Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after being accused of seeking to politicise the serious injuries to a homeless man in Dublin this week.
On the first full day of the general election campaign, Mr Varadkar came in for stinging criticism after he called on the Fianna Fáil lord mayor of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe, to account politically for the shocking incident which left the homeless man with life-changing injuries.
The man was in a tent that was removed by a utility vehicle during works being carried out by Dublin City Council and Waterways Ireland at Wilton Tce and he remains in a critical condition in St Vincent’s Hospital.
Last night, at a joint press conference with new EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Mr Varadkar insisted he never sought to make the shocking incident a party political matter during the campaign.
“In terms of what the lord mayor has to say, I have never sought to make homelessness a party political issue,” he said.
It is a very complicated social issue that every country struggles with. I have never sought to make it a party political issue and I think, if anything, we have been on the receiving end of that rather than the perpetrators of it.
Earlier in the day, Mr Varadkar said he was “concerned” about the incident and called on Mr McAuliffe to make a statement. Mr McAuliffe is a Fianna Fáil candidate in Dublin North West in the general election but Mr Varadkar denied that he was attempting to make the incident political.
“No, I didn’t mention blame at all,” said Mr Varadkar. “I think it is reasonable that the lord mayor of Dublin, who is politically accountable for Dublin City Council, should also make a statement. I am sure he would be willing to do that.”
Mr McAuliffe’s party leader Micheál Martin said it was “extraordinary” regarding that “terribly tragic event” that Mr Varadkar had suggested that Mr McAuliffe should make a statement on the matter.
“That’s not how I would do politics,” he said, adding that the incident “reflects the blight of homelessness across this country”.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy also came in for significant criticism after one of his campaign posters was pictured on a lamp post beside the scene of the incident.
He took to Twitter to express his sorrow and said he ordered the poster to be removed. “I was saddened to hear of the incident by the canal yesterday,” he said.
“My thoughts are with this poor man as he recovers in hospital. I’ve demanded a full report in to the incident which is under Garda investigation. My campaign poster which was located at the scene has been removed,” said Mr Murphy.
Responding to Mr Varadkar’s comments, the lord mayor said he was “disappointed that the Taoiseach went down this road today”.
“A man was seriously injured and yet An Taoiseach appeared to be more interested in apportioning blame to someone else,” he said.
“All of these details will now be the subject of a Garda investigation. There may be an election ongoing at the present but a human being has been seriously injured this morning.
“That was my first concern when I heard about it, and I wanted to find out the details and so I have asked for a full report. It seems that the Taoiseach’s first thought was to play a political game,” Mr McAuliffe said.
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, meanwhile, described the incident as being “unconscionable”.
Even if the tent had been empty, she said, “it seems particularly inhumane to sweep up somebody’s sole source of refuge from the elements as if it were rubbish causing a nuisance”.