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Factchecking the election: Here's how we ranked all the claims made by politicians over the last four weeks

We’ve been keeping an eye on the campaign over the last four weeks to sort out the facts from the waffle.

Image: PA

GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGNS are a time when a lot of big claims get bandied about by politicians. 

Sometimes they’re true. Sometimes they have shades of truth to them. And sometimes they’re so far from the truth that it’s just a blur in the distance. 

TheJournal.ie‘s FactCheck, the only Irish outlet affiliated to the International Fact-Checking Network, has been keeping an eye on the election campaign over the past four weeks to keep readers informed about the truth behind the claims and holding politicians to account for the things that they say. 

At a time when misinformation and false news have become part of the media landscape, especially on social media platforms, factchecking plays a key role in debunking false and misleading information in Irish society. 

We also ran a campaign on Facebook giving people tips on how to look out for false news and helping people to be more media literate. 

Here’s a look at all of our factchecks over the course of this campaign, and how we ranked the claims. 

Is Ireland responsible for just 0.000012% of the world’s carbon emissions?

VERDICT: False 

An image shared on a Facebook page claimed that Ireland was responsible for “almost zero” per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions. However separate figures from the World Bank and the European Commission estimate that Ireland is actually responsible for almost 0.1% of global emissions. 

No, British English isn’t being replaced with Irish English as the EU’s working language 

VERDICT: Nonsense 

An extremely popular article was widely shared on social media saying that the EU had declared that Irish English would replace British English as the union’s primary working language, following the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. The article was published by a satirical site in Luxembourg, however, and never claimed to be true. 

Are there really 20,000 homeless people in Northern Ireland? 

VERDICT: Unproven

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made the claim during the three-way leaders’ debate on RTE’s Prime Time earlier this week. We found that there are 12,512 homeless households in Northern Ireland but there are no figures for the exact number of individuals who are homeless. 

Shane Ross claimed that the FAI rescue package was not a bailout

VERDICT: False

Sports Minister Shane Ross insisted that the rescue deal for the Football Association of Ireland was a simple financial arrangement and not a bailout. According to the standard dictionary definition and the opinions of a number of economists, that claim was not correct. 

Does Ireland spend half a billion a year on the Housing Assistance Payment? 

VERDICT: True 

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said that Ireland is spending half a billion a year on the Housing Assistance Payment to accommodate people on Ireland’s social housing waiting list. The government has indeed allocated half a billion – €503 million – for it in the Budget. 

Does Ireland face a €7 billion euro fine if it doesn’t reduce carbon emissions by the necessary amount? 

VERDICT: Mixture

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that Ireland needs to invest in reducing carbon emissions now, rather than facing a fine of “at least” €7 billion in future for failing to do so. The amount of carbon emissions that Ireland will admit between now and 2030 is neither fixed nor certain – but if Ireland doesn’t offset its admissions and continues to rely on the increasing price of carbon credits, it will likely pay more than €7 billion in carbon credits. 

Was the only money wasted on the National Children’s Hospital the €35 million spent by Fianna Fáil not developing a site at the Mater? 

VERDICT: Nonsense 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hit back at accusations about the overspending on the National Children’s Hospital, claiming that “only” €35 million was wasted on it. It is difficult to define what a waste of money is, especially on a capital project of this size. There are simply too many costs and expenses associated with developing a new paediatric hospital to separate money that is ‘wasted’ from money that is not. 

Does the average person working full-time in Ireland earn €47,000 a year? 

VERDICT: Mostly True 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was using statistics from the CSO when he made the claim that the average person working full-time in Ireland earns €47,000 a year. This figure is the mean average of all earnings of full-time workers in Ireland, rather than an indication of an average (or typical) full-time worker. And if the median — which is generally acknowledged to be a better indicator — was used, this figure is likely to be lower. 

Has the Help-to-Buy Scheme already helped 15,000 to 16,000 people to buy their first home? 

VERDICT: True

Leo Varadkar made this claim defending the government’s Help-to-Buy scheme, which was introduced in Budget 2017 and seeks to help people reach a level of savings required to afford a deposit for a house. Figures from Revenue show that this claim is largely accurate, although the Taoiseach actually underestimated the actual figure slightly. 

Has the housing supply really doubled since 2016? 

VERDICT: Mixture

Leo Varadkar (again) was defending his record on managing the housing crisis, comparing house-building figures from before and after he succeeded Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. His overall figures were accurate, but it was misleading to present two figures which use different methodologies to count the number of completions in different years. 

Are house prices really 20% lower than they were when they peaked under Fianna Fáil?

VERDICT: Mostly False

Leo Varadkar attacked Fianna Fail for overseeing a dramatic rise in house prices during the Celtic Tiger, telling Micheál Martin during a tv debate that house prices have stopped rising and are 20% lower than when they peaked under Fianna Fáil. House prices are still increasing across the country, and are around 16.8% lower than they were at their peak in 2007. 

Were almost no new council houses being built in Ireland when Fine Gael took over the Ministry for Housing three and a half years ago? 

VERDICT: False

The Taoiseach said that the construction of social housing has grown significantly in the past three and a half years. We found that there was a historically low number of units being constructed at the time – however, his claim that 6,500 social housing units were built by local authorities last year is incorrect. 

Has homelessness gone up by 60% in the past four years? 

VERDICT: True

Micheál Martin was strongly critical of Fine Gael’s record on homelessness, claiming it had risen by almost two-thirds since the last government was formed. This is true. Latest figures show that there has been a 60% rise in homelessness since July 2016. 

Are there 1,000  more GPs in Ireland now than there were five years ago? 

VERDICT: Unproven 

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty made this claim in response to criticism from Fianna Fáil over Fine Gael’s record on health. There is no central register of GPs working in Ireland and it is difficult to ascertain how many GPs are currently working here. To claim that there are 1,000 more GPs working in Ireland than five years ago cannot be backed up. 

Does Ireland have the lowest level of homeownership now since 1971? 

VERDICT: True

Micheál Martin made this claim several times over the course of the election campaign, accusing Fine Gael of presiding over an economy that has the lowest rate of homeownership in 50 years. He was right – but it ignores the fact that Fianna Fáil was in power for 16 years of the period during which homeownership rates have declined. 

Did Micheál Martin cut hospital waiting lists to six months when he was Minister for Health? 

VERDICT: Mostly False 

Both Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar had to defend their records as Ministers for Health during the campaign, and Martin’s claim that he cut hospital waiting lists to six months came up several times. He did introduce measures to tackle waiting lists, but they were not all reduced to six months and many people were still waiting for longer. 

Has Fine Gael Minister Regina Doherty ensured waiting staff are legally entitled to 100% of their tips? 

VERDICT: False

Regina Doherty claimed in a piece of literature that she had “ensured that tips in our hospitality sector are paid to employees and not withheld”. The planned legislation for this has not yet passed the Dáil, so this claim was rated false. Her spokesperson told us that it was a “typo” in the campaign literature and that the legislation was a “priority” for the minister that would likely have been passed within a few months if the Dáil hadn’t been dissolved. 

Did Paschal Donohoe meet any individual insurance company in the midst of the insurance crisis? 

VERDICT: Mixed

Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath criticised Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe for not meeting with any insurance companies last year, despite the major issues with the cost of insurance in Ireland. His comments were accurate based on the information provided to him, which had covered the period up until November 2019, but Donohoe did meet with a number of insurance companies after this. 

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