Taoiseach claims Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald would win gold medal if ‘verbosity was Olympic sport’

McDonald says €10 billion given to private landlords since Fine Gael entered Government in 2011

There were sharp exchanges between Taoiseach Simon Harris and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald in a Dáil row over housing when she claimed €10 billion had been paid to private landlords since Fine Gael entered Government in 2011.

But Mr Harris accused her of being disingenuous and told Ms McDonald that “if fluency and verbosity was an Olympic sport, you’d win a gold medal”.

Referring to the Housing Commission report that the Taoiseach confirmed would be published today, Ms McDonald said the money was spent through subsidies on Ras (Rental Accommodation Scheme), Hap (Housing Assistance Payment), rent supplement and long-term leasing.

The Government uses long-term leasing by local authorities and spending €3 billion it, “forking over to wealthy property funds to lease homes that neither the State nor the tenants will ever own. “In one case, you’re coughing up close to €1 million for one property in Dublin that goes back to the fund after 25 years. It’s incredible incompetence,” she said.


Ms McDonald said Ireland has one of the highest levels in the EU of public spending on housing “yet one of the poorest outcomes” and the report demonstrated the Government’s “waste of ‘money”.

“You have to ask yourself, why that is? Well, it’s because you decided to pass the State’s responsibility for housing people to private landlords,” she said.

That money could have been used to build tens of thousands of homes, Ms McDonald said. “But instead, you pay €10 billion to keep workers and families in the private rental sector with very, very little housing security. Housing supports are necessary but they must be short-term and temporary.”

But the Taoiseach said it was disingenuous to talk of a figure of €10 billion because during the financial crash in 2011 the State provided supports because it could not afford a house-building programme. Of that €10 billion, €3.2 billion had gone on rent supplement, €1.8 billion was spent on Ras, and €3.5 billion went towards Hap.

“And every single year you could paper the walls of Dáil Éireann with press releases and statements from Sinn Féin TDs asking us to increase the levels and asking us to spend more,” he said.

The Taoiseach added that “you’ve asked us to spend more than €10 billion euro on these supports because you know why? In an emergency while you’re ramping up housing supply, you have to do something in the here and now. You say landlords, I say renters. You say €10 billion given to landlords, I say €10 billion given in rental supports.”

Holding up a graph Mr Harris pointed to a “very, very significant” increase in social housing in Fine Gael’s time in office.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett described the Housing Commission report as “damning”, adding that the Government’s housing policy was “a dog’s dinner”. The Dún Laoghaire TD said “the core of the problem is that most of the housing in this country is delivered by private landlords, private developers and private investors who are interested in profit, not in putting affordable roofs over people’s heads”.

Government policy “is to pour approximately €1 billion every year into various subsidies, including Hap, Ras and leasing, for landlords who still fail to deliver the housing we need. And anything they do deliver is unaffordable in terms of rents and house prices.”

Mr Harris did not believe any party would accept every recommendation in the Commission’s report in full “because there were many members of the commission who did not seem to accept all of the recommendations either. Let’s publish the report today, read the report and debate the report.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times