Martin says SF using ‘fraudulent narrative’ to portray Government as ‘elite’

Housing for All Plan: Minister says construction had begun on 30,000 homes in 2021

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald he had a “far different” upbringing to her during testy exchanges in the Dáil. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has doubled down on his political attack on Sinn Féin claiming it is using a “fraudulent narrative” to portray his Government as an “elite upper class cabal”.

A matter of hours after bitter exchanges in the Dáil with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Martin returned to the theme of his own upbringing being difficult and modest compared to leading opposition members such as Ms McDonald and party housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin (both of whom were privately educated).

Speaking at a press conference on the Housing for All Strategy, Mr Martin said: “There has been a very deliberate attempt by Sinn Féin to create a particular political narrative, in my view, a fraudulent narrative. that members of the Government party are some elite upper class cabal who don’t understand the need for housing on the ground.

“The language is part of a ruthless narrative which has been deployed by Sinn Féin for quite some time. To be honest with you when I look across at the likes of Deputy Ó Broin and others, it’s a bit rich for them to be lecturing me in terms of my background.”

He denied he was engaging in reverse class prejudice by singling out two beneficiaries of private education. “People of different backgrounds can come forward and make a good contribution to public life but stop lecturing as if you are the working class hero on the other side, while everybody else on the Government side is unfeeling, has no connection with reality and has no commitment for housing provision,” he said.

High rents

Speaking immediately afterwards Mr Ó Broin denied the claim and accused Mr Martin of being more out of touch than any other taoiseach in recent times.

“I am not saying this to personalise it but rents are higher now than they have been at any time. House prices will surpass (record levels).”

“Homelessness is beginning to rise again… It did not meet affordable or social housing targets last year… Micheál Martin is taking the public for fools.”

Housing plan

Mr Martin was speaking at the latest quarterly report for the €20 billion housing plan, launched by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien last year. Mr O’Brien, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan were also in attendance.

The Ministers said that 123 of the 213 actions in the plan had been completed or were being delivered. Mr O’Brien said that construction had commenced on 30,000 homes in 2021, the highest since 2008, and representing a three-fold increase since 2015.

Mr O’Brien and Mr Varadkar referred to a “pipeline” of 40,000 new planning permissions and a substantial increase in the number of young people taking up apprenticeships in construction.

Mr Ryan said a feasibility study will be carried out on Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines to determine its suitability for social and affordable homes. Mr Ryan claimed the site could potentially deliver 1,000 new homes close to the city centre.

Mr O’Brien also said that the Land Development Agency (LDA) had commenced Project Tosaigh, which will accelerate work on private developments with over 150 homes, which have planning permission but have been stalled for one reason or another.

Mr Varadkar also said the LDA would be as important to the State in future as the ESB has been for energy and the IDA for investment.

The Housing For All plan will require €4 billion of State funding each year, said the Taoiseach, but that would be supplemented by further €10 billion in private investment. Both he and Mr Varadkar argued that private investment was key, with the Tánaiste saying that home ownership was vital.

“Owning your home is part of our culture… as it gives financial security and roots us in our community.”

The Taoiseach admitted that Covid-19 has had an impact and there were supply-chain difficulties as well as inflationary pressures on the cost of housing. Mr Varadkar and he also accepted that all goals had been reached.

For his part, Mr O’Brien pointed to the fact that 43,500 mortgages had been drawn down in 2021 as a sign that housing development was gaining momentum.

He said that almost 1,600 cost rental houses would be built in 2022 and said the Government would meet its target of supplying 9,000 affordable homes in 2022 and 10,000 social homes. He also claimed that affordable homes would be built at greater scale in the coming year.

Mr O’Brien accepted that homeless figures remained high and said it was a “major concern” for the Government.