Murphy insists Government has no ‘ideological position on housing’

Varadkar and McDonald trade accusations in testy exchanges as mass protest takes place

Protestors from the 'Take Back the City' campaign staged a sit-down outside the Department of Taoiseach blocking traffic.

 

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has insisted that the Government has no ideological position on housing.

Repeatedly accused of leaving housing to the market, Mr Murphy said: “I want to see houses being built in the rights locations for all over our people in the right locations and I want to see that happening quickly. And I will use any method at my disposal to do that.

“And I will not oppose any local authority buying or long-term leasing of homes if it gets more families out of homelessness more quickly,” he said.

Mr Murphy was speaking as the Dáil debated the People Before Profit/Solidarity motion supported by the entire Opposition which calls on the Government to declare the housing crisis an emergency and to introduce legislation to make it illegal for tenants and homeowners in mortage distress to be evicted.

The motion also called for the right to housing to be enshrined in the Constitution.

The debate followed a two-hour protest by the ‘Raise the Roof’ campaign outside Leinster House calling for action on housing.

In the debate, Mr Murphy said legislation would be introduced within the next couple of weeks to strengthen rent caps, which would make a difference to tens of thousands of people across the State.

He urged TDs not to object to housing projects in their constituencies from this point on. “None of us should leave today and oppose development of housing in our own constituencies”.

Earlier there were sharp exchanges in the Dáil as the Taoiseach defended the Government’s housing policy.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on the Taoiseach to acknowledge there was an emergency. He said the level of homelessness was an “appalling blight on our society”.

Leo Varadkar said that “of course there is an emergency” and that he had said that previously. “If it wasn’t an emergency, we wouldn’t be spending €60 million a year to put people up in emergency accommodation, we would not have brought in rent caps in urban areas and we wouldn’t have fast-track planning.”

He said they would build 20,000 this year, up 5,000 on last year, and 50,000 or 60,000 people would get the key to a new home, which was “real delivery”.

Exchanges became very testy when Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of being timid in its housing policy and a “lackey of the landlords”.

When Mr Varadkar accused her of only being interested in taking party political advantage of the crisis, she said he should meet protesters outside Leinster House with her and “test who has credibility” on the issue.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said at least 30 Fine Gael TDs who were landlords should abstain in the vote on the cross-party motion to avoid a conflict of interest. Mr Varadkar accused Ms Smith of being a “populist” with easy answers that did not work.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said he would introduce legislation for the third time to have the right to housing enshrined in the Constitution.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the motion was a “litmus test” for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

“Are you on the side of those hundreds of thousands of people who need a secure affordable roof over their head or are you on the side of vultures, property speculators, corporate landlords or other people who are obscenely profiting from the human misery that is the housing emergency.”

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin welcomed Fianna Fáil’s support for the motion but said they could not support the people in the protest and then support an anti-housing budget next week.