The Taoiseach has accused Sinn Fein of exploiting the housing crisis for electoral gain with “serial” opposition to housing developments across the country.
In heated exchanges in the Dail, Micheal Martin rejected Mary Lou McDonald’s assertion that his Government was detached from reality on the scale of the problems around high rents and limited housing supply.
Mr Martin told Ms McDonald not to dare lecture him on the subject, highlighting the challenges his own family faced as he was growing up.
During leaders’ questions, the Sinn Fein President showed Mr Martin a series of adverts from accommodation currently available for rent in Ireland, including a storeroom, a converted hallway and a room in Cork where you “could touch your fridge if you stretched your feet out of your bed”.
She accused the Government of pursuing policies favouring big landlords and institutional investors over the interests of people in housing need.
Ms McDonald called on Mr Martin to put more money in renters’ pockets by way of a tax debate and introduce a three-year freeze on rental increases.
“You need to do this with urgency because renters cannot wait any longer for your government to act and be clear Taoiseach, unless you do these actions, take these actions, we’ll see more people pushed into homelessness, more young people moving back, and not so young moving back to their parents and homeownership will remain a pipe dream for an entire generation.”
Mr Martin said Sinn Fein’s stance in the Dail did not “stack up” when compared with the actions of its councillors across Ireland opposing housing projects for “ideological reasons”.
He claimed the party’s public statements criticising the involvement of institutional investors in housing projects contrasted with assurances he claimed Sinn Fein was giving big business in private about how it would act if in government.
“You paint a narrative in terms of me being divorced from reality and all of that,” said Mr Martin.
“I just want to say to you deputy, my background and where I grew up and what we had to put up with was far different to yours. Don’t you dare lecture me.
“I understand the realities of life as well as anybody else in this house.
“I know a thing or two about people being in difficulty and challenges in their early days in terms of cost of living and so on and in terms of backgrounds.”
He added: “It does not stack up and your performance on the ground in councils the length and breadth of the country cannot be reconciled with what you are saying in this house at all.
“Because if we agree it’s a crisis, and I do believe it’s a crisis, it is a crisis, but the most effective way of dealing with it is to get housing supply in place and also to give people strength and capacity in terms of incomes and jobs.”
The Taoiseach claimed Sinn Fein housing policies lacked “depth and substance” as he hailed the ambition of the Government’s Housing For All strategy.
“We need cooperation across the board at every level and if politicians really believe it is a crisis then they should behave accordingly and stop objecting in a serial manner to housing project after housing project because it doesn’t fit some ideological framework,” he said.
Mr Martin added: “It’s not enough for parties just to simply try and exploit a crisis for their own electoral gain because the people out there do not believe in that.”
Ms McDonald told the Taoiseach to “get real”.
“You have to get real now Taoiseach, it’s as simple as that, you need to turn away from the policies that haven’t worked and embrace those that will,” she said.
The Sinn Fein leader added: “Don’t you dare talk to me about false narratives or claim that you understand the crisis.
“You clearly don’t.
“While you’re there scratching your head, I’ve told you two things you can do that will work – money back into renters’ pockets by way of a tax rebate, do that, and a freeze for three years on rents, do that and then we might believe, and more importantly Generation Rent and renters might believe, that you finally get it.”
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