Taoiseach says housing crisis is raised with him by potential employers and investors

Varadkar and Donaldson criticise Sinn Féin for taking out ads in US newspapers seeking Border poll

The housing crisis is raised by potential employers and investors but many acknowledge that Ireland is not the only country facing such accommodation difficulties, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking on the first day of a visit to Washington, he said he did not believe there was any acceptable level of homelessness.

He said Ireland was turning the corner in relation to the housing construction but was “certainly not there yet” in relation to the overall housing problem.

The Taoiseach also said Ireland would be “rolling out the red carpet” for US president Joe Biden on his forthcoming visit.


However, he said no dates for the visit – expected to be to both north and south of the Border – had been confirmed as of yet.

Speaking at events ahead of St Patrick’s Day, the Taoiseach also criticised Sinn Féin for taking out advertisements in US newspapers this week seeking a referendum on Irish unity.

Sinn Féin placed half-page advertisement in the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, criticising the UK government, which the party said continued to “break its obligations” under the accord.

“We call on the Irish Government to establish a Citizens’ Assembly and to plan, prepare and advocate for Irish unity,” it says.

But Mr Varadkar was critical of the move, describing it as “unhelpful”.

“It’s a sensitive moment. We’re trying to get everyone on board for the Windsor framework. And we shouldn’t forget what the Good Friday Agreement says – that there can only be a Border poll when it’s clear that the majority of people in Northern Ireland would vote for it. And that’s not clear at all at the moment,” the Taoiseach said.

Speaking at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said he found the advertisements “incredible”.

“Whilst I am using my time in the US to impress upon decision-makers and investors the potential of Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin is drumming up hundreds of thousands of dollars for a divisive Border poll campaign,” he said.

He added there was “no evidence of growing support for Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom. Indeed, every major poll points in the opposite direction.”

More worryingly for the Irish and UK governments, Mr Donaldson signalled he has continuing problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, despite the changes made by the Windsor framework.

“Whilst the Windsor Framework goes some way in addressing our concerns, there is still more work to do,” he said.

On housing Mr Varadkar agreed with Tánaiste Micheál Martin’s remarks on Tuesday that the country was turning the tide on house building.

Mr Varadkar said that following the economic crash Ireland was building about 5,000 houses per year, that in his first term as taoiseach this had risen to about 20,000 and was now about 30,000 when student accommodation and the return of derelict property to use were taken into account.

He said he “always accepted the view that the housing crisis is holding us back” both as a society and economically. However, he said it had to be put into “a factual context”.

“We have never had more people at work; we never had a better year for trade and investment than last year, we are doing very well economically”, he said.

The Taoiseach defended the Government’s decision to end the ban on evictions amid concerns that it would lead to more people falling into homelessness. “It’s just not the case that everyone who has a notice to quit served on them needs emergency accommodation; it’s a much smaller proportion,” Mr Varadkar said.

He said he was confident the Government would win a Dáil vote on a motion on the issue to be brought by Sinn Féin next week.

He said the difficulty with a winter eviction ban which, he maintained, was always scheduled to end in March was that whenever it was lifted there was always going to be a spike in the number of people served with notices to quit their existing properties.

He said putting off lifting the measure until September or January would mean that the same issue would arise at that point.

Mr Varadkar said the Government was working with local authorities about increasing the amount of emergency accommodation available.

However, he argued that the solution to the homelessness crisis was not more emergency accommodation but rather increasing the amount of social housing and developing the system of cost rentals, which allow people on medium incomes to rent from a public body.

Of the planned presidential visit next month, the Taoiseach said Mr Biden “in many ways is coming home”.

He said the president spoke of himself “as being an Irish person, an Irish-American”.

“We are going to roll out the red carpet – and we’re going to be making sure he feels very welcome.”

“We particularly want to thank him, and thank America, for the pivotal role they’ve played both in helping to build our economy and also helping to build the peace in Ireland.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times