Action on Homelessness

We in TRUST are neither surprised nor shocked to hear of the man sleeping in a bin and miraculously saved (Irish Independent, February 22). We provide on a daily basis a most basic service in a tiny premises for up to 40 men and women. These men and women sleep rough in squats, tents, cars, parks, bins, flimsy sleeping bags in shop doorways – all unimaginable spaces in our capital city and beyond.

The majority are penniless and a few get a bed from time to time. Their physical and psychological conditions and personal stories are horrendous. All carry their possessions on their person and the pain of living is clearly deeply etched on their faces.

In a given month we meet people from 18 to 26 different countries – like many of our own Irish who moved to cities here or abroad a generation ago to work and send money back home. Many of those we meet had a dream of a better future; the dream never materialised and they now are ashamed to go home, some too proud to tell their story, their privacy all they have.

The situation is worse in my experience of working in the field for over 40 years and this for many reasons. This too at a time when a lot of money was made available to address the problem. We have for years been raising our concerns about the lack of good, basic emergency shelter, a first step at least. There has been and continues to be reluctance to accept this fact at all levels.

The time of talking shops is long over and it is time to accept that there is a crisis – “a time of intense , difficulty or danger” from my Oxford Dictionary – when is a crisis not a crisis?

The quick-thinking young man who heard the cry for help and pressed the red button and saved a life deserves all our gratitude.

Alice Leahy
Director & Co-Founder
TRUST, Bride Road, Dublin 8

Remembering Mary Lahiff

Madam — Reading of the death of Mary Lahiff, (Death Notice, Sunday Independent, October 28) brought to mind an era worth reflecting on at a time in our country when we struggle to make sense of what is going on, where hope, gratitude, vision and inspiration appear to be in short supply.

Mary worked as a social worker in the Meath Hospital, one of the small voluntary hospitals in Dublin. She worked in a cramped space without so many of the technical mod-cons we have now become accustomed to.

She worked way beyond the call of duty, ticked all the boxes of care, commitment, compassion and professionalism — not those now ticked to measure performance and success. She sat and listened patiently and was familiar with the environment people came from, not least so many of the people known to us in TRUST, outsiders even in the space they inhabited. People, to her, were individuals with names and a personal history and never just ‘clients’, ‘customers’ or cold statistics. She would have been shocked to hear the latest buzz word — ‘churning’ — in the lexicon of assessment. Time spent with people in need was never time wasted to her.

During her working life Mary brought comfort to so many, who were often unable to express their gratitude. She truly was one of the unsung heroes of public service and has left a wonderful legacy in her wake.

Alice Leahy,

Director & Co-Founder,

TRUST, Dublin 8

Failed plan

Reading the report on the death of a homeless man on December 7 by Louise Hogan I am mindful of the death of Pauline and Danny in a derelict site in Benburb Street in December 1992 and all the publicity that followed. Now 19 years on, what has changed?

Millions of taxpayers’ money has been spent, more reports have been produced, more experts have moved on — and so, too, public representatives.

What has changed is the amount of reactive press releases from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive.

We have publicly stated, and so, too, have some other non grant-aided agencies, that the plan hasn’t worked; the new plan, which is much the same, is also unlikely to work.

I am greatly concerned that unless those in a position of responsibility accept the fact that the plan has failed, and stop blaming those who question it in 50 years’ time we will be repeating the same mantra.

Alice Leahy
TRUST, Bride Road, Dublin 8

Human rights group criticised by key member

Serious concerns about the workings of the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) have been raised — by one of its own directors.

Documents obtained by this paper reveal that respected campaigner and commission member Alice Leahy wrote to IHRC president Maurice Manning questioning the usefulness of expensive trips to foreign conferences and raising the issue of the lack of voice for the very people the IHRC is meant to serve.

Ms Leahy, who is a co-founder of the trust and an internationally respected advocate for the human rights of homeless people, told Mr Manning in an email dated July 12, 2011: “To be appointed to public service is a great honour bringing with it responsibility, which means at times saying what needs to be said . . . it has been virtually impossible for me to convey and have documented what I see on a daily basis in what is increasingly seen as a parallel world.”

In its report released in August 2010, the IHRC, which received almost €10m from the Irish taxpayer between 2005 and the end of 2009, said its focus is “on producing high-quality, credible and considered reports, observations and submissions”. Ms Leahy questions if this was being done particularly in light of the expensive travel and accommodation arrangements of some IHRC staff.

In her email Ms Leahy asks what relevance these trips might have to domestic rights issues: ”A lot of time has been spent by IHRC — in particular by staff attending conferences abroad — yet the absence of feedback from these events makes it impossible to assess its usefulness in relation to the domestic situation.”

Most disturbing is Ms Leahy’s final observation. Quoting Mary Robinson, she says “each time you speak out with a critical voice you pay a price” and added, “it is with some regret that I will not be applying for membership of the new commission”.

In response to our query about both emails, the IHRC forwarded a copy of a speech by Mr Manning, which acknowledges one of Ms Leahy’s concerns.

”Our colleague on the commission, Alice Leahy, whose daily work with the homeless brings her into direct contact with the most bruised and vulnerable in our society, constantly admonishes us that much of what passes for human rights language goes way over the heads of many for whom it should be most relevant. In many ways she is right.”

In contrast, an email from another commission member, Tom O’Higgins, to Mr Manning, accuses the Department of Justice of trying to “demean, diminish and by starving it [IHRC] of funding”.

An email dated July 18, 2011, from Mr O’Higgins to Mr Manning, praises the work of the IHRC and berates The Irish Times and highly respected journalist Carol Coulter for their analyses of the commission’s practices.

”The recent unbalanced articles by Coulter . . . in my view there is no cause for alarm. Civil society is more than one Irish Times journalist or a couple of academics.” Mr O’Higgins goes on to highlight what he sees as the successes of the IHRC and says the ‘self-appointed critics’ miss the point.

Mr O’Higgins, however, reserves his ire for the Department of Justice: ”Despite the unjust attempts by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to demean and diminish spirit by starving it of funding, the commission refused to buckle or to be deflected from its mission.”

He tells Mr Manning: ”Like a good conductor you succeeded, almost always, in extracting harmonious performances from a group of soloists, with rarely a sour note.”

A group is currently studying proposals for a new merged rights authority which would include the IHRC.

– Eamon Keane