Tuesday 23 January 2024

Peter McVerry Trust may be compelled to appear before Oireachtas Housing Committee

The Peter McVerry Trust is facing being compelled to come in before the Oireachtas Housing Committee if it refuses again to come in, according to committee chair Green TD Steven Matthews.

There was fury at the committee today from TDs and Senators as the charity has been asked to come in but has refused to do so.

The Cabinet signed off on a €15m bailout for the charity which is in a crisis with its finances.

Mr Matthews said the Peter McVerry Trust wrote to the committee twice asking to come before the committee.

He said the charity has previously been unhappy as it has not been asked to come in on hearings about homelessness.

“We’ve carried out a series of meetings on homelessness and we published a pretty good report, I think. We had a number of service providers, Statutory providers, voluntary service providers.

“Peter McVerry Trust did write to us, to say that they were upset that they hadn’t been invited in and that was on two occasions.”

Fine Gael Senator John Cummins said the trust wanted to come in “on their terms”.

“They wanted to come in on their terms to discuss an issue of importance but they’re not willing now to come before the Committee when they’re experiencing difficulties.

“That is unacceptable. This is an organisation that is largely funded by the public purse, as a result of a Cabinet decision before Christmas, a bailout was put in place for them.”

Senator Cummins said the situation is similar to RTÉ, the embattled State broadcaster which also received a bailout from Government following TV license revenue collapse when €345,000 worth of “hidden” payments to presenter Ryan Tubridy were revealed.

“Can you imagine the outcry if RTÉ refused to come before the Public Accounts Committee, or the Oireachtas Media Committee? It just wouldn’t have been a tenable position.”

He said the Committee should use its powers and compel the Peter McVerry Trust to come before TDs and Senators.

Mr Matthews said the charity was invited as politicians wanted to probe the bailout given by Government to it before Christmas.

The Approved Housing Bodies regulator and the Charities regulator are both investigating the Trust.

The Peter McVerry Trust, the Department of Housing and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, who were invited to come in, refused to appear before the committee as the investigations are ongoing.

Mr Matthews told the committee today he does not see any issue with the ongoing investigations and said politicians would conduct themselves appropriately.

FG TD Emer Higgins said it is “really disappointing” the Trust is not coming in before the Committee.

She said the organisation is State funded “to quite a substantial amount” and said it would be “really regretful” that the Trust should be compelled.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said all organisations refusing to come in is “really disappointing” and prevents TDs and Senators on the committee from “doing our job”.

He said it is “entirely appropriate” that the charity comes in.

“I think it would have been a really valuable opportunity for the Trust and the statutory side to set out what happened and how it happened,” he said.

Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick said she had “huge and deep disappointment” the Trust declined to come in.

“This is a public forum where they would have had an opportunity to explain to the general public what has gone on and most importantly assure the general public the path going forward,” she said.

Her party colleague TD Paul McAuliffee said the committee may yet carry out its own investigation into the charity.

Mr Matthews said the committee will write back and “remind them of the powers that exist for this Committee under standing orders to compel witnesses to appear”.

“I’d be of the mind that if the response is similar to what we’ve received previously then we would go and invoke those powers,” he said.

“As members have outlined, it is a public interest case, it is the public’s money and this committee has a job to do.”

The Peter McVerry Trust did not immediately respond to queries.