Conor Skehan criticised over defence of 'gaming the system' comments

Housing expert David Hall has accused Mr Skehan of taking his words out of context

Conor Skehan criticised over defence of 'gaming the system' comments

Housing Agency chair Conor Skehan. Image: YouTube

Updated 20:50

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."

Housing Committee

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.

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.”

Reputable commentators

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.

Out of context

However immediately after the quotes were broadcast, Mr Hall tweeted to say that his comments had been taken out of context:

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. 

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.

“End of.”

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.

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.

With reporting from Sean Defoe ...