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'A total disaster': Varadkar criticised over comments saying Govt needs 'another go' at housing

Labour’s Rebecca Moynihan was critical of the Tánaiste, calling for him to ‘roll up his sleeves’ and deliver.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar
Image: Sam Boal

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has been criticised by the opposition for his comments on housing, with TDs calling for a complete break with current Government policy.

In an interview with The Journal, Varadkar said that the current housing and homelessness crisis was a “breach in the social contract” and that while current policies were working, they weren’t working fast enough.

“I think we need to have another go at housing really, and seeing what we can do. Because while our plans are working, they’re not working fast enough and that’s very obvious to me,” he said. 

There has been significant criticism from opposition spokespeople over Varadkar’s comments, with Labour’s housing spokesperson Rebecca Moynihan calling on the Tánaiste to “roll up his sleeves” and deliver.

“The man who as Taoiseach said in 2019 that Rebuilding Ireland was delivering and as Tánaiste signed off on Housing For All now says that his government policies are failing,” Senator Moynihan said.

“The Tánaiste needs to stop pretending to be a commentator, roll up his sleeves and deliver on direct build state housing and scale up cost rental targets to meet the needs of a growing population.” 

Moynihan added that expecting the private sector to deliver on housing was similar to expecting private healthcare providers to deliver an overall health service.

Housing spokesperson for the Social Democrats, Cian O’Callaghan hit out at Varadkar’s comments, saying that he was blaming the speed of delivery rather than the Government’s own housing policies.

“You don’t have to be a housing policy expert to recognise that speed of delivery is not the problem. Fine Gael has now had more than a decade to make progress in housing. Instead, under its watch, the crisis is deepening and getting worse,” O’Callaghan said, in a Voices column published this afternoon.

O’Callaghan in particular focused on the Government missing targets for house building, saying that while 9,500 social homes was the target in 2021, only 5,202 were delivered.

“At every turn, targets and commitments are missed. Now, apparently, Mr Varadkar thinks the government “need to have another go at housing” – a remark that will send shivers down the spines of renters and those hoping to buy a home.

“At what point will Mr Varadkar acknowledge the blindingly obvious and stop making pathetic excuses? It is Fine Gael’s disastrous housing policies that have resulted in a housing emergency that has morphed into a social catastrophe,” O’Callaghan added.

People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, also criticised Varadkar, calling Housing for All “a total disaster”.

“Rents are utterly out of control and unaffordable for the vast majority of people. Evictions and homelessness are at shamefully high levels, and the delivery of social housing is pitifully slow and a whole generation of young people will never be able to afford a home of their own,” Boyd Barrett said.

“The government must break from their failed policy of depending on the private market and start to deliver social and affordable housing at scale directly themselves.”

Varadkar said that he believed the Government needed to do more for renters, but couched expectations of what people could expect on Budget day.

“What I just don’t want to do is raise the expectation that on Budget day, this will be the day when there’s another major housing initiative. But just because it doesn’t happen on Budget day doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t happen,” said Varadkar.

“I think we need to do more for renters,” he added.

Varadkar told The Journal that he believed Ireland won’t have turned a corner on the housing crisis until people in their late 20s and early 30s are able to own their own homes.

“The key thing for me is turning the tide on home-ownership,” he said.

Aontú TD, Peadar Tóibín said the there needed to be an “emergency response” to the ongoing housing crisis.

“It’s staggering that Leo Varadkar can acknowledge that the housing crisis has become a national emergency and then not take appropriate measures to ameliorate the crisis. A national emergency demands an emergency response,” Tóibín said.

He added that Fine Gael was “ideologically opposed” to fixing the housing crisis and blamed partially a lack of social housing.

“10 years into the housing crisis, there are still not enough social homes being built. Fine Gael even ceded the government’s responsibility in social housing to investor funds by allowing these funds to sidestep 10% stamp duty if they lease back houses to the state for social housing.”

Additional reporting by Christina Finn.

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