Charity questions use of industrial vehicles to remove tent after homeless man suffers 'horrific' injuries

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Brian Adam
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A garda investigation is underway after a homeless man in a tent received life-altering injuries when an industrial vehicle sought to remove it from the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has also called for a full report into the incident, while also stating he had removed his election campaign poster which had been overlooking the scene at the junction of Wilton Terrace and Leeson Street in Dublin city centre.

The man was seriously injured when a tent that was removed by a vehicle during the works carried out by Dublin City Council and Waterways Ireland between noon and 1pm yesterday. He was taken to St Vincent’s University Hospital where he underwent surgery.

Dublin Simon confirmed that its outreach team had been working with the man prior to the incident.

Its communications officer Caoimhe O’Connell said: “We had previously been engaging with the man and will support him in his recovery.”

Ms O’Connell said due to the duty of care to the man she was not in a position to give any further details as to his condition but added: “We are deeply saddened and it was horrific.”

Francis Doherty of the Peter McVerry Trust (PMT) echoed that view, stating: “Obviously it should not have happened and it is deeply regrettable that it did happen.”

However, he said the PMT understood that it had been a “managed process” and that something had gone wrong.

“Our understanding of events is there was a plan put in place to address whatever Waterways Ireland and Dublin City Council felt needed to be addressed,” he said, “that they had allocated accommodation for each person in the tents.”

Mr Doherty said perhaps there had been an assumption or an earlier check that found the tent to be empty, but that later when the machinery was employed it was occupied.

“Is it a public health issue that requires industrial vehicles to remove tents?” he asked. “We think it could be [done] manually.”

The most recent DRHE Rough sleeping Count figures, published just last Friday, showed what DRHE described as a “huge reduction” in people sleeping on the streets. While 90 individuals were sleeping rough across the Dublin Region on one night last November, that was down from 128 last spring and from 158 in Winter 2018.

However, Safetynet Primary Care, whose outreach teams deal with the medical issues of those sleeping rough, said despite DRHE figures showing bed availability, it knew of clients who could not get a bed on certain occasions.

Its CEO, Fiona O’Reilly, said many people have decided that sleeping “off the beaten track” near canals and Luas lines put them at less risk than sleeping in doorways.

“This is absolutely horrible,” she said of the incident. “People sleeping out are already exposed to significant dangers but for anyone to be injured in this way is shocking and distressing. Our thoughts are with the man who hurt, we wish him a full recovery.

“From our frontline experience, previous ‘sweeps’ have focused on offering people accommodation to get them out of danger and improve their situation.

Something obviously went seriously wrong here.

It’s understood that Waterways Ireland only gets involved once asked to do so by Dublin City Council, which should only happen when alternative accommodation has been arranged for those sleeping in tents.

In a statement, Waterways Ireland said: “Waterways Ireland and Dublin City Council/Dublin Regional Homeless Executive work in co-operation to remove tents along the canals in Dublin where they have become a public safety hazard. On the 14th January an incident occurred at Leeson Street, on the Grand Canal. Our thoughts are very much with the individual who was injured.

“A Garda investigation has been launched and Waterways Ireland is co-operating fully. While that investigation is ongoing Waterways Ireland is obliged to not comment further.”

Dublin City Council said: “An incident occurred yesterday, 14th January, 2020, involving a homeless man on the Grand Canal during a process where Waterways Ireland were removing tents that were placed in a precarious and dangerous location.

“An individual was injured during the process and was taken to hospital. The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive is currently liaising with the hospital and every support is being provided. Our thoughts are with the man at this time.

“The Executive has been engaging with the individual for some time and accommodation remains available to him.

“Every action that is taken by state services is taken in the interest of health and safety of those individuals experiencing homelessness.

“The matter is currently being investigated by the Gardaí and there will be no further comment.”

The Garda Press Office said it was too early in the investigation to give any further information as to the nature of its inquiries.

The Dublin Inquirer had previously detailed efforts to remove temporary settlements and encampments along the canal, based on data it received under freedom of Information relating to 2017.

It showed at least 13 incidences of tents or rough sleeping along a stretch of the canal notified to DCC that year.

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