Leo Varadkar was elected Irish prime minister for the second time on Saturday, taking over from Micheál Martin under a novel rotation arrangement struck between their two parties – once sworn rivals – under a 2020 coalition pact.
Varadkar, previously premier from 2017 to 2020, pledged to speed up government plans to tackle a years-long housing crisis that cost him a full second term in office and has made the left wing Sinn Fein clear favourite to win the next election in 2025.
“We have many (problems) and some of them we have to fix now otherwise we will be betraying the current generation and the generation that comes after us,” Varadkar told parliament.
“I am thinking in particular of housing and how we have to go all-out to turn the corner on rising homelessness and falling homeownership. We need to accelerate our plan.”
The 2020 coalition deal – which included the smaller Green Party – for the first time united Martin’s Fianna Fail and Varadkar’s Fine Gael, which are Ireland‘s dominant centre-right parties and have led every government since independence a century ago.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath will also swap roles under the deal while Martin, who will become deputy prime minister, is also expected to be appointed foreign minister.
Varadkar indicated he would make very few other changes when he names his cabinet at around 1700 GMT.
He is also returning to another familiar issue, the long-running dispute between Britain and the European Union on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, a British province with a long open border with EU member state Ireland, but polls suggest housing affordability will again dominate his tenure.
With house prices and in particular rents at record levels and still rising rapidly, recent data suggests that an elusive sharp increase in housing supply could reverse next year.
“Teachta (Deputy) Martin argued in his speech that this government is successful. Well the rest of us must be living in a very different Ireland from you,” said Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, whose party has led opinion polls by around 10 percentage points for over a year.
“We live in an Ireland where the housing emergency has gotten worse and where households struggle to get by. Surely you cannot count this as success.”