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Varadkar understands why people might be 'sceptical' that Fine Gael can solve the homeless crisis

The Taoiseach says his party does not lack compassion when it comes to solving the crisis.

Image: Leah Farrell

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he can understand why people might be “skeptical” that Fine Gael can solve the housing and homelessness crisis. 

Making his comments at his party’s annual think-in taking place in Galway this year, he said the rise in the number of people in emergency accommodation cannot be described as progress. 

In September last year, when the last party think-in was held, there were 8,300 people homeless. That figure now stands at 9,891.

This is Leo Varadkar’s second think-in as Taoiseach. His first inning got him in a bit of hot water when he was heavily criticised for comments he made to this website insisting that Ireland has “one of the lowest levels of homelessness” despite a record number of people living in emergency accommodation.

His remarks dominated the news cycle for the following two weeks.  

This year’s theme for the party away days is “purpose” and “progress”, however when asked how the rise in homeless figures can be described as progress, the Taoiseach admitted it cannot. 

I don’t think the rise in the number of people in emergency accommodation can be described as progress. It is evident to everyone we are still going in the wrong direction when it comes to emergency accommodation.
We are by no means in denial about that but it is something we are working on. Just like the economic crisis or the employment crisis it can take time for policies to work and for people to see those results in their communities and in their lives, but it is something we are determined to do.

During his speech at the party’s national conference last year, the Taoiseach said that only “cynical” people say that his party cannot solve the crisis, but when asked if he still believes that is the case, he replied:

Eh, I am not sure I would use the term cynical. I can understand why people are sceptical. If there was a quick fix solution to this problem I think other political parties would have put that forward.

He also utterly rejected the suggestion that Fine Gael lacks compassion in terms of dealing with the homeless crisis. 

“I totally reject that,” he told reporters. 

This is not a case of a lack of commitment or a lack of compassion.

In his speech to party members today, which, in a departure from last year, was closed off to the media this afternoon, Varadkar said:

All of us here fully appreciate the extent and depth of the housing crisis and the enormous challenge of homelessness. We all know it in particular from our work as constituency TDs. We know the individual cases and we see the bigger picture.

Let there be no mistake, Fine Gael believes firmly that every family should have a place to call home.

Fine Gael is the party of home ownership and it is our mission to ensure that home ownership becomes achievable and affordable again for many who today feel it is beyond their reach.

 The Taoiseach also used his speech to thank the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

“I want to commend Eoghan Murphy and all that he has done in the last year to improve a very difficult situation that was many years if not decades in the making,” he said. 

9718 Fine Gael think In_90553294 Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy at the party's think-in in Galway Source: Leah Farrell

Murphy has come in for heavy criticism over the summer, with Sinn Féin committing to putting down a motion of no confidence in the minister when the Dáil returns. However, it is not likely to result in his removal, as Fianna Fáil have said it will not support it. 

While the Taoiseach said this year’s Budget will not be a housing budget, stating that throwing money at the situation will not necessarily solve it, he did point out what progresses he believes his government are making in the area.

While there is a lack of progress in terms of those in emergency accommodation, there is progress in other areas, such as new house builds, the beginning of rent stabilisation and a fall off in the number of rough sleepers, he said.

“The number of rough sleepers is down by about 40% and that is evident to people who walk around Dublin that there are fewer rough sleepers than there were than this time last year and that is because of Housing First [policy] and our partnership with the Peter McVerry Trust, which is working on that front.

“The number of new homes built – 4,400 new homes built-in the last three months – more than were built-in the entire year of 2010 – so I don’t think anyone can deny that progress. And if you look at official statistics when it comes to rent, the ESRI and RTB statistics – you see rent increases of about 2% over the past six months as opposed to double-digit increases we would have had in the past.

“So there are areas we do have progress in compared to last year – new homes, rough sleeping and the beginning to stabilise rents. We aren’t seeing that progress yet reflected in emergency accommodation, but we are going to keep working,” said the Taoiseach.

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