‘Grass looks greener’ but young people won’t find lower rents emigrating, Tánaiste says

Leo Varadkar says ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’ for people who cannot afford to buy a home

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned large numbers of younger people considering emigrating from Ireland amid a housing crisis that “the grass looks greener” but they “are not going to find rents are lower in New York”.

Responding to an opinion poll which suggests two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds and more than one-third of 25- to 34-year-olds are mulling a move overseas, the taoiseach-elect admitted it was a “real worry”.

But considering emigration “is not the same as actually doing it” and many who do later return home, he insisted.

“When people actually get into the reality of going abroad, if you are going to another busy city or successful country, you will see a lot of the same problems,” he said on Sunday.

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“You are not going to find rents are lower in New York or it is easier to buy a house in Sydney.”

Mr Varadkar said cheaper homes may be found in “a very rural area or a third or fourth tier city” in other countries but added “that can be true in Ireland too”.

“Sometimes the grass looks greener,” he told Newstalk’s On the Record show with Gavan Reilly.

“It is not the case that more Irish people are leaving Ireland than are coming home. More Irish citizens are coming home.

“The grass can look greener, and considering emigration is not the same as actually doing it, and many do come back.”

Mr Varadkar repeated that emigration by younger people “is a concern that I have, it does worry me” but was adamant there is “light at the end of the tunnel” for the multitudes who cannot afford to buy a house.

There has been a “significant increase” in first time-buyers, he said, citing help to buy, shared ownership and equity schemes as well as dereliction grants helping Ireland “turn the corner in terms of people being able buy their own homes”.

The Government’s housing targets would be met this year, he insisted, despite a current underspend in its budget for homes.

While he was confident targets could even be exceeded in 2022, he warned he was “more worried about next year” because of a “construction slowdown”. More than 30,000 new homes needed to be built a year to get a grip on the crisis, he suggested.

Mr Varadkar also suggested that Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney may have to give to a charity donation of €2,000 that he received from former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin.

Mr Mullin has pleaded not guilty to charges of theft, false accounting and deception in relation to almost €600,000 being stolen from Bank of Ireland. The Sunday Independent reported Mr Mullin and his wife Sharon donated €2,000 to Mr Coveney in 2010.

Mr Varadkar, whose Fine Gael party has repeatedly attacked Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald over a €1,000 donation from convicted criminal Jonathan Dowdall, jailed for his part in the Regency hotel shootings, stressed Mr Mullin has not been convicted of any crime.

“But the principle would apply to ourselves the same as we would apply it to others,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be accepting donations from people who commit serious crimes and receive jail time as a result,” he said.

On Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Mr Varadkar said he had learned a lot from his Fianna Fáil counterpart during their time together in the Coalition.

“I think he has a very interesting style, I think he is a very compassionate person, very kind... has extraordinary patience, perhaps more patient than I am or can be,” he said.

Mr Varadkar compared his own “sofa style Government” with Mr Martin’s “meeting everybody in a room” approach, saying he “can see why he does that, it makes a lot of sense” in a powersharing arrangement.

On his own previous stint as taoiseach, Mr Varadkar said he had “made mistakes” which he learned from but declined to discuss them, although he later admitted the controversy over his leaking of a draft GP deal was among his mistakes.

Earlier this month, the State’s ethics watchdog said it will not investigate Mr Varadkar over his passing the contract to a GP representative friend.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) stated that there was not enough evidence to sustain the complaint because his action was carried out as part of his duties as taoiseach.

Two of the five commissioners voted against the decision not to investigate.

Brian Hutton

Brian Hutton is a freelance journalist and Irish Times contributor