Thursday 13 December 2018

Taoiseach condemned by Sinn Fein over rising rents and homelessness

Leo Varadkar hit back at Mary-Lou McDonald by claiming if she cared about homeless, her party would tackle it in Londonderry where they have power.

Ireland’s housing crisis has sparked protests as well as clashes between politicians in the Dail (Brian Lawless/PA)
Ireland’s housing crisis has sparked protests as well as clashes between politicians in the Dail (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Rebecca Black, Press Association

The Taoiseach has come under fire in the Dail over rising homelessness figures.

During Leaders Questions on Wednesday, Sinn Fein President Mary-Lou McDonald accused Leo Varadkar of “failing” to address the matter.

In response, Mr Varadkar claimed if Ms McDonald “really cared” about homelessness, her party would act to address it in Londonderry where there is a Sinn Fein MP, a Sinn Fein controlled council and they could be in government.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accused Sinn Fein President Mary-Lou McDonald of “weaponising” homelessness (Tom Honan/PA)

The powersharing government in Northern Ireland has been collapsed since January 2017 following a break down in relations between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein.

The exchange in the Dail was the second clash between the pair over the issue in as many days.

Almost 10,000 people are recorded as homeless, according to the latest statistics.

Figures from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, released on Monday, found a 40% increase in the number of people sleeping rough.

Some 156 people were sleeping rough in the capital compared to 110 last spring.

Ms McDonald also lashed Mr Varadkar over the issue of rising rents.

A report by housing charity Threshold this week revealed that despite a cap of 4%, rents in Dublin increased by more than 10% last year.

Mrs McDonald put to Mr Varadkar: “It’s time for you to accept that your approach to tackling rent increases has categorically failed.

“We need urgent and decisive action to tackle all of this. We need a tax relief for renters and a three-year emergency rent freeze.”

Mr Varadkar responded by saying his government is looking at income tax cuts to benefit more people than he said her plan would.

“What we are doing in the budget is providing an income tax reduction for over a million people because we recognise they are people who are struggling to pay the rent,” he said.

The Taoiseach also claimed Mrs McDonald was “weaponising homelessness”.

He put to her that her party is not acting on homelessness in Londonderry where earlier this week it emerged that footballer James McClean had paid for some rough sleepers to stay in hotels.

“I think that’s a really admirable thing for him to do … but this is the city of Derry which has a Sinn Fein MP, a council in which Sinn Fein is the largest party and is in Northern Ireland where you are supposed to be in government,” Mr Varadkar said.

“So again for you to come into this House making out once again that you have some sort of monopoly on compassion, you don’t because if you really did care about homelessness people you would get busy dealing with it in Derry.

“But you don’t want to do that because you don’t really care, you just want to weaponise homeless people, vulnerable people to score political points for your party, and that is just disreputable.”

Press Association

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