Ireland’s housing crisis has not yet peaked with hundreds more families at risk of becoming homeless over the summer, Mary Lou McDonald has warned.
The Sinn Féin leader recounted the lived experiences of some of the individuals currently without a home, including a nurse in Bray forced to live in her car, as she challenged the Taoiseach on the Government’s housing policy.
The Dáil exchanges during Leaders’ Questions came after the number of people in emergency accommodation in Ireland reached a new record high at 12,259 in figures published last week.
The overall figure included 3,594 children across a total of 1,733 families.
Leo Varadkar insisted the coalition was working “tomorrow, yesterday and every day” to address the situation and provide more affordable and social homes in the state.
He also rejected Ms McDonald’s criticism of the Government’s decision to end the temporary ban on no-fault evictions, arguing such prohibitions do not help to bring down homeless figures.
The Sinn Féin leader focused her Dail questions on Tuesday on the housing situation.
“The Government decided to end the eviction ban without a safety net in place to protect renters,” she said.
“You were warned time and again that this was a bad decision. But, despite this, you went ahead with it. You rejected Sinn Fein’s plan to extend the eviction ban and to put in place protections for renters. And the really sad reality now is that, despite how shocking the current figures are, we’re not even at the peak yet.
“There is now a real risk that hundreds more children and their families will add to these heartbreaking figures in the course of this summer.”
In response, Mr Varadkar said: “I acknowledge that we have a real serious problem of rising homelessness in Ireland.
“More than 12,000 people today in state provided emergency accommodation and there is emergency accommodation available for almost everyone who needs it.
“But emergency accommodation is not the solution. We seek to avoid people having to use emergency accommodation in the first place. If they do have to, we seek to get them out of emergency accommodation into a secure tenancy as soon as possible.”
He insisted the Government was making progress, highlighting that more social housing was built last year than any year since 1975.
“But we have a long way to go before we make up for the deficit that built up over the years,” he said.
“In terms of the eviction ban, as I said before, two eviction bans have been imposed on a temporary basis, both happened while I was in government, I certainly have no ideological objection to doing it. I have done it twice.
“The problem is it doesn’t work. And, as we saw from the most recent eviction ban, the number of people in emergency accommodation continued to rise pretty much every month when it was in place.
“And all it does is make the problem worse in the medium and long term.
“I can see the attraction of it as a short-term policy, but we know from experience now from the two eviction bans that happened that it makes the problem worse in the medium to long term. And that’s why it isn’t a wise policy.”
Ms McDonald accused the Government of causing the housing “calamity”.
“While do you acknowledge the scale of this crisis, and that’s perhaps welcome, there is no urgency or real sense of purpose that I hear from you in dealing with this issue,” she told the Taoiseach.
“You’ve been in government for a very considerable length of time. You sat around the Cabinet table, you’ve designed the policies that have led to this calamity.”
Listing a range of measures the Government was taking to increase housing supply, Mr Varadkar said he believed the homelessness figures would start to fall again.
Leaders’ Questions was dominated by housing on Tuesday, with Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns and People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Richard Boyd Barrett also criticising the Government’s record on the issue.