The renowned campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has hit out at the Irish Government, claiming that the level of homelessness in Ireland has reached its highest level since the Great Famine in the 1840’s. He called for the Government to buy vacant properties and admitted he was worried a further 25,000 Irish families could lose their homes unless decisive action is taken.

Fr McVerry, who has worked on homeless issues in Ireland since 1974, told Pat Kenny on NewstalkFM, “We have more homeless people today in Ireland than at any time since the Famine. And the reasons for people becoming homeless are much the same as during the Famine.

“They are being evicted from their private rented accommodation because they can’t afford to pay their rents.

“During the Famine it was foreign landlords, English landlords, who were evicting Irish tenants. Today it is increasingly vulture funds, foreign landlords, evicting Irish tenants.

“We have come right back to the 1860s and yet we are the 14th wealthiest country in the world.

“Something has seriously, seriously gone wrong. The whole economy is focused on money, money, money and greed, greed, greed and creating wealth. People have been left out and forgotten.”

He also hit out at the banks, which, he claimed, were uninterested in helping people who are in arrears with their mortgage.

“Without urgent legislation, such as mortgage-to-rent legislation being obligatory on the banks, we could end up with 25,000 of those houses being repossessed by the banks and 25,000 families plunged into homelessness. That is a real scenario over the next few years.”

He praised the efforts of Irish celebrities who in recent days took over a derelict, government-owned building in Dublin.

“What they wanted to do originally was put a roof over people’s heads over Christmas and they have succeeded in doing that,” he said. “But they have also generated enormous publicity for the issue of homelessness.”

“They have galvanized the whole population. They have had thousands of offers from people to volunteer.

“They are putting the government under great pressure to up their game and address this problem of homelessness in a much more urgent manner than what they are doing.”

The occupation has spurred the opposition Green Party into taking action and its leader Eamon Ryan said they’ll be proposing legislation early next year to tackle the issue of derelict and unused buildings.

“Dublin city has 60 hectares of vacant land, spread over more than 280 sites that could be used for housing,” he told Newstalk. “In addition, there are growing numbers of derelict buildings boarded up in the city center.”

He went on to lambast the government’s record in office, “We don’t need another carrot incentive for developers to boost their profitability – we need a stick to ensure that the ample land out there ready for development is not hoarded for easy profit.”

The most up to date figures estimate that there are 6,500 homeless people in Ireland, with a further 20 families evicted each week.