"Populist" politicians only interested in whipping up anger and division - Housing Minister

People Before Profit TD, Bríd Smith said workers and people across society are responding to the failure of the “so-called centre” to address inequality

Updated 19:20

The Housing Minister has lashed out at politicians who are “more intent on whipping up anger and division” than finding solutions to social problems.

Simon Coveney told Newstalk's The Sunday Show there has been a global shift towards polarised politics in recent times, citing a rise in nationalism in the UK and France as well as the election of Donald Trump to the White House.

He said Irish people have been asked to make huge sacrifices over the last eight or nine years and accused rival politicians of “trying to take advantage of that by whipping up anger and protest and division across society.”

Last week People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett organised a protest to coincide with a visit by Minister Coveney to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

The organisers of the ‘Demand Housing Now’ protest outside the council said there are more families and individuals homeless in the area than ever before.

They said the government’s budget will not solve the problem - with some families on the housing list for “up to 19 years” with no offer of a home.

“I visited Dun Laoghaire Rathdown last week to talk about how we can solve pressures on housing there, whether that is social housing, affordable housing and so on,” said Minister Coveney.

“Richard Boyd Barrett’s response to that, rather than meeting me and talking to me about solutions, was to organise a protest.

“For me there are people who are more intent on actually organising and building anger on the back of protests than actually finding solutions:”

People Before Profit TD, Bríd Smith told Newstalk the “so-called centre” - represented by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - are “utterly failing to address the huge issues of inequality across Irish society.”

“Workers and people across society are responding to the failure of the centre, rather than to the anger of the far left," she said.

“What we do is we reflect that and we echo it. We give voice to people and we help to organise them in protest and in opposition but we are certainly not ‘whipping up’ anything.

Ms Smith said she has been trying to meet the Housing Minister “for months” to discuss rapid housing in the Drimnagh area:

In a statement , Deputy Boyd Barrett said Fine Gael is attempting to "deflect growing public anger against the government for its own failure to share the benefits of economic growth, address growing economic inequality or resolve the worsening housing crisis.” 

"We stick to our policies and principles. We consistently fight for a fair distribution of wealth. We take a principled stand in opposing racism against refugees or travellers or fighting for a woman’s right to choose - even when we lose votes for doing so," he said.

"That’s not populism that’s called honest conviction - something severely lacking in Fine Gael or Fianna Fail."

Minister Coveney said the housing crisis is his, "number one priority in politics right now."

He said the housing budget has been increased from €800m to nearly €1.3bn and said the government is committed to adding nearly 50,000 extra social houses to the market.

He said the government has “dramatically increased” the homelessness budget with an extra 210 emergency beds due in Dublin by December 9th and 350 ‘rapid build’ social houses set to be “either in tender or underway” by the end of the year.

“I can tell you there is no lack of urgency in my office or amongst the people around me to actually get on top of what is a stain on Irish society at the moment,” he said.