Video: Elisha McCallion accuses Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of using James McClean’s homeless gesture as political football

Elisha McCallion MP, has invited Leo Varadkar to Derry after he launched an astonishing  attack, praising James McClean but criticising her and her council colleagues, for not doing enough to tackle homelessness in the city.

She issued the invitation after the Taoiseach referred to the Derry footballer’s recent generosity towards six roughsleepers in the city, before claiming Mrs. McCallion should be doing more to address the problem.

James McClean.

James McClean.

The Sinn Féin MP totally rejected Mr. Varadkar’s claims describing his remarks as an exercise in deflection from an escalating homelessness crisis which continues to engulf the Taoiseach and his Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy in the South.

“It’s quite ironic that the Taoiseach, whose government has presided over an unprecedented homelessness crisis, should seek to use this issue and exploit James McClean’s gesture in order to score cheap political points,” blasted the Foyle MP.

Mrs. McCallion was speaking after the Fine Gael leader issued his remarkable attack in the Oireachtas on Wednesday.

During a debate on the Irish housing crisis in the Dáil he said: “I, too, read a story in the newspaper today. It was a very heartwarming story about James McClean who I know is a republican and also a very able footballer.

“He is paying out of his own pocket to accommodate homeless people in the city of Derry. That is really admirable for him to do. He must be a very generous person.”

He then inferred that Mr. McClean’s benevolence counterpointed what he claimed to be a failure by Sinn Féin to tackle homelessness in Derry.

“Derry is the city that has a Sinn Féin MP and a council in which Sinn Féin is the largest party,” he noted.

At this point Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams put it to the Fine Gael leader that the council “serves the people of Derry well,” but Mr. Varadkar, nonetheless persisted with his attack on the party.

Mr. Varadkar accused the Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, of not caring about the homeless and launched a further attack on the party in Derry.

“If she really did care about homeless people, she would get busy in dealing with homelessness in Derry where there is a Sinn Féin MP and Sinn Féin is the largest party in the council,” said Mr. Varadkar.

“It should be at Stormont. According to Simon Communities, there are 200,000 people homeless in NI. Sinn Féin does not want to do what I suggest because it does not really care.

"It just wants to weaponise homeless and vulnerable people to score political points for her party, which is just disreputable,” he claimed.

Mrs. McDonald dismissed these accusations, stating: “That is pathetic. The Taoiseach is the Head of Government.”

Reacting to this extraordinary political attack, Mrs. McCallion said: “There are a number of groups and organisations working diligently night and day across our city with people who find themselves homeless. I would like to invite the Taoiseach to Derry to see at first hand the work these wonderful people do.”

She accused the Taoiseach of electioneering, saying his attacks were motivated by a fear of Sinn Féin and an electorate increasingly discontented over the Fine Gael-led government’s handling of the homelessness crisis in the South.

“These comments are clearly made with an eye on a possible upcoming election in the South where the establishment parties fear the electorate will also vote for Sinn Féin,” she said.

“However, such crass and unfounded attacks will certainly not deter Sinn Féin from representing citizens across the whole of Ireland and pursuing progressive politics in both Dublin and Belfast,” said the Foyle MP.

Tellingly, with local government and European Elections across the island next year, it is the second time in a week Mr. Varadkar has attacked Sinn Féin in Derry. Last week he and his ‘confidence and supply’ partner, Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, said they wished Mark Durkan was still MP.

Mr. Martin said: “He would have cast his vote in Westminster if he had been elected to support the Draft Withdrawal Treaty on Brexit, which is now before the British Parliament.”

Mr. Varadkar said: “I regret that he lost his seat because it has left the city of Derry unrepresented in Westminster, which leaves Derry and the residents of the Foyle constituency without a vote on Brexit.”