Tuesday 21 November 2017

Varadkar sticks by comment downplaying homeless crisis

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Luke Byrne and Sarah MacDonald

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar took the advice of the Housing Agency before claiming Ireland has one of the lowest levels of homelessness by international standards.

Mr Varadkar suggested over the weekend that Ireland's rate of homelessness was not as serious as it is in other countries.

He made the comment after his speech at the Fine Gael national conference in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

Mr Varadkar's spokesman said the Taoiseach was sticking by what he said, adding he was guided by the chairman of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan.

He also referenced two reports, one released earlier this year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the other by Feantsa, a European federation of national organisations working with the homeless.

The OECD report contained figures from 2015 when Ireland had 3,625 people recorded as homeless.

The most recent statistics showed there were more than 8,350 people homeless in September this year.

That figure would put Ireland's homeless rate at around 0.17pc, which would be the 13th highest on the OECD list.

The report from Feantsa also contained a warning that the statistics it presented were not comparable.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Skehan stressed the difficulty in obtaining a comparison in international homeless statistics.

"It's definitely not possible," said. "You'll never be able to have a moment in time when you can lay it all out and see it."

However, he said the trend towards homelessness across Europe was much the same and updated statistics would show our rate of homelessness was low by international comparison.

Mr Skehan said the Taoiseach's claim was "not wrong".

He also said statistics from some Eastern European countries, such as Poland, may not be entirely reliable. The OECD report put Poland's percentage of homelessness at 0.10pc.

Mr Varadkar's spokesman said both reports stressed the difficulty in making direct comparisons due to differing definitions in different countries. "Each have different advantages," he said.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, speaking last week at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust's annual report, also said Ireland had a low rate of homelessness by international standards.

"At 0.17pc, the rate is still well below many European countries," a spokesman for Mr Murphy said last night.

Fr Peter McVerry, of the trust, said nobody knows the full extent of the homeless crisis.

"I'm in total despair with this Government," he said.

He pointed out that official homeless statistics only included people who engage with homeless services such as those seeking emergency shelter.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan rejected suggestions Mr Varadkar's comments could have been misleading.

"I don't accept that at all," he said.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the Taoiseach of "thoughtless remarks" and of trying to "minimise" the housing and homeless "emergency".

Irish Independent

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