The Tánaiste rounded on Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin in the Dáil when he accused Leo Varadkar of being the politician most “directly responsible” for the housing crisis.
He also claimed Mr Varadkar lacked empathy for those renting and trying to secure an affordable home, adding that the Government had done “absolutely nothing” in the budget for renters.
Mr Varadkar described his comments as “classic Sinn Féin tactics” and misrepresentation that the party thrives on, the demonisation of opponents the party disagreed with and the “kind of populism that has destroyed politics”.
He also told the Dublin Mid-West TD that it should be possible to disagree with people without questioning their motives and that as an intelligent person it was “beneath you”.
During testy and heated exchanges on leaders’ questions Mr Ó Broin claimed the budget did not include a single measure “to ease the burden of sky high rents and crippling commutes” and that the measures in the budget could make the situation much worse for those in private rental accommodation.
He said rents had increased by 100 per cent while Mr Varadkar was Taoiseach and that the number of available rental properties during that time dropped by 20,000.
“You lack that basic human ability to put yourself in the shoes of other people, enduring hardship,” Mr Ó Broin said.
He told that Tánaiste that “you more than any other politician and government are directly responsible for that hardship of working singles and couples desperately trying to save for a deposit, of separated and divorced people who have lost their family home, of families recovering from Celtic Tiger era of home repossession, of students forced to choose between sky high rents and crippling commutes, of moderate income workers approaching retirement looking nervously to the future”.
He asked “when will you and your Government stop abandoning renters and when will you take action to cut rents and ban increases”.
But Mr Varadkar said that for anyone in Sinn Féin to accuse anyone in Government of misrepresentation, “telling us what we think telling us what we believe and then criticising us for what you say we think and what we say we believe is classic Sinn Féin tactics.”
He told Mr Ó Broin “you’re an intelligent person you’re one of the brighter people in your party, and to engage in a personalised attack on me is wrong”.
“And it’s classic of the left populism, which your party stands for,” he said.
“It’s about simplistic solutions to complex problems and it’s about demonising your opponents, not just disagreeing with people but saying that the people who disagree with are lesser people that don’t care as much.
“That’s just pure left populism and that kind of populism that has destroyed politics, in a lot of other democracies and Sinn Féin represents that in this country.”
It should be possible to disagree with people without questioning their motives and making them out to be uncaring.
He added that “I just think it’s beneath you and I think it’s unnecessary and I hope you’ll reconsider that approach, that populism approach.
“It’s the mirror image of what Trump has done what Brexit has done what what extremists are doing on the left and right on all over Europe.”
Mr Ó Broin hit out at the continuation of the help to buy scheme which he described as “bad” and pointed to CSO figures that house prices increased by 10.9 per cent in the last year. This was part of the reason home ownership had continued to decline.
He said that the Government saying it was in favour of home ownership but putting it out of the reach of working families was “not only foolish but it is deeply hypocritical”.
He also condemned the shared equity scheme as pro-developer and “toxic”.
But the Tánaiste asked Mr Ó Broin “where is your empathy for renters who want to buy”, he said to repeated interruption.
Tenants were struggling to pay rent and save for a deposit but Sinn Féin want to “give them a €1,000 tax credit but take €20,000 of them by abolishing the help to buy scheme”.
He added that “we’re investing more in social, affordable and cost rental housing”.