Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach rejects accusations he personalised death of Cork homeless man

He was found unconscious and later died at Cork University Hospital.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Aine McMahon and Cate McCurry, PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has denied accusations that he “personalised” the death of a homeless man in Cork at the weekend.

Timmy Hourihane had been homeless for some time, having failed to get accommodation after a number of attempts.

On Saturday, passers-by raised the alarm when they saw his tent on Mardyke Walk on fire.

He was found unconscious and later died at Cork University Hospital.

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Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin (Justin Farrelly/PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused the Government of “victim blaming” Mr Hourihane over Mr Varadkar’s comments about the homeless man in the Dail.

Mr Martin also accused Mr Varadkar of not showing urgency on the homeless crisis, adding that Mr Hourihane is the sixth homeless person to have died in Cork so far this year.

Mr Varadkar sympathised with Mr Hourihane’s family, and asked people to come forward with information.

“Suffice to say that anyone who has information as to who was responsible for killing this poor man should share that information with the gardai,” he said.

“As you know, I’m always reluctant to talk about individual cases. But most of this information is already in the public domain. And when you do read about it, it is a truly sad story. A real human tragedy.

“Mr Hourihane  was treated for addiction for over a year and after that was discharged to the care of his family. 

“He was offered an apartment but never took up the apartments, and for that reason that was passed on to somebody else.

“He was supported by homeless charities on a number of occasions over the course of the past two years.”

“So we have somebody whose family really tried to help them, who was helped by the housing charities, who was helped by addiction services, and was also provided with an apartment or funded by government, but unfortunately this does demonstrate how complex the problem of homelessness often is how hard it can be to help people,” he added.

“We should never give up trying to help people no matter what the circumstances in relation to the wider issue of homelessness. As you know, we’ve acknowledged on many occasions as a government that this is a problem that we’re really struggling to solve.”

In response, Mr Martin said he did not think Mr Varadkar’s reply was appropriate.

“I think the death of Timmy Hourihane revealed the fragility and vulnerability of people who are homeless. I don’t believe in blaming the victim of this attack,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government is increasing funding for homeless and support for the homeless agencies, but it is “only treating the symptoms, not the underlying problem”.

He added: “To treat the underlying problem, we need to build a lot more social housing, and we have now embarked on what is the biggest social housing programme in many decades.”

However, speaking to reporters after Leaders’ questions, Mr Varadkar was asked if he wanted to apologise to the family after reflecting on his comments in the Dail.

He denied that he “personalised” the death, adding that Mr Martin brought up the individual case.

“What I did in the Dail I think was very appropriate, was to express my sorrow, to extend my sympathies to his family and friends and call on everyone to cooperate with the gardai so we can find out the person who committed this,” he added.

“I think it was Micheal Martin who linked it to government funding. That’s just a statement of fact that the government provided funding for addiction service which he availed of and that the government provided funding for an apartment that was offered to him.”

PA

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