Sharp exchanges in Dáil as Holly Cairns attacks Taoiseach over ‘disastrous’ housing policy

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns

Maeve McTaggart

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns has claimed the Government is defined by a “long litany of broken promises and an abject failure on housing”.

Tense exchanges in the chamber this afternoon saw the Taoiseach battle claims by Ms Cairns that the Government “has never made the right decision on housing” and its policies are “blatantly going around in circles” and causing “misery”.

“No area is immune from the wrecking ball of your disastrous housing policy,” she said.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that there is a housing emergency, partly caused by a deficit of approximately 250,000 units across the country.

He said there has not been a government in his or Ms Cairns’ lifetimes that has been as committed to building social housing as the Coalition.

Around 8,000 new social houses were built last year – the most since 1975, he said, asking Ms Cairns to acknowledge “some progress is being made”.

“I don’t know who you’re trying to kid – I don’t know is it opposition, the electorate, or is it yourself?” Ms Cairns asked- him, before accusing the Government of having a “failed” housing policy.

“You told us recently that you turned a corner on housing. We’ve been listening to you say that since 2014; nine years of ‘turning corners’.

“Taoiseach, it should be clear to you now, you are not turning corners, you are blatantly going around in circles.”

She claimed current housing policy is a “failure” that is causing “trauma and devastation”.

The Taoiseach said he had “never said” the country was “turning a corner on housing,” saying it was the Tánaiste who said it, in relation to new home construction.

“Deputy, when I see posters for your party, I see the three things that you say you stand for - one of the things being ‘honest politics’.

“Deputy, it is not honest politics to falsify quotes or misquote me or to misrepresent the Tánaiste,” he said, before referencing the Government’s current record on social housing.

The Taoiseach also told People Before Proft-Solidarity TD, Mick Barry, that the Government is “built to last,” despite accusations that support is “shrinking” in the Dáil ahead of today’s vote, on a non-binding Sinn Féin motion to extend the eviction ban.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of “escalating a housing crisis that is already out of control” and “choosing to make people homeless” by lifting the ban.

She said housing “will not be fixed by a tired, jaded government that has thrown in the towel”.

Mr Varadkar said the parties merely disagree on what the “right thing” to do to address the housing crisis is and claimed Sinn Féin is “deliberately stoking up additional anxiety and additional fears for people who have enough to worry about as it is”.

The Taoiseach said he wanted to remind Sinn Féin that when the eviction ban was put in place in October, they also voted for the eviction ban to end on March 31.