Housing expert David Hall has accused Mr Skehan of taking his words out of context
The chair of the Housing Committee has been slammed by homelessness and housing experts over his defence of his ‘gaming the system’ comments in front of the Oireachtas.
Housing expert David Hall has accused Mr Skehan of taking his words out of context while Focus Ireland spokesperson Niamh Randall said he failed to any evidence to back up his claim.
Inner City Helping Homeless CEO Anthony Flynn warned that Mr Skehan had failed to put forward any facts - and accused him of pushing a political narrative "designed to undermine the seriousness of the situation, the lack of build and the over reliance on the private sector."
It comes after Mr Skehan appeared before the Oireachtas Housing Committee this evening.
He used the appearance to launch an impassioned defence of his claim that some people may be ‘gaming the system’ by declaring themselves homeless in order to jump the housing lists.
He took particular issue with Independent Senator Victor Boyhan - who had noted that many people found the comments “very offensive” and asked him if he still stood over him.
Here's when Conor Skehan of the Housing Agency went through Senator Victor Boyhan for a shortcut when answering question on homeless people gaming the system pic.twitter.com/b1zCMh2knT— Sean Defoe (@SeanDefoe) January 31, 2018
Mr Skehan said the claims were based on “facts as reported by extremely reputable commentators on this issue who are saying exactly the same thing word for word.”
He quoted two experts who he said backed up his claims.
Firstly he noted that Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO) CEO David Hall has said “There may well be a small proportion of people gaming the system, but there have been chancers since time began. Look at insurance fraud for instance. If it is happening I am certain it is a tiny proportion."
He also quoted homelessness campaigner Father Peter McVerry as saying it is “just a reality” that some people will try and scam any system.
However immediately after the quotes were broadcast, Mr Hall tweeted to say that his comments had been taken out of context:
Not the case. He quoted one sentence from what I said. I said in some arrears like insurance fraud some game the system but he is not an observer making wild non evidenced comments , he is 1 of the 3 pillars charged with sorting housing crisis https://t.co/24Y8c3lt93— David Hall (@davidhall75) January 31, 2018
Simon Community spokesperson Niamh Randall said that Mr Skehan had failed to put forward any “valid, robust, systematic evidence” to back up his claim, noting that the Housing Agency had also failed to do so.
‘Skehan defends comments over access to housing’ no valid, robust, systematic evidence was presented & the @HousingAgencyIE own report provided no evidence #Housing #Homelessness #Research #NotGaming https://t.co/GIAcrdwtBb— Niamh Randall (@NiamhRandall) January 31, 2018
Sinn Fein’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has said there is “no evidence” to support Mr Skehan’s ‘gaming the system’ claim, warning that the comments caused “real, real hurt among homeless families.”
The Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has also said there is no evidence to support the claim.
Mr Skehan however, has urged the Government to “look harder.”
He told the committee he believes it is happening, albeit at a lower level:
“In the matter of no evidence, you are absolutely correct in saying that the Department and the Minister said they had no evidence of it.
“Our advice back to the minister is the ‘Elephant and the Ant’ one.
“Look harder minister.
“That is our job; to give independent, objective advice and to tell people things they do not want to hear.
“I say things that [the minister] may not agree with or like; that is my job; to call the shots as I see them.
Deputy Ó Broin brought Mr Skehan’s attention to a 2016 report from the Housing Agency which did not find any significant evidence of people presenting as homeless in order to move up the housing list
Mr Skehan acknowledged the report but warned that data needs to be constantly kept up to date to ensure it is accurate.
These are not facts, theses are political narratives designed to undermine the seriousness of the situation, the lack of build and the over reliance on the private sector. #Skehan has mislead the committee several times today, he has been far from honest. #Dail https://t.co/09EM49PpRi— Anthony Flynn (@AnthonyICHH) January 31, 2018
The decision to reappoint Mr Skehan to his position as chair of the agency until a suitable replacement is appointed has been the subject of much criticism from opposition parties.
He has previously faced criticism for his comments in October last year when he suggested Ireland’s housing crisis is “completely normal.”
Speaking at the Urban Land Institute conference he said “every country in Europe” has the same issues in terms of affordability of housing and homelessness.
This evening, he again warned that homelessness is a “huge issue all over Europe, for more or less the same suite of reasons,” and insisted that Ireland homeless are not “out of step” with that trend.
There is nothing NORMAL about 3,500 children in emergency accommodation. Nothing normal about 8000 people in emergency accommodation, nothing normal about people dying on our streets. No homelessness is not normal!— David Hall (@davidhall75) January 31, 2018
With reporting from Sean Defoe ...