Speech by President Michael D Higgins at the opening of the new Sophia Housing Association Project

"Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo inniu chun a fhogairt go bhfuil an togra tabhachtach nua seo ar oscailt agus ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le Cumann Tithíochta Sophia as ucht an chuiridh, agus libh ar fad as ucht na fíorchaoin fáilte sin. 

[I am delighted to be here today to declare this important new project open and I would like to thank the Sophia Housing Association for their kind invitation, and all of you for that very warm welcome.] 

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 who are  concerned to help individuals and families to move out of the frightening and unstable world of homelessness, and offer them the opportunity of looking to the future with optimism. 

In recent months the issue of homelessness has moved to the centre of debate both in the media and at political level. That is to be welcomed. It is a debate which has brought home to many citizens the very real deprivations that come with being homeless; the insecurity, anxiety, fear and lack of hope for the future. 

Those who are homeless know, from lived experience, that citizens without a home inhabit a silent and lonely society in which their homelessness deprives them of a voice; of the right to participate, to seek and obtain employment, to offer their skills and talents to their communities and their wider society.  Homelessness denies too many of our citizens a sense of place, of home, of neighbourhood, and they are entitled to expect of us the shared solidarity and responsibility, which is critical to our living together. 

Homelessness then involves a denial of the basic right to participate with dignity in society, and our current unacceptable level of homelessness stems from a failure to distinguish between what are the basic needs of citizens and those wants appropriate to the markets. That housing has come to be constituted a commodity in the market place has consequences for existing and future generations. 

There can be absolutely no doubt it must be one of the critical responsibilities of a democracy’s commitments to participation to address the issue of homelessness and to seek sustainable and innovative solutions as a matter of urgency, solutions which will ensure that no citizen is denied that most fundamental need; a place they can call home.  A society where approximately 2,500 persons across the State depend upon State-funded emergency accommodation for a roof over their head each night is a society which is challenged to meet the standard of a truly inclusive republic. 

We therefore owe a great debt of gratitude towards providers such as Sophia Housing who extend a lifeline of hope, friendship and care to those whose circumstances have brought them to that lonely and threatening place of homelessness. 

While preparing to come here today, I read some personal accounts written by citizens who had been supported and accommodated by the Sophia Housing Association. All of them were stories of lives which had been damaged by violence, addiction, abuse, poverty or other distressing issues which had pushed the writer into the dark shadows of our society, where they exist as marginalised citizens. 

They were however also highly personal stories of lives which had been changed by that initial contact and subsequent engagement with Sophia Housing. While for each writer, Sophia Housing had provided an important and secure platform from which they could begin to view a more positive future, it was also experienced at different times and for different inhabitants as a place of safety; a place of family reunion; a place of reawakening of aspiration and hope; a place of community; a place of refuge. 

They were stories which, when taken together, illustrated the ethos which lies at the heart of Sophia Housing – that of respect for the very differing and complex set of circumstances which led each resident to Sophia Housing, and the will and determination of the Association to provide a comprehensive and all inclusive approach which responds to those myriad and differing situations. 

The holistic model of care followed by Sophia Housing is an impressive one which allows those who seek support to work as equal partners in their journey towards independence and fulfillment.  Fundamental to this model of care is the important recognition of the need for sustainable solutions to the complicated and distressing range of circumstances which can lead to homelessness.  It is a far reaching and all encompassing approach that is to be both admired and commended. 

Today we celebrate the opening of a new Sophia Housing Association project here in Tubbercurry; a project which could not have been realised without all those who gave so generously of their time, skill and energy. 

I would, therefore, like to thank and commend the Marist Sisters on their compassion of spirit in enabling this project from the outset; a spirit which ensures that this Tubbercurry landmark will remain at the heart of the community here for many years to come.  I also thank Sophia Housing, the local authorities and indeed all those whose hard work, vision and support has ensured that this project was brought to a successful conclusion."