Department accused of 'spinning' housing figures

Department accused of 'spinning' housing figures
Eoghan Murphy

Tweets sent by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy which included the Fine Gael logo were retweeted by Mr Murphy's department Twitter account.

The matter was raised this morning at a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) where housing officials were being questioned about spending in their department.

Secretary-General at the Department of Housing, John McCarthy, said he was not aware of the posts from last Wednesday from the Rebuilding Ireland account, but insisted there was no direction from Mr Murphy for his officials to do so.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells tackled Mr McCarthy on the posts saying they raise “major ethical issues” and said it is a worrying development in the wake of the controversy engulfing the Strategic Communications Unit last year.

He told Mr McCarthy that his political masters were “cute as foxes” and politicians are free to do what they want, but people look to the department for impartiality.

Mr McCarthy said there are very strict rules about posting material linked to political parties and committed to dealing with the matter.

Earlier, Mr McCarthy rejected accusations that he and his department were “spinning” the figures in terms of home completions conducted by the State last year.

The committee heard that of the 4,251 new homes public homes brought on stream last year, just 2,022 were directly built by local authorities.

The total figure for additional homes in 2017 was 2,297.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Independent TD Catherine Connolly said it would be better if the numbers were not spun.

Ms Murphy said the numbers as presented give an impression we are getting ahead of the crisis.

“We could do without presenting it in that kind of way. It is not a fair reflection of how the crisis is being tackled,” she said.

In response, Mr McCarthy said there was no element of spin in the figures.

Catherine Murphy
Catherine Murphy

He said the figures are extremely clear in terms of giving the breakdown of new build homes, so-called turnkey properties and other homes brought back on stream.

He said his department publishes quarterly updates as to the number of properties built.

Mr McCarthy was also questioned about how the €200 million Rebuilding Ireland fund has already been exhausted in several local authority areas.

He said he and the department did not expect the level of uptake the scheme has seen.

He said the original budget was set with a view of an initial investment but said discussions are ongoing about its expansion.

Ms Connolly also severely criticised the fact that more than €600 million a year is given from the Department of Housing to private landlords by way of rental assistance programmes and Housing Assistance Payments (HAP).

“This is not acceptable and the system is clearly not working,” she said.

She also hit out at people who are being housed by HAP are taken off the housing list as they are seen to be housed appropriately by the department, even though they have little or no security of tenure.

Mr McCarthy said those on HAP are removed from the housing list “as a matter of policy.”

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