Taoiseach's claim about 'low' rate of homelessness based on figures 'two years out of date'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's recent claim that Ireland's homelessness levels are "low" by international standards is based on two independent reports, one of whose Irish data is two years out of date and both of which specifically say international comparisons are questionable, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

A Government spokesperson confirmed the source of the claim despite insisting the Taoiseach's comments are correct amid criticism from homelessness charities and opposition leaders who asked "what planet is he living on".

Asked at the Fine Gael national conference how he can say his Government is addressing the housing crisis when more than 8,000 people are currently homeless, Mr Varadkar said the situation is far worse in other countries.

"Ireland has one of the lowest homelessness rates by international standards compared to our peers," he said.

"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 peer 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."

A Government spokesperson tonight told the Irish Examiner that the figures are from a July 24, 2017, OECD report and a Feantsa housing body report earlier this year.

The OECD report said Ireland's homelessness rate is 0.8% of the population - more than seven nations examined, but less than more than 20 others.

However, the report's findings were based on unchecked official figures provided from random 2006-2016 years by each country, making comparisons difficult, with Ireland's own figures being two years out of date.

In addition, the OECD report specifically said "there is no agreed international definition of homelessness".

Similarly, while the Feantsa Europe and Homelessness: Alarming Trends' report said Ireland's homelessness rate is not as high as other countries, it noted family homelessness has surged by 59% in 12 months - more than every other European country except Luxembourg, Greece and Denmark.

In a statement defending Mr Varadkar's comments, a Government spokesperson said: "In order to make valid comparisons of homelessness between different countries, you need to use data which is collected according to the same or similar standards.

"This data tends to take time to collect so there is invariably a delay between reporting and measurement.

"Reports from the OECD and Feantsa both make valid comparisons. Both stress the difficulty in making direct comparisons – on account of differing definitions in different countries. Each have different advantages."

However, 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".

Inner City Helping Homeless chief executive Anthony Flynn similarly said the Taoiseach's comment is "a Walter Witty remark" and asked "what planet are the Taoiseach and Housing Minister living on".

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Mr Varadkar is trying to "understate" the "depressing reality" of children living "in hotel bedrooms", while Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said Mr Varadkar's remarks are "deeply insulting".

Latest figures show the rate of people who are homeless in Ireland stands at a record 8,374 people, including 5,250 adults and a shocking 3,124 children.

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