Admitting there was an “extremely disturbing” rise in the numbers of homeless, the Taoiseach conceded the Government needed to drill down into why its policies were not working.
His most trusted minister who oversees housing, Eoghan Murphy, could now face a Dáil motion of no confidence after the Easter break, amid calls for him to be fired over the crisis.
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty asked in the Dáil if his position was “untenable” yesterday. Furthermore, relations between housing campaigners and Mr Murphy are at an all-time low.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin, who shadows the minister, told the Irish Examiner that a vote of no confidence could be moved by June.
“If somebody has not delivered in their job after 12 months, then you have to question whether they will ever deliver,” said Mr Ó Broin. “That one-year period is a benchmark against which most ministers are judged. The clock is ticking.”
Campaigner Fr Peter McVerry accused Mr Murphy of being an “expert at spin”.
“There is a huge amount of spin in what the department is saying,” he said.
“The department [of housing] produced a plan 18 months ago. Its objective was to reduce homelessness and while I fully accept what the minister says, that the Government, through the local authorities, are housing as many homeless people as possible, the only test as to whether a plan introduced to reduce homelessness is working or not is ‘are the numbers going down?’, and the numbers you are housing is not the test as to whether the plan is working or not.”
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy of Focus Ireland was equally scathing, questioning why student accommodation in cities was going up more quickly than homes for families
Mr Doherty asked how people could take the Taoiseach’s defence seriously, given children homeless figures had increased by 100% since the last election.
Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said “promise after promise” had been broken as he noted that banks, vulture funds, and developers continued to hoard land. The tax on vacant sites was still awaited, he said, and a report on the cost of building was still not complete.
While rough sleeping numbers had reduced, said Mr Varadkar, it was ”deeply frustrating” to see the growing numbers presenting without homes. He pledged to “work out” over the next few weeks why there were lots of commercial, hotel and student developments but not residential ones.
Under questioning at the Oireachtas finance committee, he was forced to admit that “yes, it is an emergency”. This would not help build homes quicker though, he admitted.
Figures this week showed that most of the 700 homeless families in Dublin are housed in hotels. This is despite a pledge by Tánaiste Simon Coveney that this practice would stop last July.
Asked could he imagine his children sleeping in emergency accommodation yesterday, Mr Coveney said the number of families who are homeless “upset” him as an individual and as a father.
However, housing campaigners are running out of patience with government policies, which they feel are inadequate and ultimately are not reducing numbers seeking beds and homes.
Fr McVerry said the actual number of homeless people is the ultimate indicator as to whether the Government’s plan is working.
“The Department of Housing are experts in spin, and the minister has given loads of statistics, but you really have to analyse those statistics very carefully,” the campaigner told RTÉ.