The narrative about homelessness reflected in the national media "is damaging to Ireland’s international reputation", according to the junior minister for housing.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing Damien English made the claim in response to a question from Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger during a Topical Issues debate in the Dáil.

He said he welcomed the opportunity to elaborate on the comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy at the weekend in respect of lreland's rate of homelessness and "to clarify the technical issues associated with making international comparisons".

He said: "Let me be crystal clear, the levels of homelessness we are currently experiencing in this country, including recent increases, are absolutely unacceptable. No one is disputing that.

"It is not good enough that more than 3,000 children are without permanent homes, that families are residing in hotels or that individuals are sleeping on the streets of our cities.

"However, neither is it acceptable to hear commentators talking down our country. Over the past two years we have seen this narrative reflected in the national media.

"It has been claimed that homelessness in Ireland is at its worst since the Famine and that we have a crisis that is the worst in Europe.

"Assertions have been made to the effect that homelessness in Ireland is at such crisis levels that we should be excused from the requirements of EU law in responding.

"Some of this narrative has seeped into international coverage of our housing system, and it is damaging to Ireland's international reputation that our social response to this issue is being portrayed as dysfunctional."

Earlier, Ms Coppinger accused Fine Gael of being "homelessness deniers".

She said: "The party's members were not willing to debate the most pressing social issue at the party conference, meaning that the main Government party was sending out the message "Crisis? What crisis?"

"This was followed, disgracefully, by a well-paid Government adviser, Mr Skehan, whose services are paid for by the taxpayer, going on national radio to say that the poor will always be with us.

"It is quite incredible and these stark examples bring it home to people that nobody in the Government seems to care or to recognise the scale of this crisis."

Ms Coppinger said that people were "bewildered" by the comments on homelessness that emanated from the Fine Gael party conference.