Taoiseach says latest rise in homeless numbers ‘extremely disturbing’

Varadkar says he has no difficulty describing situation as an emergency and crisis

Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin said that under Mr Varadkar’s leadership homelessness had gone through the roof, with nearly 10,000 people now homeless in the State

Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin said that under Mr Varadkar’s leadership homelessness had gone through the roof, with nearly 10,000 people now homeless in the State

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has conceded the latest increase in homeless numbers is “extremely disturbing”.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Finance Committee on Thursday, Mr Varadkar argued the State hugely increased the budget for emergency accommodation by €140 million, had committed to build 110,000 social houses over the next 10 years, and had established a new State agency to acquire State lands and build upon them. Yet he accepted there had been not enough visible progress.

“What we are not seeing is the results we would like to see. That is unbelievably frustrating and even more so for those who are homeless.There has been a big and disturbing increase in the number of families in emergency accommodation.”

The Taoiseach came under sustained criticism for the latest spike in homeless figures from Opposition finance spokespeople, primarily Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin and Michael McGrath of Fianna Fáil.

Mr Doherty said that under Mr Varadkar’s leadership homelessness had gone through the roof, with nearly 10,000 people now homeless in the State.

He said the Taoiseach said homelessness was a priority yet homeless champions such as Sr Stanislaus Kennedy and Fr Peter McVerry said they had lost all confidence in the Government.

Mr McGrath said he did not have confidence that the Taoiseach or his Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy were on top of the brief and understood it.

Seven years

When he put it to the Taoiseach did he agree that the situation was getting worse, Mr Varadkar said he did. He said the reason the crisis existed was because of the knock-on effects of seven years of collapse in house-building.

Mr Varadkar said and he had no difficulty in describing the situation as an emergency and crisis. He also claimed that if Opposition parties were in power “they would make a bad situation worse”.

He said he intended to give the homeless crisis “a lot more attention in the coming months”.

In relation to Sr Stanislaus, he said he agreed that there seemed to be no difficulty in quickly building student accommodation or commercial property while residential property was subject to delays. “It does seem to be profitable to build student accommodation and hotels and commercial but not residential property,” he said.

He also accepted that some of the things done by Government in the past had not worked, and agreed that some things suggested by the Opposition might work.

Mr Varadkar was also asked about the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU). An issue had arisen where a media agency that handled an advertorial contract, Mediaforce Ireland, had supplied one version of an email to the Government when it began its inquiry into the Project 2040 controversy. However, a newspaper editor had supplied another version.

Correspondence

The discrepancy had not been settled by the time the general secretary of the Government, Martin Fraser ,completed his review last Monday. Mr Fraser said he had received correspondence since then, but had not time to absorb it. He would revert to the committee once he had.

Paul Murphy of Solidarity said the SCU had become a vessel for propaganda, and also asked Mr Varadkar about news reports where Mediaforce Ireland had directed newspaper editors to make sponsored content look like real news.

Mr Varadkar responded that the review of the campaign had found that decisions to put pictures of Fine Gael politicians in had been taken by local newspapers on their own volition.