Thursday, 12 December 1963
Dáil Eireann Debate
Dr. Browne: and Mr. S. Dunne asked the Minister for Health what improvements have been made in the accommodation provided by the Dublin Health Authority for the homeless families living at Griffith Barracks in order to bring that accommodation up to accepted reasonable living conditions.
Mr. MacEntee: Part of the building which was maintained by the health authority at Island Street for homeless and destitute persons had to be evacuated recently because of its structural condition and alternative accommodation was obtained at Griffith Barracks. At present this accommodation is being availed of by 32 persons—comprising 18 women and 14 children.
The accommodation being used by the health authority at Griffith Barracks consists of a three-storey army block and a single storey canteen situated a few yards away from the block. There are five separate dormitories in the army block and on the ground floor there are two medium sized rooms previously used for storage purposes by the Defence Forces and now being adapted for the provision of laundry and washing facilities. The following improvements to the building have been effected by the health authority:
(f) two substantial sinks and drainers have been provided and, to improve laundry facilities further, a multi-point Kosangas heater to supply running hot water will be installed within the next few days.
The purpose of the accommodation now being used is to provide temporary shelter and maintenance for persons who cannot provide such shelter and maintenance by other means. It is not intended that it should be used to provide permanent living accommodation for families.
Dr. Browne: I must say how much I welcome the improvements made by the health authority in this case. However, is the Minister aware that the main grievance of the people up there is of the break-up of family life, the husband and wife being separated and also the husband being separated from the children except for a short period and that is likely to go on for some time until alternative housing accommodation is provided? Is there any possibility that the health authority could provide some form of cubicle accommodation so that these families could have some kind of privacy while they are waiting for the housing accommodation which I understand the housing department intends to provide for them?
Mr. MacEntee: We must not lose sight of the fact that this was an ad hoc arrangement, one made to deal with an entirely unexpected situation in which the Dublin Health Authority have had to improvise accommodation. Having regard to their resources and the unexpectedness of the situation which caused the evacuation of the premises in which these people normally live, they have dealt with the situation very well. I understand they are endeavouring to provide cubicle accommodation, but the main point we must bear in mind in this regard is that this accommodation is intended to be temporary only and that the Dublin housing authority cannot accept responsibility for immediately  providing houses for these people to the detriment of others who have been on the regular waiting list for a long time.
Mr. Dillon: In view of the fact that it is universally admitted to be an emergency situation, does the Minister not think it would be a suitable thing if the appropriate Department would inform the health authority that, if there was any exceptional cost involved in temporary structural alterations which would permit the reunion of these families at this time even for a limited period, the Government would see them indemnified? Would the Minister not agree it would be a desirable gesture that we should make an exceptional move to help the Dublin Health Authority after they have done their best to give them shelter and warmth and that we should ask them to go further at the Government's expense in order to provide facilities which would reunite the family?
Mr. MacEntee: The Deputy at this season of the year is very generous with the taxpayers' money, but I do not recall that, when the Finance Bill was before the House, this was exactly his approach to the problem of spending public money.
Mr. Ryan: If the Minister describes my efforts on behalf of these hungry women and children as ranting, then I shall keep on ranting until he behaves himself. He is not addressing a Fianna Fáil dinner now. He is dealing with a crowd of hungry women and children.
Mr. MacEntee: I must deprecate the attempt of the Leader of the Opposition to pass on to the Government responsibility for a situation that has arisen more or less through the efflux of time by reason of the fact that these houses have suddenly manifested their long-standing dangerous condition and have involved the evacuation of a number of families. The Dublin Health Authority have provided, in accordance with their statutory obligations, shelter for these persons and the Dublin Corporation cannot go further to provide permanent accommodation at the expense of others who have been on the waiting list for a long time.
Mr. Dillon: I do not wish to engage the Minister in an acrimonious discussion or to prolong this any more than is necessary. We are agreed the situation exists; we are agreed that in so far as heating and accommodation are concerned the Dublin Health Authority are doing all they can. But there is one grave difficulty on which I believe all the Minister's colleagues will join with me in deploring—that the families are broken up. I think it is in our power to reunite these families. Would it not be worthwhile, in these special circumstances, to incur some small additional expenditure as a human gesture to reunite the families and as recognition of the fact that there is more than a roof and heat involved? There is the unity of the human family involved, which we are all anxious to preserve.
Mr. MacEntee: Let us be realistic. What has happened is that temporarily the heads of the families have been separated from them, but there is nothing unusual in that. There are many people who have to leave their families in order to earn a living.
Mr. MacEntee: If men go down the country, to work, we have not got to transport the wives and children with them in order to preserve family unity. The Deputies are playing on words. Listening to them, one would assume generally that the husbands and wives to whom their questions relate are divided for all time. That is not the case. Here, what has happened is that for a short period——
Mr. MacEntee: They have gone off it, much as the Deputy would have liked them to continue. There is no use in abusing the season of the year which we are approaching by trying to deluge the House with tears.
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