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Homelessness becomes key issue of first full day of campaigning

Inside Politics: Varadkar accused of playing political game on homeless man incident

Good morning,

The first full day of campaigning in the 2020 general election was dominated by the issue of homelessness after an incident which was described by politicians as “reprehensible”, “horrendous” and “scary”.

A homeless man suffered serious and life-changing injuries when an industrial vehicle with a mechanical arm removed his tent from the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin during a clean-up operation. The crew was not aware the man was sleeping in his tent at the time. It emerges on our front page today that the tent was only verbally checked.

The incident itself was awful and focused minds on the issue of housing and homelessness but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s response to it also caused a political controversy.


In responding to questions about the "clean up", Mr Varadkar expressed his concerns but then told a somewhat surprised media contingent that he thought the Lord Mayor of Dublin Paul McAuliffe should release a statement on the matter. Mr McAuliffe, who happens to be challenging Fine Gael's outgoing TD Noel Rock for a hotly contested seat in Dublin North West, said it seemed like the Taoiseach was playing "a political game." And all the parties weighed in on the issue, too.

Read the full report here about how the Taoiseach was accused of "politicising" the incident.

There was some political respite for Mr Varadkar in the evening thanks to a flying visit from the new head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. She lavished praise on him and said a Brexit deal would not have been possible without the patience and effort of the Government and civil service. But as she walked up the steps of Government Buildings to shake the Taoiseach's hand, protesting farmers at the gates made their voices heard.

Here's a full report on that visit which was followed by a dinner in Dublin Castle.

So after only one day of campaigning, Varadkar and indeed Fine Gael's weaknesses and strengths have been cast in a clear light for all to see: a party and leader which represents Ireland capably on the European stage, but a party and leader accused of being out of touch with the domestic realities.

As Fiach Kelly reports, Fine Gael are continuing with their attack on Fianna Fáil by claiming they aren't up to the job when it comes to Brexit.

And Pat Leahy's report shows us that Fianna Fáil in turn say Fine Gael is not up to the task on housing and health with Micheál Martin promising detailed solutions in the coming days.

Which argument will win the day on February 8th?

Well in her piece, Miriam Lord points out that despite a few hours of pressing the flesh in Cavan and of parading his team of "presentables", no one seemed to want to talk to Varadkar about Brexit.

Election events

Elsewhere on Wednesday, a few parties set out their stall.

The Labour Party said it will look for additional spending of between €2.9 billion and €4.4 billion annually to boost public services.

Sinn Féin said it will seek to deliver the "largest" programme of public housing building in the history of the State if it enters government.

And the Green Party said that Ireland needs to change "the entire transport system, the entire food system, the entire energy system and the entire waste system for the better" and that this "will take at least a decade".

Election Diary

Today the focus will turn to the economy, Brexit (again) and crime.

Fine Gael will launch a plan "for more and better jobs by getting the best Brexit deal for Ireland" at 11am. The Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will join Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for this.

Fianna Fáil will also hold a press briefing on the economy and Brexit at 11am. The party's finance spokesman Michael McGrath and Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers will attend.

Labour candidates for Dublin Bay North will launch proposals on crime on the Northside of Dublin at 10.30am.

Our #GE2020 coverage

We have a dedicated section on our website devoted to all things election.

We will also have a daily Election 2020 political blog to give you live coverage – written, audio, video and social media – of the campaign as it happens. If you see anything that might be worth noting (especially if it’s quirky) you can contact Harry McGee via Twitter @harrymcgee or at

We will also have a daily Inside Politics podcast, hosted by Hugh Linehan, which will give you analysis each day from our award-winning team.