Taoiseach's comments on homeless man's injuries 'extraordinary'

By Juno McEnroe
Political Correspondent

Additional reporting by Cianan Brennan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has triggered a row over a homeless man's injuries after calling on the Lord Mayor to explain how the individual was removed by machinery while sleeping in a tent.

Mr Varadkar defended the government's record on trying to help people off the street, but also said several times that the injured homeless man had been known to support services.

The man was injured on the Grand Canal when the tent was removed using an industrial vehicle

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive says it is liaising with the hospital and support is being provided.

Speaking while visiting a forklift factory in Monaghan, Mr Varadkar said:

“I'm very concerned about it. I'm always reluctant to comment on any individual case until we know all the facts. And we know from experience that the initial reporting, you know, can often be different from the later reporting.

"But what I've been told so far is that a man was injured while Dublin City Council and Waterways Ireland were trying to remove some tents.

He is in a serious condition, but is stable. He is well known to homeless services and has been offered emergency accommodation in the past and will be offered it again in the future.

"Obviously our thoughts are with him. We hope he makes a speedy recovery and we'll do everything we can to make sure that he is accommodated.”

Mr Varadkar said he understood that Dublin City Council and Waterways Ireland “did check tents before moving them but obviously something went wrong”.

However, he called on the current Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor to explain what had happened:

“So I think it's important that, you know, the City Council and Lord Mayor, who's politically responsible in city council, should make a statement and Waterways Ireland too. But the most important thing is that we wish him a speedy recovery.

"He is known to homeless services, has been offered accommodation in the past and will be offered accommodation in the future. We'll do everything we can to reduce rough sleeping.”

Mr Varadkar denied that he was blaming anyone, but explained:

“I think it's reasonable that the Lord Mayor of Dublin who is politically accountable for Dublin City Council, should also make a statement I'm sure he'd be willing to do that.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin responded, saying it was "extraordinary" that Mr Varadkar would call on the Lord Mayor of Dublin to make a statement.

The incident could not have come at a worse time for the Taoiseach as it raised the issue of homelessness - and Fine Gael’s perceived inaction on the problem - to centre stage on the first day proper of campaigning.

Fianna Fail’s Darragh O’Brien was the first out of the traps for the opposition, describing what had happened to the injured man as “a national disgrace”, adding he had been “shocked to learn of the news”.

He said what had happened displayed “a lack of empathy and understanding for our homeless communities”, adding that the homeless crisis “is a direct result of a Fine Gael led Government”.

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”.

“We have a homeless emergency and the narrative that tent use should be discouraged comes from a place of unimaginable privilege,” Ms Murphy said.

Data courtesy of Irish Times