Leo Varadkar claims Ireland's homelessness levels are 'low' by international standards

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has controversially claimed Ireland has a "low level of homelessness" by international standards, despite the national crisis seeing more than 3,000 children living without a home.

Asked how he can say Fine Gael is addressing the housing crisis when homeless levels are so high at the Fine Gael national conference this afternoon, Mr Varadkar told reporters the rates are far worse in other countries.

He said: "Ireland has one of the lowest homelessness in the country by international standards compared with our peers, they're the stats, we can provide them for you.

"That is a good thing in Ireland, that we have a low level of homelessness compared to our peers countries. But what's better than that is we don't think that's good enough, and we want to continue to reduce homelessness in the years ahead."

He was then asked to confirm if homelessness rates in Ireland are one of the the worst ever seen in this country's modern history.

The Taoiseach added: "Yes, the situation has increased in the last number of years, but by international standards it is low. But that's not good enough and we want to make sure we turn the tide on it."

The comment has been heavily criticised this afternoon by homelessness charities and opposition TDs, who said Mr Varadkar is misleading the public on the scale of the crisis.

In a message on Twitter, the Simon Communities said the Taoiseach's claim Ireland's homelessness levels are "low" by international standards "is not true" as "other countries use a broader definition of homelessness when gathering their statistics".

Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin O Broin also criticised the remarks, writing on Twitter:

"This [Mr Varadkar's claim] isn't true. Government only counts those in emergency accommodation and rough sleepers. Others include all homeless people including sofa surfers and those involuntary sharing in unsuitable conditions etc."

Latest figures show homelessness in Ireland is now at record levels, with Focus Ireland saying 8,374 people are without a home in this country.

The figure includes 5,250 adults and 3,124 children.

One in every three people living in emergency accommodation are children, while the total number of people who are homeless rose by 25% between September 2016 and September 2017.

However, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has insisted homelessness levels are beginning to fall in Dublin and that the Government's plans to address the crisis are working.

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