Leo Varadkar accused of being ‘smug’ as TDs battle over parties’ housing records

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The Government has been accused of being “out of its depth” and of living in “very dangerous type of denial” about the scale of Ireland’s housing crisis during a fiery Dail exchange.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a staunch response of his party’s track record on social housing delivery, claiming that it had doubled during his last tenure as Irish premier.

He also claimed that Sinn Fein’s record on social housing in Northern Ireland and Labour’s in the housing portfolio was less than that delivered by his Government.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said he had reached a new low in “ridiculous” political point-scoring, accusing the Fine Gael leader of being “smug”.

Commenting on Government claims that the measures introduced would support people, she said: “You are clearly in a state of denial and a very, very dangerous type of denial.”

Mr Varadkar, in turn, accused Sinn Fein of “gaslighting” young people, and claimed that Labour was suffering from a “crisis of confidence”.

He said that Sinn Fein’s motion scheduled for Tuesday, that calls on the Government’s Help-to-Buy scheme and First Home scheme to be ended, would impact on homeownership.

Good Friday Agreement 25th Anniversary
Sinn Fein Party leader Mary Lou McDonald hit out at Government housing policy (Niall Carson/PA)

The Sinn Fein motion accuses both schemes of pushing up house prices and said they should be scrapped and the funding diverted in favour of delivering more affordable homes instead.

Ms McDonald told TDs: “Your so-called safety nets don’t make a lick of difference to people facing eviction in the here and now. And you have no real plan to stop people losing the roof over their heads.”

Mr Varadkar claimed that figures published by the Department of Housing on Monday, which confirmed that the Government had missed its 2022 target for newly-built social homes, showed progress had been achieved.

Ivana Bacik interview
Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik said Mr Varadkar was ‘smug’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Compare that, for example, with the last year in which there was a Sinn Fein housing minister in Northern Ireland – build less than 2,000 new social houses.

“That’s a fact, and one that I don’t think you can get away from,” he said.

Ms McDonald responded that the figures published on Monday, “reflect the fact that you missed your target on affordable housing by almost 60%” last year.

In response to questions from Ms Bacik, Mr Varadkar said: “How many social homes were built the last time there was a Labour minister for housing?”

When Labour TD Aodhan O’Riordain interrupted to accuse the Taoiseach of “point scoring”, Mr Varadkar responded “to be accused of point-scoring by deputy O’Riordain is – anyway, look.”

He continued: “The last time there was a Labour minister in housing – and yes, I was at the Cabinet table with them – 400 new social homes were built in this country. By the time (former housing minister and Fine Gael TD) Eoghan Murphy had finished in his role, we were up to around 5,000.

“The amount of social housing built in the State doubled the last time I was Taoiseach, and now under Darragh O’Brien, we’re building more social housing than any year in decades and we’re going to build more again.”

Ms Bacik: “You’ve reached a new low, that is a ridiculous attempt (of) political point scoring in the face of a brutal housing crisis – and it’s all very well smirking and being smug and self congratulatory.

“That’s not going to help the families approaching me, approaching public representatives from Government parties and opposition parties, who have nowhere to tell people to go because there are no homes available in our communities, no affordable homes, no homes to rent, no homes for sale.

“It’s a testament to the failed policies of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and your overreliance on a private sector and on a market that has patently failed to deliver the homes that are needed,” she said.

Mr Varadkar responded: “Deputy, you simply can’t have it both ways. You can’t challenge me, my party and my coalition colleagues on our record and then lose the rag when somebody asks about yours.

“If you’re willing to criticise somebody else’s record, you have to at least be able to defend your own and you’re not willing to do that. And I think that’s very, very disappointing, but it is part of Labour’s crisis of confidence – you’ve lost confidence in yourselves.”

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