By David Young, PA
A false narrative that pits landlords against renters is exacerbating Ireland’s homelessness problems, the Taoiseach has warned.
Leo Varadkar said the “demonisation” of landlords had to stop, as he expressed concern at the numbers who are selling up and leaving the market.
The Fine Gael leader also dismissed as “factually incorrect” any suggestion that the Government was doing more to support Ukrainian refugees and international protection seekers than Irish citizens on homelessness lists.
He also urged a “reality check” on the potential of modular homes to address the housing crisis. He said that while they would help increase the housing stock, they too would take time to build.
Mr Varadkar made the comments as he defended the Government’s decision not to extend the temporary ban on evictions that was introduced in November.
The prohibition will run out at the end of the month as scheduled, despite the Government facing vocal calls from homelessness campaigners and opposition parties to extend the ban.
While critics of the move claim it will result in more people becoming homeless, the Government has insisted that prolonging the measure will see more landlords leave the rental market, reducing an already low supply of accommodation even further.
Mr Varadkar stood by the Government’s position as he fielded questions from reporters in Dublin on Wednesday.
“I think one of the errors that is easily made in prescribing solutions to the housing crisis is only looking at one aspect of it and not seeing how everything is interlinked, and how one action here can actually make things worse there and that’s something we have to give consideration to,” he said.
“And I think there’s kind of a false argument being made at the moment that there’s a conflict between the rights of landlords and the rights of renters. Renters need landlords and landlords need renters.
“And what’s happened in the past number of years is 40,000 landlords have left the market, and they haven’t been replaced by new landlords. And that’s why people are in such long queues looking at a property when it becomes available. And that’s why rents for properties that are new to the market are so high, because there are so few, and we need to get landlords back into the market. And we need to stem the number of that are leaving.
“And when we made the decision that we did we were taking into account primarily the interests of people who are renting and who are tenants and future renters, not just the interest of landlords.”
He added: “I do think that there has been a demonisation of landlords by our political system and by wider society over the past number of years. That hasn’t worked.
Taoiseach @LeoVaradkar is clear on what Fine Gael stands for:
✅ Standing up for the squeezed middle
✅ Reward hard work
✅ Home ownership
✅ Rural Ireland and farmers
✅ Stronger, safer communities
✅ Law and order
✅ Helping families pic.twitter.com/Zyr7fRWiac
— Fine Gael (@FineGael) March 3, 2023
“In fact, it’s caused harm. It’s made rents higher, it’s made fewer properties available, it’s really hurting people, particularly those who need to rent for the first time, young people, new arrivals in the country, and people who need to move who aren’t protected by the rent pressure zones.
“And I think that needs to change. And we need to have regard to that now as the Government and not be afraid to introduce measures that do encourage landlords to stay and come into the market.
“And also the Opposition needs to stop it too. You know, I hear what they’re saying – you know what’s the Sinn Fein solution to this problem? They want a new tax on landlords, another 400 quid a year – how could that possibly make things better?”
True to form Fine Gael & Fianna Fáil show up again for wealthy investment funds over hard working renters.
Sinn Féin will bring a vote to the Dáil to REVERSE this cruel decision that puts renters already trapped & at breaking point in a nightmare scenario fearing eviction pic.twitter.com/reLt9SjuT6
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) March 8, 2023
Mr Varadkar was also asked about Government struggles to find accommodation for Ukrainians and other refugees – a situation that is set to become more acute over the coming weeks as five hotels used to house 1,600 refugees will exit the system.
“I run into people in my constituency would say to me ‘you’re doing X, Y, and Z for the Ukrainians or you are doing X, Y, and Z for refugees, but you’re not doing anything for the Irish homeless’,” said Mr Varadkar.
“First of all, you know, nearly 40% of people who are in emergency accommodation or homeless aren’t Irish citizens, and that’s often missed.
Green Party members in Cork blast decision to lift eviction banhttps://t.co/v0jLIUzowQ
— Cork Greens (@CorkGreens) March 8, 2023
“And, secondly, you know, what we’re doing for Ukrainians and what we’re doing for people who’ve international protection is probably less than what we’re doing for people who are registered as homeless.
“Unfortunately, there are people seeking international protection who we are not able to offer accommodation at all to at the moment.
“And, when it comes to Ukrainians, by and large what we’re doing is accommodating them in hotels and B&Bs. It’s not great, but it’s the best we can do.
“But the idea that somehow we’re doing more for people from abroad than we are for our own citizens, that just isn’t factually correct.”
Mr Varadkar was asked about the modular home projects being undertaken to provide more accommodation for Ukrainians and whether such an approach could also help more Irish citizens on social housing lists.
“We are going to use modern methods of construction, including modular housing, to house people from Ukraine, refugees from other parts of the world and, indeed, people who are homeless and are on the social housing list,” he said.
But he added: “I think there does need to be a little bit of a reality check around modern methods of construction and modular housing.
“It’s great, it’s part of the solution, but it doesn’t mean that you can put up tens of thousands of units in a few weeks or a few months, that’s not the case.
“And we’ll see very good examples of modular builds in the next couple of weeks. And they’ll be ready to occupy. But, you know, you still need to order them, they still need to be manufactured, they still need to arrive, they still need to be installed, the bridges that you have to pass under to get the modular home to the site have to be high enough and also the site has to be serviced with electricity, with water and gas.
“So, I think sometimes people present this as a quick fix solution. And why isn’t the Government doing it?
“We’ve done a huge amount of work on this, it’s going to happen, you’re going to see these units very, very soon with people living in them.
“But I need to be honest about a bit of reality around this. It’s not particularly cheaper. In fact, it’s probably not cheaper at all. And while it is quicker, it’s not doable in a few weeks, you know, you still have to go through all those all those processes and have the site ready and the things I explained.
“So, yes, it’s part of the solution. But let’s not pretend that there’s some sort of quick fix that we haven’t done already. Because there isn’t.”
On Tuesday, a Green Party TD criticised the Government’s decision not to extend the eviction ban, saying it does not reflect the party’s values.
Neasa Hourigan criticised her own party leader Eamon Ryan, who along with Mr Varadkar and fellow coalition leader Micheal Martin decided to end the prohibition as scheduled.
Ms Hourigan described “three men in the room making this decision” without wider consultation.
Green Party minister Roderic O’Gorman was asked about her comments as he appeared alongside the Taoiseach at Wednesday’s press conference at Government Buildings.
“I don’t agree with that criticism of Eamon,” he said.
“I think Green Party principles and Green Party policy is woven into the Government’s response on housing.
“I think that’s seen in the context of that overall need, the critical need to increase supply and particularly increase supply on social housing.”
He added: “I think Green Party policies are very much built into the government’s housing response.”