A meeting between the Taoiseach and the Housing Commission held in the absence of the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien was “not helpful”, a Fianna Fáil backbencher has said. Speaking to RTÉ's This Week programme on Sunday, Cork East TD James O’Connor said that his party colleague should have been invited to the meeting, which was held between members of the commission and Leo Varadkar.
“We came into Government in Fianna Fáil in 2020. The main priority of the parliamentary party is to deal with the housing crisis and it’s been quite difficult to do so,” he told the programme. “I didn’t think a number of actions that were taken in the new year were very helpful, including a meeting that took place in Government Buildings in the absence of the Minister for Housing. He should have been in attendance at that irrespective of what others have to say, that’s my opinion as a backbencher.
“The housing crisis is incredibly acute. I’m the youngest member of the Oireachtas, as many people will know, and I see amongst my own generation how difficult these challenges are. I don’t think a renewed focus from our coalition partners in Government is going to magically solve all of the issues, and I do think we need to be radical, and in order to be radical there needs to be unanimous agreement amongst the stakeholders in Government and there needs to be co-operation. I don’t feel that the actions in the new year were very co-operative.”
Last week Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick offered to apologise after she said Mr Varadkar had found a “road to Damascus-type interest” in housing after a decade in government. “It is great that Leo Varadkar in his new role is now finding a road to Damascus-type interest in the housing crisis that he presided over for whatever the 10 years that he was there,” she said.
Last week Mr O’Brien told reporters in the aftermath of a housing summit organised by the Taoiseach that remarks he has made about inheriting a decade of underinvestment in housing were not intended as a criticism of Fine Gael “at all”.
At the same event Mr Varadkar said he didn’t see it as a criticism but as “just a simple statement of fact”.
“There was a period and I was in government during that period, most of it anyway, between 2010 and 2015 or 2016, where there was underinvestment in everything, not just housing, but public infrastructure in general. Since 2015/2016 that has gone into reverse and we’ve had a massive increase in public investment.
“The money just wasn’t there to spend, and, yes, that has left us with an infrastructural deficit – compounded by the fact that we have a rising population and a rapidly growing economy, and that’s what we need to put right now.”