Housing crisis main theme of party leader speech at Fine Gael Ardfheis

Leo Varadkar who will become taoiseach next month addressed 2,000 party delegates in Athlone

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that “stronger Government interventions” will help accelerate the delivery of housing when he becomes taoiseach next month for the remaining years of the Coalition.

He used his speech to the Fine Gael Ardfheis at the weekend to say that the Government needs to do “much more on housing” and that increasing home ownership will be a priority for the next two years.

With less than a month before Mr Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin switch roles, more than 2,000 Fine Gael members gathered in Athlone’s Technological University of the Shannon on Saturday for the party’s ardfheis.

Mr Varadkar focused much of his address on the housing crisis and his intention to use the remainder of the term of the Coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to ramp up the delivery of homes. The issue is perhaps the greatest threat to Fine Gael returning to power after the next election.


Sinn Féin has been keeping it high on the political agenda and plans to bring forward a motion in the Dáil this week declaring a housing emergency. Its housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the Government is “incapable of getting to grips with the housing crisis” citing the homelessness situation and “whole generations” being “locked out of home ownership”.

During interviews on RTÉ on Sunday Mr Varadkar rejected suggestions that the Government’s Housing for All plan is failing and offered some examples of how it could be accelerated. He said the Government will exceed its housing delivery target for this year and there will probably be close to 28,000 new homes built. He said 16,000 first-time buyers got on the housing ladder in the last year and “there is light at the end of the tunnel” but “we have not yet turned the corner”.

Asked what he can do as taoiseach to deliver the Government’s housing plan, Mr Varadkar said that with planning permission for 70,000 homes in the system “stronger Government interventions” could help close the viability gap for new developments. He said tax breaks to encourage development are “only one option”.

Another initiative – which he said is already in train – is to use the Land Development Agency to “forward-purchase homes and apartments” to help “re-risk development” to allow builders to proceed with housing projects.

He agreed that next year’s housing delivery targets are at risk due to increased cost of construction materials and higher interest rates.

“I’m up for any action that is necessary, working with [Minister for Housing] Darragh O’Brien ... it needs to be a whole of Government effort.”

Separately, the ardfheis overwhelmingly backed a motion to move away from the “triple lock” policy required for the Defence Forces to participate in international peacekeeping operations. The mechanism requires the approval of a UN vote, a government decision and Dáil backing for significant international deployments to go ahead. Under Fine Gael proposals, only government and Dáil approval would be required.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on Saturday that this would be a “sensible” rather than a “radical change”.

On Sunday, Mr Varadkar said Ireland is militarily neutral but not politically neutral. He cited the State’s support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. “How could you be neutral in a war like that?” he asked.

Mr Varadkar said the requirement for a UN mandate gives Russia a veto over Irish troop deployments on peacekeeping missions it opposes. He said that Fine Gael would only be pressing to change the triple lock system “when it actually arises as a practical issue”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent