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The Taoiseach is back from the Fine Gael Conference in Cavan, where he made a number of announcements.

However, his replies to questions asked by TheJournal.ie have put him in hot water in the last few days.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald asked him about affordable housing and homelessness, while Fianna Fáil asked for clarity on what the government knew about the legal strategy being used against Maurice McCabe.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan asked for Dáil protection during an extraordinary exchange that saw him accuse Labour’s Alan Kelly of launching a “smear campaign”.

The minister interrupted normal proceedings to urge the Ceann Comhairle to reign in his former Cabinet colleague who up until that point hadn’t actually spoken in the chamber.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin was in the process of questioning Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about suggestions that the Department of Justice was aware ex-Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan planned to challenge whistleblower Maurice  McCable’s “credibility and motivation” at the O’Higgins Commission.

Mr Howlin demanded to know where officials knew of the strategy “to go after” the whistleblower.

In response Mr Varadkar said Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who was justice minister at the time, “had no prior knowledge of the legal strategy”.

And he said the Department of Justice only became aware of the strategy “after cross examination had taken place”.

The Taoiseach then went on the offensive saying that Labour have been briefing journalists that there is “some allegation here that is explosive”.

“If the Labour Party has an allegation, make it here,” Mr Varadkar said.

At this point Mr Flanagan asked to make a point of order, saying: “I will not have my good name questioned by Alan Kelly either inside this House or outside.”

He claimed there was a “smear campaign against me personally”.







Did the minister or his predecessor had knowledge or aware of the legal strategy being pursued by the former Garda Commisioner agianst Maurice McCabe that you were able to do soyesterday when asked in this house was possobelt ot answer these questions i cant see any reason why the minister couldnt have done so

we are stilll unclear the level of inv or know of hte dept of justice about the strat

you said in this house that the dept jst is a big place that many peopel are on it

as things stand cant find any record of being informed about the start the comm was giong to pursude

have you spoke dir to sec gen

are you happy on the assurances for you to confimr to the hsousethat  eh dept was not awayre of the start to quote “go after” mccabce

you said yesterday that tanaiste found out after the fact but around the same time it was in the pblicdomain and that everyhone else knoew about it end quote

now this matter only ame in to domain when it was reported by mick clifford and katie hannon after the ocmmittins reported in may 2016 a full  year after the strat to go after mccabe was set out by the commission

for it to be true the tainaite did not become aware of this when it was in the public domain we must believe two thingts

ths house exp beleive the dept didnt receive any correspndence

Varadkar is now being asked about the Strategic Banking Infrastructure. He says it has lent about 850 million and rates are about 1.15% lower than normal loans.

He says the majority goes to businesses outside Dublin.

Michael Lowry has concerns about it being anti-competitive and that there is unrealistic criteria to be eligible to the scheme.

He says the SBI should come before the Finance Committee to ensure it is delivering on its remit and to ensure there is sufficient oversight by the department.

Clare Daly wants to know when recommendations from a Garda Inspectorate report and when a new Garda Commissioner will be appointed.

He says he wants a new Garda Commissioner to be appointed “sooner rather than later”.

Varadkar says he met with Kathleen O’Toole , the chair the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland while in Seattle.

He said the reforms needed in Irish force are similar to what she dealt with in the Seattle force.

He says it will be important for the new commissioner to bring in their own team, adding that he doesn’t think one person can bring about change.

He said Gardai are doing jobs like IT and HR, and that needs to be changed, adding civilianisation of the force is underway.

Varadkar says advertisement for the role of garda commissioner will be announced before the end of this year, stating that the government will not be waiting for the future of policing report before appointing a new commissioner.

He tells the House that a memo was brought to Cabinet about the appointment by the Policing Authority of a PSNI officer to the gardaí. “That is practical reform,” he says.

“You will see more of that in the weeks and months ahead,” he said.

He says that McDonald does not have a monopoly on compassion, stating that everyone knows someone who has been impacted by the housing crisis and knows people that cannot get on the property ladder.

He repeats a statement he used in his Cavan speech that homelessness is a stain on Irish society.

Varadkar says the OECD report he cited was from 2017, adding that he was asked about Ireland having the highest figures.

Here’s how it played out down in Cavan when TheJournal.ie asked the Taoiseach about homelessness in Ireland:

“How can you make such a statement when Ireland has one of the highest figures to date?” Homeless figures rose to its highest figure in September to 8,300.

“We are actually a country by international standards compared with our peers that has a low level of homelessness.”

“What stats are those? Per capita?” asked TheJournal.ie.

“They’re the stats and we can provide them for you and that is of course is a good thing. It’s a good thing that in Ireland we’ve a low level of homelessness compared to our peer countries.

“But what’s better than that is that we don’t think that’s good enough and we want to continue to reduce homelessness in the years ahead.”

Does Ireland not have one of the highest figures the country has ever seen, asked TheJournal.ie.

“Yes, yes obviously homelessness and the number of people in emergency accommodation has increased over the last number of years, but by international standards homeless in Ireland is low but that is not good enough. We want to turn the tide on it.”

He says the Cabinet approved an amendment to the Finance Bill ensuring that the Department of Finance have to produce a report on vacant homes.

McDonald says last week he couldn’t give a definition of affordable housing — you can read all about that here, where we breakdown the numbers for you:

Leo Varadkar has been criticised for calling houses starting at €315,000 ‘affordable’

She says at the weekend he referenced an out of date OECD report on homelessness — read what he said here:

Leo Varadkar: ‘Ireland has one of the lowest levels of homelessness’

Mary Lou  McDonald is up and she says the Taoiseach’s housing plans are failing, highlighting the Daft report published today.

She says he has to stop “normalising” homelessness, and wants him to commit to bringing in an affordable housing scheme.

Varadkar welcomes McDonald back to the Dail stating that he understands she was on a fundraising trip to US. “I hope that went well,” he said.

Daft and ESRI reports add to understanding of the issues, says the Taoiseach.

He says what Ireland needs is supply – and he’s listing off some of the Budget announcements.

Michel Martin is asking what the government knew about the legal strategy being taken against Maurice McCabe by former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.

‘What are they hiding from?’: Pressure on government on what it knew about McCabe smear plans

He said Labour’s Alan Kelly’s parliamentary questions are not getting answers.

Leo Varadkar said he wants to find the truth behind the whole “sorry affair” which is why they commissioned an investigation and tribunal.

He said the Justice Minister has written to Ceann Comhairle about the questions put forward by Kelly to ensure they are answered.

Varadkar said everyone on the government benches want to know why McCabe was treated the way he was.

He said he spoke to Frances Fitzgerald and asked her what she knew.

“She had no hand, act or part in forming legal strategy,” he says.

“Nor did she have any prior knowledge,” he says, adding that she did find out about it after the fact when everyone else knew about it as well.

He adds that Charlie Flanagan had “no hand, act or part” he added.

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