Varadkar and Martin trade insults in Dáil housing row

FF leader says Taoiseach is acting ‘cowardly’, and is accused of ‘paper thin’ policy-making in return

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of having an attitude of ‘let’s blame everybody else but ourselves’. Photograph: James Forde/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of having an attitude of ‘let’s blame everybody else but ourselves’. Photograph: James Forde/The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin traded insults in the Dáil on Tuesday in a row over housing as the issue begins to dominate the byelections campaign.

Such was the level of animosity that Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said it would probably be “a futile request on my part to leave the campaigning outside the chamber”.

Mr Martin accused the Government of having an attitude of “let’s blame everybody else but ourselves” as he sharply criticised Mr Varadkar for assigning responsibility on local authorities for the housing crisis.

He said the Taoiseach was being “cowardly and cynical” in attempting blame councils following a report that the Government was considering taking housing powers from councils to quicken the delivery of new homes and deal with homelessness.

“Blame the councils is your response to hide your own ineptitude,” Mr Martin said in the wake of a row over the proposed development of O’Devaney Garden in Dublin.

Mr Martin said councils had few housing powers and were often held “in a straitjacket” by the Department of Housing.

Government permission was required when a housing project exceeded €2 million, about 10 new homes, and the time to clear such projects took over a year, the Fianna Fáil leader said.

He added that big housing projects no longer required council planning permission but that had not speeded up delivery with some 10,000 approved new homes still waiting to be built.

The Taoiseach, however, rounded on the Fianna Fáil leader and accused him of being “partisan” pointing to data from the Central Statistics Office which showed 20,000 homes had been built last year, the largest number this century.

He said Mr Martin’s “usual outrage” could not be used because the CSO figures were independent.

Those 20,000 homes were an increase of 22 per cent on the previous year.

Mr Varadkar added that 11,000 more social homes would be provided this year, the largest number for many years.

He said there were no proposals currently planned to take housing powers from councils.

However, Mr Varadkar pointed out that councils did have responsibilities and he said Fianna Fáil councillors last week objected to a new housing development in Galway.

The Taoiseach accused Fianna Fáil of failing to act on its own long-standing promise to deliver a coherent policy plan on housing.

And said Mr Martin delivered a “paper thin” housing policy when he addressed the Ógra Fianna Fáil conference last weekend.