Minister, Archbishop should intervene in Fr Scully house issue – Costello

26 November 2014

Speech by Joe Costello

I welcome Minister Kelly’s announcement today of the largest single investment ever of €3.8 billion in social housing for 2014-2020, which will result in the provision of over 100,000 units to accommodate every household on the housing list. 

Ironically, while the main characteristic of the Celtic Tiger was the housing boom that produced nearly 100,000 units of accommodation in 2006 alone (roughly the same number of units built in England with a population of 56 million) little or none of that was social housing.  The collapse of the construction industry and the unavailability of capital during the ensuing recession has caused a severe crisis in housing, with increasing numbers in expensive rented accommodation, in overcrowded family situations and, indeed, increasing levels of homelessness. 

This is very apparent in my own constituency of Dublin Central, which has high levels of unemployment and housing need.  Indeed, Trojan work is being carried out by a new organisation “Inner City Helping the Homeless” in visiting and providing food for rough sleepers across the city.

In the same area, a tragedy was avoided yesterday by the heroic efforts of three young men who saved a family of six from almost certain death in a fire in DCC housing in Gloucester Place, Dublin 1.  Now the local community has rallied around and set up a support committee for the families who had to leave their homes because of the fire damage.  They are seeking donations from the general public.  Donations can be made at www.idonate.ie/gloucesterdiamondfamilyfund or by donating to a dedicated bank account.  The account is in the Bank of Ireland, Marino Branch, Dublin 3; the sort code is 90 05 43; and the account number of 84680567.

While all this positive Government and community activity is going on, there are 99 units of social housing lying idle for almost six months in Fr Scully House, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin 1, because of an ongoing row over an “economic rent” between the Catholic Housing Aid Society (CHAS) and Dublin City Council.

In 2006, some forty tenants were temporarily moved out of the old Fr Scully House complex to various other units of accommodation, on the understanding that demolition and reconstruction would be complete in approximately two years and they would then be able to move back in again.  These were elderly people who eight years later are still waiting to return to their new homes.

The planning process didn’t start for a number of years and, when it was complete, the CHAS argued with the Department of the Environment, demanding more money for the reconstruction than the €17 million that the Department was prepared to make available. This delayed the project still further. 

Now, with the development completed for nearly six months and the tenants due to move in last September, CHAS is engaging in an unseemly wrangle with the local authority over the level of rents that the tenants should pay. Dublin City Council wants a rent commensurate with its differential rent, but CHAS wants a much higher “economic” rent, which many on the City Council’s housing list would be unable to pay.

It is increasingly unlikely that any of the 75 tenants who are entitled to be nominated for Fr Scully House from Dublin City Council’s housing list will be accommodated before Christmas. Indeed it now appears that even the former tenants will not move in until some time in the New Year.

With the housing crisis in the city, it is unconscionable that a Catholic housing agency – or indeed any housing agency – should be treating homeless and elderly people who cannot house themselves in this fashion.

I am calling on the Minister for the Environment to intervene with Dublin City Council to ensure the state investment is protected.  I am also calling on the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, to intervene and ensure that the new accommodation for Fr Scully House paid for by the taxpayer is fully occupied by Christmas so that 75 elderly people receive a special Christmas gift.