation, we need to look at that issue, too.

That is a separate discussion. Deputy Barry Cowen said the committee would need independent legal advice on the constitutionality of this measure. I accept that point, but this issue must be taken with that discussed at a previous meeting at which a number of legal people gave an opinion.

To what extent does mental illness contribute to homelessness? Is it a primary cause of homelessness and what effect does homelessness have in precipitating a mental illness? I expect it is a huge problem. Does the trust see a role for the rural resettlement scheme? People can voluntarily move from urban areas, where there are major housing shortages and homelessness to a huge degree, to rural areas where they would have greater acceptance within the community and fit in and be welcomed as an addition to it. They might perhaps have a better quality of life.

We are all aware of the work the Peter McVerry Trust does all over the country, on which I compliment it.

I note from the spreadsheet submitted that 60% of the people with whom the trust works need support in dealing with mental health issues, while 81% need support in addressing the issue of drug use.

I have a few direct questions for the representatives. First, how is the trust funded? Like all organisations, I am sure it could make use of much more money.

Second, it was stated rent supplement should be increased to a figure of 28%. Do the representatives believe that would have a knock-on effect in driving up rents?

My third question relates to the Housing First model. I come from the Waterford constituency, which has an urban-rural mix. It was stated 21 counties had fewer than 100 homeless persons. Will one of the representatives elaborate on that model as using it would be a good idea to intervene at the level required to prevent the problem from becoming worse?

I welcome the representatives of the Peter McVerry Trust. I am a great admirer of the work it does. I welcome the clarity it brings to the issue and the points the representatives made.

I agree with the point made about the debate we had with the Master of the High Court. To summarise what he said, there is nothing that cannot be done by the Government if it so decides in the public interest in addressing the issue of homelessness. I agree with what Deputy Barry Cowen said about the provision of legal advice. I think I also said it. If we insert that proposal as a recommendation, we will all stand behind it because it is what has to happen.

I agree with what was said about the Traveller community. What is happening is appalling. It is appalling that some counties have refused, certainly in the past three years, to spend any money on the provision of Traveller accommodation. It is a major issue and it has happened in my county, which I very much regret. We should change the law to provide that members of the Traveller community should not be moved from their accommodation unless there is a better place for them to go to that would better meet their needs.

In my community there is an increasing number of middle-aged males who have separated from their families. They have nowhere to go to and live in very poor accommodation. Some of them have family issues, while others have alcohol problems. In saying this I am not being judgmental. Although they comprise a large cohort, they have a very low priority because they do not have partners or children living with them. However, many of them certainly want to keep in touch with their children and, possibly, their spouse. I do not know if the representatives have thought of this group. They are a separate special cohort whose needs we have to address.

Another issue that concerns me constantly is that of the huge number of people who contact politicians about their need for housing. Because of the numbers involved, the local authorities do not have the capacity to advocate on their behalf. We need advocates for people living in towns and cities who are in need of housing. I am not talking about politicians but individuals who could make a professional assessment of their medical and social needs and so on. A much more integrated approach must be taken. We need to provide a far more professional service for those who are seeking housing. Do the representatives have a view on this? It is an important issue to raise. I do not want people's personal details, but I tell them that if they have a medical issue, they should get their doctor to write not to me but to the council about it. The totality of a family's circumstances is often not articulated and the local authorities are not best placed to understand this because of the pressure they are under.

As I stated earlier this morning, on the 200,000 vacant premises in the State and the 70,000 the Government has stated it wants to be made available through the rental sector, we must encourage such a move. I do not have a problem with a penalty being imposed, although I believe it was said an incentive should be given where it is not done. If we could encourage people with empty houses to sign a five-year lease to make them available under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, we might be pushing an open door and the houses could be released to those who need them immediately. I hope in four or five years we will have ramped up the housing construction programme to allow the people concerned to find a permanent home elsewhere if they so wish. I do not know if the representatives have a view on this suggestion.

I thank Deputy O'Dowd. I ask Fr. McVerry and Mr. Doyle to respond to that series of questions and then we will take the final series.

Mr. Pat Doyle

Last year more than 4,700 individuals came through the trust and over 60% of them had a diagnosed mental health problem, were displaying the need for support or had asked for support for a mental health issue. The connection between addiction and mental health is huge and 80% of our client group last year had some form of an addiction. We have a residential detox centre in Naul, County Dublin, and 84 brave people went through that centre last year. For some of them, their mental health issues came out of their addiction while for others, when they detoxed, their mental health issue worsened. They were medicating their mental health through various substances.

Dealing with institutions and homeless services has an impact on people's mental health. We housed a young man five weeks ago in a unit. I will deal with the funding question in more detail in a minute but our budget last year was €14 million, with €9 million coming from the State and the remainder raised by the trust. One of the things we must do to raise that €5 million is sell our souls on a daily basis. On one such day, I was bringing a group of solicitors around one of our housing units and we met the aforementioned homeless man who had been given the key to his door a number of weeks earlier. One of the solicitors asked him how he felt about having his own house and he said he still could not believe it. He also said, "I don't feel I deserve it." For the majority of homeless people, their self-esteem has been damaged and that affects their mental health. Although that man is no longer a client of the trust but is now a tenant, he still does not feel he deserves it. He has seen a lot of his colleagues pass away. We buried 13 of our clients last year and have buried nine so far this year, even though we are not even halfway through 2016. Mental health and addiction are serious issues, as is the damage that being in homeless services inflicts on individuals.

As I said already, our budget is €14 million, €5 million of which we must raise ourselves. If any committee members cycle, they are welcome to cycle to Wexford with us on 17 September next. I will be cycling myself and Peter will be firing the starting gun. We do all sorts of things to raise money and the public are very good to us. They are particularly good about donating for capital projects. Most of our donors feel they do not have a responsibility to fund staff; they believe that is the job of the State but they are quite happy to support capital development.

In the past, the planning departments of local authorities were generally bigger than the housing departments. However, a lot of local authorities have had to do major refurbishment work on their housing departments recently because they have now become bigger than the planning departments. Most of the housing offices now have security staff in place, unfortunately. One can identify the housing departments of local authorities quite easily now because there are generally security staff outside, managing stressed individuals.

We have been able to convince a number of landlords in the private sector to hand over their properties to the trust. They do not have a problem with renting out their properties but are worried about mental health and addiction issues. The local authorities have a role to play, not just in terms of increasing their housing and planning staff but also their social work staff. County Laois, for example, only has one or two social workers for the entire county. We should be building up social supports. Part of the resistance of local authorities to building social housing is not about the building process itself but about managing the individuals being housed. We should build up the social work departments in the local authorities.

Voluntary housing associations also have a role to play in linking with private landlords. In a number of cases, landlords have handed over tenancies to the trust. We have become the landlord and as long as they are getting their monthly rent, the property owners are quite happy.

Fr. Peter McVerry

We deal with a very specific subgroup of the homeless with addiction and mental health problems, primarily. However, we have to remember that 95% of those who are becoming homeless today have only one problem - they do not have the money to pay their rent or the banks have taken their property from them. They do not have any mental health problems. However, if people are homeless for any substantial period of time, they are going to become depressed. Depression is a common feature among homeless people and the families who are living in hotels. Their self-esteem hits rock bottom. Parents have told me that they feel they have failed their children and are bad parents. The public perception is that if people are homeless, there must be something wrong with them.

People who become homeless for valid reasons feel that perception. I have heard the story of a family that was living in an hotel bedroom. The members of that family were not allowed to mix with the other residents. They were not allowed to eat in the restaurant. They had to come in the back door because they were not allowed in the front door. They were not allowed to sit in the garden on a lovely sunny day even though all the paying residents were in the garden. When the mother decided to bring the kids for a walk, they had to walk through the garden. As they were doing so, the seven year old boy, seeing a bowl of water, asked "Mammy, why is the dog allowed in the garden and we are not?". That is an example of how people's self-esteem can hit rock bottom. Depression is a very common thing for many homeless people.

I would like to mention that the emergency homeless services are a total disaster. If one wants to get a bed for the night through such services, one must make a telephone call to a freefone number at 2 p.m. If one calls at 2.02 p.m., one will be told that one is 52nd on the waiting list to speak to somebody. One could be on the telephone for an hour and a half before one gets to speak to somebody. In such circumstances, one is very likely to be told that there are no beds and advised to telephone back at 4.30 p.m. to go through the whole thing again. I ask members to imagine someone with a mental health problem having to do that. People who get emergency accommodation in these circumstances are likely to be put into a hostel full of drug users. The biggest complaint I get from homeless people relates to waking up in the morning after sharing a room with three or people, only to find that the other people have gone and so have that person's money, runners, mobile telephone and everything else of value.

There is a huge emphasis on having the right number of beds for homeless people to get them off the streets, but there is no discussion about the quality of those beds. The vast majority of emergency beds are of such appalling quality that people feel safer sleeping on the streets. There are three groups of people who will not go into dormitory-type accommodation. People who are drug-free, or have come out of drug treatment, are not willing to share a room with active drug users. Young vulnerable people, many of whom have just come out of care, are terrified of going into these dormitories. Homeless people who were abused as children tell me they break out in a sweat at the thought of sleeping in a dormitory full of strangers. The quality of the emergency accommodation is appalling.

I would like to say quickly that although the rent resettlement scheme has a part to play, it will not deal with more than a tiny minority of families. Very few people in these circumstances want to move out of Dublin because it involves leaving all of their support structures behind. It has been in operation and has been quite successful in many cases. I think it could well be reconstituted.

I am not convinced by the argument that an increase in rent supplement will simply cause rents to increase. The alternative to giving support to somebody on rent supplement is to give it to somebody who is working. Market forces come in here. There is a limit to what someone who is working can afford to pay and a limit to what someone who is working is willing to pay. It has been argued that an increase in rent supplement will automatically lead to an increase in rents. The answer to that is to introduce rent control. The introduction of legislation to allow rents to increase in line with the consumer price index would be a fair solution for landlords and tenants. In such circumstances, an increase in rent supplement would simply allow people who are on rent supplement to compete with others who are working.

The vast majority of people who have separated have no problems. Some people who have separated from their partners are now homeless. We came across a 50 year old sitting on a park bench. He had reared his children and had his own home. He had worked all his life, but lost his job in the recession and subsequently split up from his partner. He was sitting on a park bench at 10.30 p.m. wondering what to do. When he called the freefone number, he was told that there were no beds left and he was invited to come down and get a sleeping bag. He did not have any addiction, alcohol or other problems. It was just that he did not get on with his wife at that stage in his life. In that case, a good samaritan brought him into town and paid for him to stay in a bed and breakfast for the night.

I will conclude by speaking about Traveller accommodation, funding for which was reduced by 85% during the recession. Much of the money that was provided was not even used by the local authorities. Funding for Traveller education was reduced by 90% during the recession. I find those two figures appalling.

Does Mr. Doyle wish to conclude on this issue?

Mr. Pat Doyle

Yes, I will refer briefly to two issues, the first of which relates to older people. The Peter McVerry Trust has housed a number of older people of late. As Fr. McVerry pointed out, there are no major stumbling blocks to older people living independently. They need access to housing and the Housing First model is a very good model for achieving this outcome. The individuals in question do not need a large number of wrap-around supports. For example, we recently housed a 60 year old woman who moved into private rented accommodation after her marriage broke down and the family home was sold. The small amount of money she received from the sale of the house was used to supplement the rent she had to pay on a property. Although she had a job, she clearly could not afford the rent and she became homeless when her money ran out. We successfully housed her and she received significant assistance from us in the first week in her new home. She is now living independently, however, and has been given a telephone number at which she can contact us 24 hours per day. A large cohort of people, especially in this older age group, are in a similar position in that they need initial support to access accommodation when a property is sold or one partner needs to remain in the family home when a marriage breaks down.

As Fr. McVerry stated, while the resettlement scheme is small, we had two successful resettlement cases recently, one in County Cavan and one in County Offaly. In one case, two single homeless people who got on well, having met in homeless accommodation, decided they wanted a fresh start outside the capital. They are now in third-level education in County Cavan or County Louth and are getting on grand. Another young couple moved to County Offaly. The major challenge for us will be to secure employment for them as this can be a major problem in some towns. If we can find them employment, they will hold their accommodation and settle well in County Offaly.

I will take the final series of questions.

I welcome the witnesses to the committee and thank the Peter McVerry Trust for raising the issue of housing, including radical measures to address the issue. Fr. McVerry was among those who warned long ago about what was coming down the line and the phrase "tsunami of homelessness" continues to resonate.

The submission notes that we have a housing system rather than a housing market. The programme for Government states that the aim of housing policy will be "to create a functioning housing market". I have a problem with that and I ask the witnesses what their views are on Government policy given that the Peter McVerry Trust has indicated it has a problem with a housing market. Does the trust agree that the Government's approach to solving what it continues to describe as a "housing shortage" is to make the supply of housing profitable for developers and landlords and that this approach will make it more expensive for first-time buyers, families and people who are renting accommodation? The Government's philosophy on housing is a problem.

The Peter McVerry Trust notes that three quarters of those on the housing list are accommodated in private rented accommodation. Why is the Government still pursuing this policy? According to the most recent figures, 75% of people on the housing list will continue to be housed in private rented accommodation unless the current approach is changed as a result of the deliberations of the committee. Is it not logical that the current approach would continue given that the aim of the Government is to create a housing market? Do members of the Government and Oireachtas share the same interests as developers and landlords? While we do not have figures on newly elected Deputies, approximately 20% of Deputies are landlords compared to 4% of the general population. As such, landlords are over-represented in the Dáil.

I am pleased the Peter McVerry Trust has raised the issue of compulsory purchase orders and that this issue has found an echo elsewhere. While we do not have time to discuss it in detail, the committee discussed compulsory purchase orders with Mr. Edmund Honohan and Professor P.J. Drudy in two previous sessions. Given that Mr. Honohan's submission contained 30 points, I do not accept that legal advice is lacking on the issue. Mr. Honohan addressed all the relevant issues, including the public interest and common good. The nub of his argument was that the Supreme Court generally starts with the premise that laws are constitutional. The common good also has considerable legal weight.

If the Dáil is not satisfied, it can make clear that there is a fundamental problem and that it is in the common good that housing is supplied. There are ways of proceeding. Deputy Cowen has left but I recall that Mr. Edmund Honohan went through the legal aspects of this chapter and verse. I suppose one will get the legal advice one wants. We all know one can get the legal advice one wants.

The Peter McVerry Trust raised the issue of compulsory purchase orders in terms of vacant properties. What level of compensation should be paid? If we pay the market rate, that would have the effect of rewarding hoarding. The witnesses also raised the issue of vulture funds and called for legislation to prevent financial institutions and local authorities from evicting people into homelessness. Should that be extended to private landlords? The majority of people affected are being evicted into homelessness by private landlords who use the excuse that they have to sell the property, that the grandmother has to move in and so on. Representatives from the Private Residential Tenancies Board and other agencies who appeared before the committee stated that overholding has increased by 50% and evictions have increased from 2010 to 2013 by 137%. It is obvious that some law is needed to protect people in the private rented sector also. I think the legislation should extend also to those people.

On the issue of voids, how many are left? Will the witnesses agree that the Government has been using the voids to mask much of the work it is doing? It is clear from the figures that voids are included in the new housing. They are not new housing. They existed previously but funding was not provided for their refurbishment.

Representatives from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government appeared before the committee on Tuesday last. I raised the issue of why the Department has consistently recommended to the Minister, including last year, not to increase the rent supplement, knowing full well - as the Peter McVerry Trust pointed out in its submission - that the latter has decreased 27% while rents have increased by huge amounts. The Department has played a role in causing the homeless crisis. It seems that the only rent controls have been enforced on the backs of the poorest people.

On the issue of mortgage to rent, while I agree absolutely with the policy I wish to propose another option. The witnesses advocate that the approved housing body buy the mortgage and the State top it up, as it would in the case of HAP or whatever. Should the State-owned banks, such as AIB and Permanent TSB, be asked to write down mortgages as we will end up paying through HAP for a State subsidy for the scheme and more money could be released to the family to spend in the economy which would also help to reduce house prices?

I thank the Deputy. I call Deputy Brendan Ryan.

I thank the representatives from the Peter McVerry Trust for appearing before the committee. Their contribution is very helpful to our work. The trust's recommendations are clear and concise and do not prompt too many questions from me. However, one area of interest to me is that relating to institutional discharges and the trust's recommendation that discharging departments should take responsibility for programmes and, presumably, accommodation needs also. Are the witnesses aware of any international best practice in this area which we could seek to recommend as part of our report?

I thank the witnesses for their very detailed submission. If we were to heed everything in it in order to make matters work, it would be great. Many people have great ideas and many others blame those in government. I listened to much being said about local authorities. It is fair to say that in the past ten years successive Governments have left local authorities with no money for the development of housing. In fairness to local authorities, they have done tremendous work. People can knock and blame local authorities but if those who are driving the housing market to build houses are starved of money, they cannot build. There were many problems following the introduction of the rental accommodation scheme. I appreciate the work done by the Peter McVerry Trust, which does not get enough praise or thanks. Funding is the major issue. We appreciate the matters the trust has highlighted.

That concludes questions from members. I wish to make one final point. In one of his first replies, Mr. Doyle referred to the number of voids the Peter McVerry Trust brought back into use last year.

He mentioned a figure of 39 or something similar. Will he give us an overview of how the trust identified them and what the process involved? It was innovative and a real solution to the problem.

Mr. Pat Doyle

All of those voids were local authority voids. I would like to correct any misapprehension in regard to our work and say that we support the work of local authorities and work well in partnership with them. I have not met any senior local authority official who was not dedicated to solving the housing crisis. However, the committee is right that resources and backing are significant issues for the local authorities.

The 39 voids we identified were all in Dublin, unfortunately. We identified some in Limerick where we also operate, but we have not got them over the line yet. One complex we identified for example is Hogan Court in Dublin. Our staff are constantly pulling in and taking photographs of buildings while scouting around every day and we then approach our local authority colleagues. The first building we worked on was in Pim Street. It had been a six-unit local authority building for 30 years, five two-bedroom units and one one-bedroom unit. The local authority had handed over the building to an approved housing body in the early 2000s, but that housing body let the building go because of a management issue and handed it back to the council, leaving one couple remaining in the building. All of the other units were boarded up, leaving that couple very vulnerable.

We asked the local authority to give the property to us and we then went out and looked for a donor. We got a donor through a foundation, a building construction company set up as a foundation which built housing mainly in Africa and Asia. It had never done that work in Ireland. We were the first group anywhere in the British Isles to have the funding directed this way rather than to Africa or Asia. The company was doing the type of work being done in Haiti. We applied to the company and it gave us €100,000 and we matched that with €24,000 of our own funding and renovated the six units in approximately 22 weeks. We made an excellent video of the work and it is on our YouTube clip. We put one Housing First client into one of the six units, somebody straight from the streets. We took two young people from care who had been condemned into homeless services after they left care and took people for the remainder of the units from the housing lists. All of this was agreed with the local authority and all those we took were registered with the local authority.

We see this work as a real partnership with the housing authority. It owned the building. We did not need to own it. The local authority leased it to us, but has not transferred it to us. I am on the housing strategic policy committee, SPC, and I know a number of colleagues on the councils do not want to see housing stock transferred to voluntary housing associations. I am of the view we do not need to own the property. We had a lease that was long enough to allow the funder invest with us and we have given full-time tenancies to six people. We have repeated that good practice process since, particularly in regard to how quickly we have turned property around, which has increased the local authority's confidence in us to provide units.

The challenge for approved housing bodies is to prove they can provide homes and do it well, quickly and cost-efficiently. Following Pim Street, we identified a building in Hogan Court with 11 units and we turned them around in 12 weeks. We secured all the funding for that initiative from the Construction Industry Federation. That accounted for their social corporate responsibility for 2015 and we had the units open for Christmas.

Another partnership followed a call from Government last year for public bodies to make good any properties they had that were not in use. We identified eight units the OPW owned. These had been a compulsory purchase for an extension of the National Art Gallery but capital funding collapsed following the crisis and the OPW had been sitting on the units for a number of years. We have taken over those units on a ten-year lease. We have refurbished them in conjunction with Dublin City Council and the Housing Agency and now have eight homeless people in them. One of those is a lad straight from the streets, the lad I mentioned who said he still cannot believe he is in housing. A number of the tenants have come from care and the rest have come from the homeless priority housing list. We will maintain and support the units and the individuals in them to ensure they keep their tenancies.

Going back to what Deputy Ruth Coppinger was saying, we do not support the eviction of anybody from any unit. The trust has a policy whereby we do not evict. All homeless service providers have now bought into that policy in Dublin. What we look for is resettlement rather than eviction. Sometimes people will cause considerable damage and annoyance and perhaps make threats to other tenants such that it is not feasible for them to stay in that location. Everybody else around them might have to move out. What we say all the time is that there should be a resettlement programme rather than an eviction. We have had some very difficult cases, but the trust has never evicted anybody. As Fr. McVerry said, we are dealing with a very small number of people who have very complex needs. The vast majority of housing providers, including voluntary housing associations, deal with the general public. There should not be evictions. We do not support them.

There are different philosophies as to how we deal with the banks. As the Deputy said, we could write down the loan. Why not? The other option would be to sell AIB. I am not saying I would support taking that option; I am just stating the different arguments. We could sell AIB for €20 billion which we could ring-fence to house the most vulnerable and marginalised. I would be inclined to support the writing down of loans. Ulster Bank, for example, is going to write down loans taken over by a vulture fund. We should keep people in the houses in which they are living.

Fr. Peter McVerry

Let me take up a couple of the points made. Private landlords evicting into homelessness is a special situation. The last Government introduced legislation to prevent landlords from using the excuse that they were selling the house. They now have to produce proof that they are selling it, or that their granny is going to move in, before they can evict. However, the private rental sector needs to be re-regulated. Although I am not used to defending landlords, I do know some who have had great problems with a tenant; there might be anti-social behaviour or a tenant might not have paid the rent for 12 months. We cannot expect landlords not to evict such tenants into homelessness. There is a need for a process of re-regulation to protect landlords as well as tenants before we have a blanket ban on landlords evicting people into homelessness.

The Department of Social Protection has argued that no one has become homeless as a result of the failure to increase rent supplement. That is absolutely and totally untrue. I know that there is a scheme which operates on a case-by-case basis. A family can go to Threshold and apply for the supplement and they may or may not get it. Most of the families with whom we deal who are evicted for non-payment of rent have never heard of Threshold and do not know about this system. They simply receive a notice from the landlord that the rent is going up; they have no way of paying it and end up being moved out. It is a guesstimate, but at least 2,000 families have become homeless as a result of the failure of the Department of Social Protection to increase rent allowance in the past couple of years.

I am not sure what happens in other jurisdictions when people leave prison. In England there is access to private rented accommodation. We had one lad from Ireland who was in prison in England. In November he rang me to say he was being discharged in February. They already had accommodation organised for him and were going to have two weeks' social welfare payments for him at the gate of the prison when he was leaving. They also had a place for him on a training course. If somebody is in prison for 12 months or two years, we have enough time to organise something, but in Ireland those leaving prison do not even have a medical card. This is causing huge problems. I spend most of my weekends in the prisons. It is also a guesstimate, but there are 40 to 50 people in prison who would be discharged in the morning if they had somewhere to go to. They may be eligible for bail or temporary release but are in custody because they do not have an address. They are being kept in prison at enormous expense because we have failed to provide for them.

We need to declare a national emergency. This is an emergency which requires a multi-agency response. The Minister with responsibility for housing is powerless without the co-operation of the Departments of Finance, Social Protection and Health, the local authorities, NAMA and the approved housing bodies.

Unless they all come up with a plan that they can buy into and support, the Minister's hands are tied. The only way that can happen is for the Taoiseach to declare an emergency, which he would do if there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the morning, get all of the relevant bodies around a table and agree on a plan to which all of them must adhere. The Taoiseach would make sure that those plans were being implemented at weekly meetings.

I am going to be very tolerant. Deputy Durkan has a brief point to make but he should not push it.

I just need to correct something. I have the greatest respect for Deputy Coppinger and for her ideology. However, I do not believe that we can solve the housing crisis with a dose of ideology. Many of us on this committee remember the time when we were able to solve all of these housing crises without any reference to radicalism, as suggested by Deputy Coppinger. I do not know how many Members of the Oireachtas are landlords. That is not my function and not my business.

It is listed under Members' interests.

It may well be but I do not sniff around Members' interests to any great extent because I look after my own interests-----

Well, I know-----

-----as best I can. I am not a landlord.

The Deputy is listed as one.

If I am, I am incorrectly listed. I wish to correct something, Chairman. I am not a landlord.

That is now on the-----

Suggesting otherwise is totally incorrect and it is wrong to try to create an impression that is incorrect.

Deputy Durkan-----

Let me finish. The matter was raised.

I afforded you an opportunity to speak because you had a point you wished to-----

I am dealing with the point, Chairman.

Will we all get a chance to debate this now?

I wish to mention that I totally agree with the response of Fr. Peter McVerry and the Peter McVerry Trust. I commend the work they have done. I totally agree with them and there is no doubt about it. However, we have a housing emergency and the Taoiseach has indicated that we have a specified time within which to deal with it. He has indicated that he will drive it himself, along with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the other responsible, constituent bodies. I believe that is the way it should be.

I said "a brief point", Deputy.

I did not set out to start a political argument about this but since somebody wants to start one, I am up for it too. Do not forget that.

Deputy Wallace has a brief point.

I will be very brief. I wish to commend the Peter McVerry Trust on the wonderful work it is doing. I am glad it is making use of some units that I built in Russell Street.

Mr. Pat Doyle

I was going to say that. I thank the Deputy very much. They are fabulous units.

I have a brief point in relation to Fr. Peter McVerry's-----

It was the building workers who built the units, actually.

I have a brief point in relation to Fr. McVerry's comment about the-----

I believe the building workers built them.

I have a brief point in relation to Fr. McVerry's comments about the rent supplement and about it driving people into homelessness. My own experience is a bit different. I have found that where rents are going up and people have gone to the community welfare officer, flexibility is granted inside or outside the threshold protocol. That is generally the case. Representatives of the Department of Social Protection appeared before the committee the other day and indicated that there were about 8,000 cases in which they increased the granted amount beyond the caps. Fr. McVerry's experience is not universal.

I wish to make one point. Fr. McVerry mentioned landlords selling properties and notice being given to the sitting tenant. I fail to understand why notice would be given at all. If it was a commercial property, whatever the tenancy agreement was would reside with the property. If there was a tenant in a commercial property and it was being sold, the tenant and the tenancy would go with the property. I fail to understand how every time a property goes for sale, it seems to have to be vacant. What is causing real pressure on it is when receivers are appointed. The first thing they do is clear the property rather than try to sell it as a going concern with tenants - as a business. Fr. McVerry might not like it being described as a business. I believe it is appalling that the first thing done by a receiver is the removal of the tenant from the property. If it was a commercial property, the tenancy would continue to reside there. I fail to understand why that is not the normal practice for residential tenancies.

Mr. Pat Doyle

The Peter McVerry Trust has been a victim of that as well. We had properties on lease and they wanted vacant possessions.

That is what we are saying about the Ulster Bank loans - the vulture funds will want the properties to be empty. We have overcrowded hotel accommodation and very little private rented accommodation.

I fully support that.

The Chairman is very fair but people coming in here to score political points is what has got us into the mess we are in today. Everyone should be here in the best interests of the homeless so they should not come in and use the committee as a place to score political points. There is no room in this committee for that.

We will conclude the session. I thank Mr. Friel, Mr. Doyle, Mr. Doherty and Fr. McVerry for their attendance, their submissions to the committee and their direct and frank answers. They have been very helpful to the committee.

Sitting suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.