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Varadkar says he doesn't believe reimposing the eviction ban would reverse rising homeless numbers

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said the decision to end the ban was ‘cruel and heartless’.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Mar 2023

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said if there is a massive increase in homelessness, a reimposition of the eviction ban for a number of months would not reverse it, in his view.

Speaking to an Oireachtas committee this morning, Varadkar said following the lifting of the eviction ban at the end of this month could result in an rise in the number of people in state provided accommodation.

The ban did not reduce homelessness, he pointed out to committee members, stating that the Government wants to avoid numbers escalating upwards by stepping up homeless prevention.

His comments come the day after he told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that there is a shortfall of approximately 250,000 homes in the country at present. 

Speaking at the committee meeting today, the Taoiseach said he has yet to receive the Housing Commission’s report that will set out revised housing targets, adding that he has a “rough idea” of what it will propose.

The Housing for All plan already set out a plan to scale up to 40,000 houses per year, but the Taoiseach said he would like to go higher. 

There is a need to scale up as fast as possible, he said.

When asked if takes full responsibility for the state of the housing crisis, Varadkar said:

“As Taoiseach and as head of Government, I accept full responsibility for dealing with the housing crisis.”

Home ownership among young people is at an all time low, he acknowledged. “I was 23 when I left home,” he said. Now people are staying “four or five years more than they would have” at home, he added.

Getting local authorities to buy up more rental properties will be an enormous job, Varadkar said.

He said it will be the job of the housing minister and himself to “really sit on the local authorities and make sure that they do this”, he said.

Varadkar said he was “disappointed at the extent this has been done up until now”. He appealed to city and county managers to embrace the measure of buy ups. 

First time buyers who plan to buy in the years to come have in their mind set on availing of the Help to Buy scheme and the First Home scheme, he said.

They “might be taken away from them if there is a change in Government”, he said, pointing to Sinn Féin’s intention to scrap the measures. 

Heated Leaders’ Questions

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The Taoiseach’s comments coincide with heated exchanges in the Dáil chamber today as party leaders grilled Tánaiste Micheál Martin on the government’s decision not to extend the eviction moratorium.

Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said the decision to end the ban was “cruel and heartless”, remarking that bodies such as the Dublin Region Homeless Executive have said that emergency accommodation is currently at capacity.

“There are thousands of evictions that will come live in the next number of weeks and months. I have a simple question for you: Where are they to go?

“Local authorities are telling us there are no emergency accommodation,” Doherty said, raising his voice.

Martin criticised Sinn Féin for opposing various government schemes to tackle the housing crisis, and accused the party of talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Assuming a mocking tone, he said: “You’re demonising landlords for the last three or four years. You want them out of the market, but then up comes your housing spokesperson [saying]: ‘I’m a very reasonable man. I will talk to landlords I’m even talking to developers.’

Screenshot 2023-03-09 at 12.07.10

“Pearse Doherty will come in and say: ‘You’re all developer led, your corporate investment led’. I mean, the hypocrisy of it.

Doherty attempted to speak over Martin several times, leading Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl to admonish him and warn that he would suspend the session if the interruptions continued.

‘Half-baked plans’

Martin said that Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has issued a directive to local authorities to purchase a rental house if a tenant is in financial difficulty and could face eviction.

He also referred to legislation which is being drawn up to ensure that landlords selling a property must first offer the property for sale to the tenant in situ.

O’Brien admitted yesterday that homelessness figures may rise as a result of the ban being ended.

Asking whether the decision to end the ban was reflective of “Fianna Fáil values”, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said these “half-baked” plans would not be in place “for many months – and that’s an optimistic appraisal.

“We’re told landlords will be compelled to give their tenants tenants first refusal when they sell it. No one in government can tell us when that legislation will be enacted, or even drafted.”

Cairns said: “What you are doing is a choice. You’re not being forced to do this. There are other options.

“I’ve listened to the attempts to justify the shameful decision with an increasing sense of disgust and utter disbelief. Who do you think you’re kidding?”

Martin responded: “33,000 young people have benefited from the Help to Buy scheme. Over 1100 people have benefited from the First Home scheme. And I’d point out that your party opposed both schemes.

He added that “I think Fianna Fáil values were reflected when we decided to form the government to take on the housing portfolio,” pointing out that nearly 10,000 social homes were delivered last year, the highest number since 1975.

“Fine, you can oppose, but you need to come up with real solutions. Because ultimately the solution here is supply.”

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett excoriated Martin for the “absolutely unforgivable” decision to end the ban.

He read out a number of examples of families he had met who were facing eviction, saying: “There is nothing being offered to them. There are no options available and the private rental accommodation out there is absolutely unaffordable.”

He said the average rent in his constituency of Dun Laoghaire is €2,900, while the highest amount payable under the Housing Assistance Payment is €900.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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