Barry Cowen, the Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly, has stood over comments he made to the Dáil where he compared extending the eviction ban to “making sweets free” for children.
Mr Cowen did say he was sorry if some people were offended by it. He said it was nothing more than an analogy he used to show that extending the eviction ban was merely a stopgap solution. He said that Opposition TDs who expressed outrage at the comments were being pedantic, focusing on words not the message.
“If what I said was offensive, it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a pity and I’m sorry that some people might have been offended but it certainly wasn’t my intention to do so,” he said.
Mr Cowen spoke during the debate on the confidence motion in the Government on Wednesday morning. He told the Dáil that extending the eviction ban would be like “making sweets free” for children. “It’s fine for a little while but ultimately detrimental to the greater need.”
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Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin tweeted that the comments were met “with stunned faces around me”. He labelled the remarks as “disgraceful”.
He called on Mr Cowen to apologise for the remarks as did Social Democrats TD Cain O’Callaghan who said they lacked compassion and were a new low as they compared children getting free sweets with people facing eviction.
In comments indicating his view that the Opposition had over-reacted to his comments, Mr Cowen said: “It was just an analogy in an effort to prove that further eviction was merely a stopgap solution rather than a concrete measure which people demand.
“The opposition has created the impression that extending the ban would wipe away the notices (to quit) that have been issued during the period of the ban.
“You cannot bring forward retrospective laws to wipe away those notices that will come into effect in the coming months.”
He said the notices to quit would have come into effect in any instance notwithstanding the extensions of the ban.
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Asked if his use of the sweets analogy was appropriate, Mr Cowen said: “It is pedantic, a focus on words, not the message.
“TDs have an immediate responsibility in their own constituencies. I’ve had 20 or so cases of tenants facing notices to quit in the coming months,” he said.
“The Government has instructed councils to purchase those homes, in certain circumstances. That’s a permanent solution. And I think that’s what TDs should be focused on.
“I could have said ‘clearing the clutter by pushing it into the cupboard’ or I could have said ‘papering over the cracks’.
Asked if comparing children’s teeth to people being evicted, he said he was using an analogy for a short term solution, like sweeping something under the carpet.
“I can’t understand it. Aodhán Ó Riordáin and Cian O’Callaghan are looking to shift attention away from their own (positions),” he said.