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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Taoiseach warns colleagues of snap election threat over housing crisis

  • Varadkar warns Fine Gael to be on guard for snap election in coming weeks
  • Opposition parties may move on Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy
  • Housing Minister faced criticism in Dáil yesterday over mounting problems in housing sector
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has warned Fine Gael to be on guard for a snap election in the coming weeks if opposition parties move on Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

The minister, who took office a year ago today, faced a barrage of criticism in the Dáil yesterday over the mounting problems in the housing sector.

All parties rounded on Mr Murphy for the lack of progress on tackling key issues such as affordable homes, rising rents and homelessness.

As a result, housing dominated a private meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators last night where most were sympathetic to the minister's efforts.

But sources say the growing unease over the housing crisis prompted the Taoiseach to issue a stark warning.

For over a month Sinn Féin has been "considering" a motion of no confidence in Mr Murphy. There are deep suspicions in Government circles that they will place it just before the Dáil is due to take its summer break on July 12.

Mr Varadkar told his party that if this occurs there is a strong likelihood of an immediate election. Under the confidence and supply arrangement, Fianna Fáil is obliged to back any minister in such a vote.

However, Micheál Martin's party is becoming increasingly frustrated by the failure of the Government's 'Rebuilding Ireland' project to make an impact on the crisis.

In the Dáil yesterday, their recently appointed housing spokesman Darragh O'Brien accused Mr Murphy of spreading "absolute fantasy".

"He said that the social and affordable housing supply is being dramatically increased. Is he kidding me?

"We built 396 houses last year and he bought the rest. We are failing on this issue," Mr O'Brien said.

At last night's meeting, Mr Varadkar said that if a Sinn Féin motion were to fail in a Dáil vote, then Fianna Fáil would take "a kicking".

One source told the Irish Independent: "The Taoiseach put us on alert that there are two ways this can go. Either an election or Fianna Fáil gets a kicking."

Earlier this week Sinn Féin paid for a billboard with Mr Murphy's image and a list of the problems in the housing sector to be driven around Dublin city centre.

Mr Murphy sought to defend his record yesterday after People Before Profit placed a Dáil motion seeking new measures to deal with land hoarding and property speculation.

The minister listed what he sees as the progress that has been made in the past year.

Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin, who is threatening the no confidence motion, said he was "running out of adjectives to describe the minister's speeches to the House".

"The gap between what the minister is telling us week in and week out and the reality we are all experiencing in our constituencies is growing ever greater," he said.

Brexit

Amid speculation over his remarks at last night’s meeting and fevered appraisals of his first year in office, the Taoiseach’s focus has pivoted to Brexit as he continues his canvass of European leaders.

He is meeting today with Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, in the Palace of Moncloa in Madrid where the pair are to share a working lunch with a small group of close advisors.

The Taoiseach intends to push Ireland’s Brexit agenda and also to focus on Spanish and Irish relations, and a number of important foreign policy issues.

The initial meeting between the pair was closed off to all but state media and the pair will not jointly address the media today.

Mr Varadkar is the first EU leader to meet with Mr Sanchez since his election as head of his Government almost two weeks ago and he said he was "honoured" to meet with his Spanish counterpart. Mr Sanchez now leads a minority government, having staged a coup to usurp then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

He is meeting Mr Varadkar fresh from dealing with his first crisis as leader, after his Sports and Culture minister, Màxim Huerta, resigned over a tax scandal last night.

Meanwhile, at home criticism is mounting as Opposition parties seize on Mr Varadkar’s first anniversary as Taoiseach. The Labour party have accused the Government of not having enough “courage” to tackle the housing crisis. While Sinn Fein have accused Mr Varadkar of presiding over a year of “chaos” in respect of mental health services.

Irish Independent

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