The Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr. Mick Finn officially opened Focus Ireland’s 12th Annual national conference in Cork City Hall today (Friday Sept 14th) which brought together experts and front-line staff to overcome the barriers to solving the housing and homelessness crisis.

Keynote speaker David McWilliams was among a range of experts highlighting problems with delivery of housing and putting forward solutions. Three key topics were debated by experts across housing and homelessness; ‘Social Mix & the fear of new ghettos’; ‘Land & the means to build on it’ and ‘Fiscal space & the fear of overheating the economy’.

Focus Ireland CEO Pat Dennigan speaking at the event said that while although the Government is right to draw attention to the welcome progress in many areas, it also needs to acknowledge that the continued rise in homelessness means that new and better policies are needed. Focus Ireland stressed it is clear that government targets in Rebuilding Ireland are not sufficient given the scale of the housing challenges we face.

Mr. Dennigan said: “It is vital in the middle of the worst crisis in living memory to remember that homelessness can be ended. In fact it is being ended every day for families and individuals through the work of Focus Ireland in partnership with the State and our donors. However, while one or two families secure a home each day at least four more lose their home and become homeless so the crisis continues to deepen.”

Focus Ireland issued figures at the event which showed the charity has already supported 12,260 people who are homeless or at risk between Jan to end of August this year. That is a 5% rise compared to the 11,661 people helped by the charity in the same period last year.

Mr. Dennigan said that it is vital for all concerned to work together to tackle the barriers to solving the housing and homelessness crisis. He said: “We all have a duty to the families and people who are homeless, the many thousands at risk to not be playing the “blame game” on this terrible human issue as that acts to create even more barriers to solving the blockages. However, it is equally important that the Government can accept and respond more actively to constructive criticism and proposed solutions. “

Meanwhile, Keynote Speaker at the conference David McWilliams said: “We have to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis in Ireland with a new approach. The growing population demands that we have to house the equivalent of a town like Clifden every month for the next 50 years. This social and economic task demands we get to the root of the problem.”

“High rents and house prices are the consequence not the cause of the problem and the underlying cause in Ireland is that the interests of landowners have always been put in front of the interests of the citizen. It could be termed “radical feudalism” whereby we have all the rhetoric of a citizens’ republic but an underlying economic structure of land-based feudalism.”

He added: “We need to look at what is working in other countries and properly address issues such as land hoarding to help drive development of housing. We also need to look at why it is so much affordable to rent or buy a city such as Belfast? One key reason is that they have built up and delivered many apartments – like in most European cities – for people to live. “

Focus Ireland has been challenging homelessness and changing lives in Cork since 2007, where we have seen a steady rise in numbers presenting to our staff on the South Mall and is now one of the leading providers of support services and housing in the city. Focus Ireland said there is some great work being carried out by a wide range of organisations to help solve the housing crisis, and without this the crisis would be much worse. The charity said this work includes collaboration with Cork City Council, and a range of other agencies across the state. The reality is increasing numbers of people are at serious risk of losing their home in Cork City and County, in the two years since July 2016 Focus Ireland has witnessed an increase of 60% in the numbers of men and women entering homelessness, up from 206 to 328 within the combined Cork city and county.

Also speaking at the event the Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr. Mick Finn said: “Although the housing and homelessness crisis is the most severe in Dublin, it is also very serious in Cork. The delivery of housing projects in Cork has been delayed as a result of red tape in the Department of Housing. The delays between the time of approval from City Hall and the granting of funding has meant that projects which should have started in Togher, Ballyphehane, Barrack Street, White Street and High Street have remained in limbo for more than 12 months.“

“While public money has to be spent wisely, the bureaucracy involved in excessively checking these projects in the Department is resulting in great delays across the country. I would ask Minister Murphy to listen to what is happening in communities from the ground up. While some progress is being made in new builds, it is trickling down too slowly. He needs to give local authorities more autonomy to act and deliver housing in areas that need them. The Minister can decentralise powers to progress developments locally by cutting the bureaucracy that currently strangles the procurement process…and he can do so with the stroke of a pen.”

The full conference agenda can be viewed here. 

NB: For media queries contact Roughan Mac Namara 086 8515 117 or Alan Neary 086 468 0442

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