Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has vehemently denied the claim by homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry that he overrode Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on the issue of extending the eviction ban.
Mr Varadkar told Newstalk Breakfast that the claim was “100 per cent untrue” and that there was “zero evidence” to support it.
The Taoiseach and Mr O’Brien yesterday both denied the claims, but on Monday evening Fr McVerry told The Irish Times he believed his source. He argued that insufficient work on mitigating measures had been done while the ban was in place, and suggested this meant the intention had been to extend it.
“The public will have to decide whether to believe me or the Government, but I think the evidence points in my direction.”
Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne on Tuesday morning, Fr McVerry said he believes there is a “tsunami of misery coming down the road” and would not resign from what he said regarding the decision around the eviction ban.
“But I can’t produce the evidence because I can’t reveal my sources,” he added. “So the question, as far as I’m concerned, ends here. I’m saying one thing, the Government are saying another, and we can’t go any further. I can understand why the Taoiseach is denying it.
“This is the most controversial and I think the worst decision this Government has made in its lifetime. And they have to present a united front that can’t be seen to be having cracks within the Government over this decision. So I understand that.”
“But if you look at the evidence, even for five months, the eviction ban was in place and not one single measure was taken to mitigate the effect of that ban whenever it was lifted. Which suggests, apart from my claim, that this decision was a last minute rush decision which was not taken, which was not anticipated.”
On Newstalk earlier on Tuesday morning, the Taoiseach said that Mr O’Brien had presented three options to Cabinet, the first of which was not to continue the eviction ban and that was what happened, he said.
The Government was making every effort to “free up” accommodation. If necessary the Government would “sit on” local authorities to make sure they did everything possible to make houses available, that was why funding had been made available for every local authority to appoint a Vacant Homes Officer.
The only way that public perception could be changed was via results, Mr Varadkar said.
There had been some levelling off in house prices but it was frustrating that it was taking so long, he said. “We are addressing concerns, but there are constraints.”
Mr Varadkar said that no matter who was in Government there would be constraints. New planning regulations would hopefully “speed up things”, he added. “We are only starting to get to the point of equilibrium. We have to redouble our efforts and do everything we can to speed up supply.
But there are real constraints. And unfortunately, no matter who’s in Government, those constraints will be there.” The new planning legislation and planning court would mean that planning applications would not get “stuck” in court, he said.
“Many of the people who oppose these changes are actually the ones who give out about prices being so bad. And the same thing we see on the ground. I see it in my constituency, I see it happening all over the country, the people who are loudest about the housing crisis are the ones who are most likely to object to your home.”
Mr Varadkar said he had not objected to any planning applications in his own constituency in seven years as he could not do so “in good conscience” during a housing emergency.
Asked about Fr McVerry’s comments, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said: “That’s not the situation at all, to be fair to everybody.”
He said Mr O’Brien’s view, along with that of the Government, was that “continuing with the [eviction] ban would have made things worse”.
“We want more rental properties into the market. We need more rental properties into the market.”
Mr Martin also said “Fr McVerry may have had sources”.
“I’m just clarifying the point of that that that’s not what happened. Let’s not make a big deal about it.”
On fears expressed by Fr McVerry about the level of homelessness that may result from the lifting of the ban, Mr Martin said: “We work with the Peter McVerry Trust, we work with all of the approved social housing bodies, in terms of providing housing first, in terms of providing homes, in terms of new builds, and in fairness, the partnership has been strong with all of the bodies.
“But we believe that the measures we have introduced, the additional resources we have introduced, will prevent people from becoming homeless.”