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​Speech at the official opening of the Homeless Accommodation faciliticy at Kilmantin Hill

Wicklow, Wednesday 24 September 2014

Is breá liom bheith anseo inniu le hoscailt oifigiúil shaoráid chóiríochta Chomhairle Chontae Chill Mhantáin do dhaoine gan dídean anseo i mbaile Chill Mhantáin a cheiliúradh. Gabhaim buíochas le Michael Nicholson as an gcuireadh a chuir sé chugam bheith libh, agus ar ndóigh gabhaim buíochas freisin le Clann Shiomóin a mbeidh ról chomh tábahachtach sin acu in oibriú na saoráide.  

[I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the official opening of Wicklow County Council’s new homeless accommodation facility here in Wicklow Town. I thank Michael Nicholson for inviting me to join you, and of course the Simon Community who will play such a vital role in the operation of this facility.]

In recent months the issue of homelessness has become a topic of much debate both in the media and at political level. It has, I hope, caused many people to stop and think about the many implications of being without a place you can call home, and to not only hold in their minds the insecurity, anxiety and fear that comes with being homeless, but to decide that it is an issue they still put at the top of their policy demands when their opinions are sought.  

However, for the many people who are fortunate never to have been in that distressing situation, it can be difficult perhaps to understand just how profound a violation of the human right to full citizenship homelessness is.

Being homeless is not just about being deprived of a roof over your head; it is about being deprived of a sense of belonging, a place within a community, full participation with a voice in society. There can be no doubt that a life defined by those three bleak words ‘no fixed address’ is a life deprived of the most basic entitlements that most citizens take so much for granted. Whether that homelessness takes the form of being forced to sleep on streets and in doorways and in public parks; or being placed in emergency accommodation with all the uncertainty that entails; or having to care for a family in just one room with no access to cooking facilities or outdoor space, homelessness removes so many of the acts of discretion that define freedom.

A society where approximately 2,500 persons across the State depend upon State-funded emergency accommodation for a roof over their head at night, is a society which is not meeting that concept which must lie at the heart of any genuine concept of citizenship; that of ensuring that each and every citizen is treated with dignity and respect and is empowered to participate with a voice in society.

I recently visited Focus Ireland and met with some of those who have become the new homeless in this country since the beginning of the year. I also, last week, attended the opening of a new facility offering residential transition housing run by Cuan Mhuire for those recovering from addiction.  I heard many difficult and sad stories of people who were being denied their basic longing for citizenship; of people who had been let down by a society which had, in recent years, failed to distinguish between the basic needs of its citizens and the wants of those who were working to have housing constituted a commodity in the market place. A society that allows housing needs to become a commodity in a speculative market, without having understood the housing needs of those whose income or capacity has excluded them from such a market, is hardly meeting the minimal definition of a Republic.

All of those who are homeless have been on their own complicated and sad journey towards that point.  Many of those journeys include the difficult issues of addiction, mental illness and abusive relationships; others the shock of sudden job loss, eviction or withdrawal of family support; and some the isolation and profound sense of displacement when trying to make a new life in a new country far away from family and friends.

But all those who have travelled that arduous road, whatever the reason, know that it is a road that leads to a place where citizens are deprived in so many ways of a role in society.  They are denied that sense of place, of home, of neighbourhood, shared solidarity and responsibility, which is critical to our living together.

As President of Ireland I have met with many organisations and volunteers in the homeless sector and have been consistently impressed by the commitment and dedication of all those concerned who give their time and skills to help individuals and families to move out of the shadowed and often misunderstood world of homelessness, who encourage their fellow citizens who are homeless to look to the future with hope and a renewed determination to shape and craft that future with a realisation of all its possibilities, and achieve a fulfilling transformation in their lives.

Today I am again impressed by the real sense of pro active citizenship which has brought to fruition this new facility here in Wicklow. The Simon Community and members of local government in Wicklow can be justifiably proud of the facilities which I am officially opening today.  This twenty four hour supported, sixteen bed facility provides not only immediate relief from the extremities of rough sleeping, but also serves as that vital first step towards a proper home and a full reconnection with society and community.

Because, as all of those here today already know, helping homeless citizens to resume their place in society, involves more than just providing them with shelter. It must also be accompanied by a meaningful and real solidarity, such as a support system which will enable and encourage those now in urgent need back into fully independent living.  It is therefore vital that supports such as outreach, and resettlement assistance, care, welfare, education and training are put in place in a real sense of partnership, co-operation and flexibility so that the needs of each homeless person are identified and addressed. 

I know that the volunteers and staff at Kilmantin can and do provide a key point of contact and indeed, as a society we owe them and all those involved with the Simon Communities of Ireland an enormous debt of gratitude for their generous and tireless work on behalf of those who are most vulnerable and who live on the margins of our society.

There has been significant progress in building services for the homeless in recent years but, as is reflected by the persisting number of homeless, more needs to be achieved.  Today we celebrate an exemplary step, a positive affirmation of the work that is being done by local government and by voluntary organisations to work together to tackle the problems of homelessness in our society.

Molaim agus tréaslaím le gach a mbaineann leis an saoráid ríthábhachtach seo agus guím gach rath sa toghchaí oraibhse agus ar gach a gcónaíonn anseo.  

[I congratulate and commend all of those involved in the completion of this vital facility and I wish you, and all those who will reside here, every success in the future.]

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.