The Taoiseach has insisted that by international standards homelessness in Ireland is low.

But Leo Varadkar said the number of people living in emergency accommodation here had increased.

Speaking on the second day of the Fine Gael national conference in Cavan yesterday, Mr Varadkar said the Government was committed to "turning the tide" on this in the months and years ahead.

The Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy told the conference that "comparatively our rates of homelessness are low when we look at our peers, and that is a good thing".

He said it was a mistake for governments of the past to outsource the building of social houses to the private sector.

He said the current Government was taking back that responsibility.

However, the Simon Communities of Ireland challenged the claim that Ireland's rates of homelessness are low compared with other countries.

In a tweet it said "Our monthly figures only include a very limited number - those in section 10 funded emergency accommodation".

"They do not include rough sleepers & those in squats, hidden homelessness (couch surfers etc & those in non-section 10 funded accommodation" said the tweet.

The CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless also responded to the Taoiseach's comments.

"This is a Walter Mitty remark from a Fine Gael led-government who failed to even put the housing/homeless crisis on the agenda at their national conference," said CEO Anthony Flynn. 

Women are having dangerous abortions, says Harris

The Minister for Health Simon Harris said people have to face the reality that Irish women are having dangerous abortions, either with a pill from the internet, or a trip to another country.

Addressing the conference, he appealed for moderate and clinical voices to be heard as part of the debate on the Eighth Amendment.

He said: "I’ve sat in far too many rooms with women who have found this country to be cold, neglectful, lonely and isolating."

"That’s the truth, abortion is a reality for many women, it just takes place with a pill from the internet, or a trip to another country."

"As the Irish Minister for Health I have to accept the reality that Irish women are having dangerous abortions," he said.

Speaking at the launch of Fine Gael's plan for the next ten years, Mr Varadkar said modest tax cuts are on the cards for the next few years and he rejected claims that this was dishonest politics.

Britain does not have right to decide Ireland's future, says Coveney

Northern Ireland border

He said the Government believes avoiding the return of a hard border would be best achieved by the North continuing to follow the rules of the customs union.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said Britain does not have the right to democratically decide or shape Ireland's future.

He told delegates that there can be no change to the regulatory or customs rules which would inhibit cross border trade or cooperation.

"Let me be very clear, the Irish Government's position is it seems essential to us that there is no emergence of regulatory divergence from the the rules of the internal market or the customs unions which are necessary from meaningful North-South cooperation, or an all-Ireland economy that is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement," he said.

He said that was the "consistent, firm and stubborn position that Ireland has held for some time" and would not abandon it.

Mr Coveney said Ireland and Britain both have an obligation to work together to find solutions for the border which are consistent with the Good Friday Agreement.

"Brexit the most important negotiation of our time," he said.

Ireland could achieve full employment next year - Donohoe

The Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told the Fine Gael national conference that Ireland could achieve full employment next year.

He told delegates at the Fine Gael national conference in Ballyconnell: "The horizon we now face, a horizon of increased resources and potentially full employment is exactly the same horizon we faced in the late 1990s."

"But the positive legacy left by the Fine Gael-led Rainbow Government that left office then was subsequently squandered, the Tiger became a nightmare, we cannot and will not let that happen again," he added.

He said he would continue to cut income tax in each of the next three budgets.

Earlier the party published its new rolling manifesto, "The Building a Republic of Opportunity" document that features a series of initiatives targeted at middle-income families.

It includes a plan to cut income and wealth taxes in successive budgets, along with proposals for affordable childcare and minimum wage increases.

Ireland nowhere near delivering full equality for women, says Varadkar

Addressing a Questions and Answer session at the end of the conference, Mr Varadkar said Ireland is nowhere near delivering full equality for women.

He said his Government would introduce legislation to force employers to publish the salaries of men and women to aid transparency.

Asked about improving the health service he said other countries spend far less and provide a better health service, "so there is something seriously wrong with the way we organise and run our system".

He also said he wanted the public health alcohol bill, which sets minimum pricing and restricts the visibility of alcohol in small shops - to be passed before Christmas.