Varadkar says President is "immune in many ways from criticism and scrutiny" 5 months ago

Varadkar says President is "immune in many ways from criticism and scrutiny"

The Tánaiste has responded to Michael D. Higgins calling Ireland's housing policy the country's "great, great failure".

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he believes that some of President Michael D. Higgins recent criticisms of Ireland's housing policy are true, stating he agrees with him "in part".

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At an event in Kildare on Tuesday, the President hit out at Ireland's housing policy, calling it the country's "great, great failure".

The President also stated that Ireland is not facing a housing crisis but a housing "disaster".

"I often ask myself, you know, how republican is what we’ve created? And isn’t it sometimes very much closer to the poor law system that we thought we were departing from," Higgins said.

"That's a real challenge. I have taken as well to speaking ever more frankly in relation to housing because I think it is our great, great, great failure.

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"It isn’t a crisis anymore, it is a disaster."

Appearing on The Pat Kenny Show on Wednesday, Varadkar was asked if the President's comments crossed the line.

"The President is somebody who's always been and is often outspoken in his views," he replied.

"Because he's a president, he is above politics, above party politics and is immune in many ways from criticism and scrutiny."

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Varadkar then said he would not be critical of Higgins in any way, before adding: “I think some of what he said was true quite frankly.

“The housing crisis is a disaster for a lot of people.

"For the 60% or 70% of us who own our own homes, whether it's outright or through a mortgage, that’s not the case.

"But for the people who are paying very high rents, often half their income on rents, that’s a disaster.

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“It is a fact that in Ireland at the moment, very often, a couple both of whom have decent jobs, are unable to afford a home.

“That wasn’t the case for most of our history and to me, that's a social disaster, that people who are working hard, who have decent incomes, can’t afford to buy a home.

“Many are so frustrated at that, they are even willing to turn to populism and nationalism and Euro-scepticism as a solution.

“In that scenario, they may lose their job as well as a house but that is a disaster in my view.”

Varadkar was then asked if housing is not a social disaster that sits on his watch as he has been in Government for over 10 years.

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“We’re responsible for solving it. I don’t think we’re responsible for the construction bubble and the housing crash and all those things," he responded.

“Part of the reason why we have the housing crisis that we have is because, 12 years ago, we had a housing bubble, a banking collapse and a construction collapse.

"I certainly wasn’t responsible for that.”

In a follow-up question, the Tánaiste was questioned as to whether he accepts housing is his social disaster as somebody who has been in Government throughout that entire period.

"I think it's a failing of successive Governments," he replied, to which the interviewer stated: "Of which you've been part of."

Varadkar then said: “Yeah, including with the Labour Party, with left-wing independents and now with Fianna Fáil.

“If you look at the situation north of the border where Sinn Féin is in power for the best part of 20 years - homelessness, rents going up, you know, a lot of the same problems.

“So, I think it's a criticism of all of us and I accept that criticism but what I’m more interested in is solving the problem and taking responsibility for solving the problem."

The Tánaiste said that one of the President's criticisms he believes is correct is that too much of housing in Ireland has been left to the market in the past.

"How's the Government responding to that?" he added.

"We now have the biggest social housing programme ever in the history of the State, about 9,000 new social houses will be provided this year.

"That's more than any time in the 80s, or the 50s or in the 20s... That's a big change in policy."

Main image via Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie