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Taoiseach declares homeless and housing crisis a national emergency

Leo Varadkar said the latest homeless figures are “disturbing”.

THE TAOISEACH HAS told an Oireachtas Committee today that the housing and homeless crisis is a national emergency.

Yesterday, the government published its latest report for February, with the figure for homeless adults at 6,052 and the number of homeless children at 3,755, meaning just shy of 10,000 people are now homeless in Ireland.

Leo Varadkar said the latest figures show a “disturbing increase” in the number of families becoming homeless.

He said he had no difficulty in describing the crisis as a “national emergency”.

However, he said making such a declaration will not speed-up the number of houses that are built.

“Yes it is an emergency, but declaring it an emergency doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

The increase in figures is “extremely frustrating”, said Varadkar, adding that dealing with the issue is a government priority.

‘You’ve some cheek on you’ 

“You’ve some cheek on you,” Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty told the Taoiseach, who suggested that the opposition’s proposals would make the homeless crisis worse.

Doherty said calling the crisis a national emergency means that emergency actions should be taken.

Varadkar said the issue of homelessness is something he is going to “pay a lot more attention to” in the coming months.

Some members of the committee questioned such a statement, adding that the issue should have been a primary focus for the Taoiseach over the last year.

Evictions

Doherty said evictions is one of the reasons behind the increase in family homelessness.

Evictions are a matter for the courts, said the Taoiseach, though he did state the government do intend to bring in new laws to protect families from evictions and empower courts not to evict families.

He added:

There are some circumstances where people have the money to pay the rent and they don’t.

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said he did not get the impression that the government is on top of the problem. “Promise after promise have been broken,” he said.

“I won’t contend that homelessness isn’t getting worse, that is evident,” replied the Taoiseach, adding:

The trend is in the wrong direction over the last couple of months.

The Taoiseach made an observation about the boost in construction – pointing out that a lot more hotels and student accommodation is being built.

While he said residential construction is on the rise, it is not at the same pace as commercial property.

The government now needs to question why it is seen as economically profitable for builders to build commercial property and not residential, he told the committee.

Over the next couple of weeks the Taoiseach said he plans to find out why this is the case and to ensure that any government policy is not inadvertently making things worse.

He said some government policy, while “well-intentioned might have been counterproductive”.

Later in the Dáil, both the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and the Tánaiste Simon Coveney faced criticism over the latest homeless figures.

Doherty said the housing minister’s position was “becoming increasingly untenable”.

The Donegal TD asked Coveney was he “embarrassed” by the latest housing figures.

“What level of child homelessness do we need to achieve before Minister Murphy’s position becomes untenable?” asked Doherty.

“It does upset me as an individual, and as a father, as well as a minister,” replied the Tánaiste.

Read: Committee raises stigmatisation concerns over the use of ‘welfare cheats’ term in department campaign>

Read: ‘It’s not good enough’: Committee says better oversight of how RTÉ spends taxpayers’ money is needed>

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