Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he will not be “critical in any way” of the President, Michael D Higgins, over his comments on the housing “disaster”.
Privately many Ministers and senior officials say they believe the President crossed a line into politics with his comments on Tuesday when he said that housing was “our great, great, great failure” and criticised the failure to meet the “basic needs of people in a republic”.
But Mr Varadkar declined to make any response to the President’s criticisms. Speaking to Newstalk on Wednesday morning, Mr Varadkar said: “It’s not for me to interpret the President’s comments. He is the President, he is the head of state, he’s above politics and beyond criticism and scrutiny. I’m not going to cross the line by being critical of him in any way.”
Mr Varadkar also said he thought “some of what he said is true, quite frankly”.
He said that the housing crisis “is a disaster, for many people who are working hard to have decent incomes can’t afford to buy a home”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying he would not “engage in any debate with the President”.
“That would not be appropriate at all. I have regular engagements with the President on a whole range of issues in relation to the Constitution, so I am not going to engage in any debate on that,” he said after delivering the opening address at a conference on the Civil War at UCC.
“I said when I was elected as taoiseach that the greatest single social crisis facing our country was housing. That is the priority of Government and remains the priority of Government… the number one issue I said we face is housing,” said Mr Martin.
“The Housing for All Strategy represents the most comprehensive strategy in recent years that has been put forward to deal with a very, very serious crisis which is facing so many people.”
Many opposition parties echoed the President’s comments, with Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty saying the Government had turned housing into a “cash cow” for private interests “chasing as much profit as they can”.
Labour leader Ivana Bacik said rents were as high as €4,000 for houses in her constituency of Dublin Bay South and that it was “no wonder” Mr Higgins had described the situation as “a housing disaster”.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the President had to “come out” and call the Government to account, adding “wasn’t the President right when he described this as a disaster?”
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, Mr Doherty said the Government’s housing crisis had been “called out for the disaster and social catastrophe that it is”.
The Donegal TD said the housing crisis was “without doubt” the great failure of successive governments.
Ms Bacik said public intervention and investment in housing and the cost of living crisis should now be a priority and it was “very disappointing” to see the lack of action from Government in this regard.
She said the Covid-19 pandemic had shown that “State intervention is the art of the possible”.
In response, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said it was “not open” to the Government to be able to maintain the same levels of expenditure, borrowing and intervention that existed during the pandemic.
He said that was a “unique period” in the State’s public and economic health that was thankfully coming to an end.