There have been been sharp exchanges in the Dáil over housing policy.

The Sinn Féin Leader told the House that "rip off rents" continue on the Government's watch.

Mary Lou McDonald said this has real consequences for people's lives and spoke of a generation of renters being cast aside.

"You need to turn away from the policies that haven't worked and embrace those that will," she told the Taoiseach.

Sinn Féin wants a ban on rent increases for three years and to "put money back in renters' pockets," through a tax rebate.

Responding, the Taoiseach rejected claims that he was divorced from reality on this issue.

Speaking directly to the Sinn Féin Leader he said "my background and where I grew up and what we had to put up with was far different to yours".

The Taoiseach said housing is the greatest challenge facing society but vowed that Government would increase housing supply.

He said construction of up to 30,000 homes had now commenced.

"It is a crisis but the most effective of way of dealing with it is to get housing supply in place," he said.

The Taoiseach accused Sinn Féin of opposing the building of 6,000 homes at local authority level.

In relation to energy prices, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the Government is continuing to look at ways to help mitigate the impact of rising energy prices on households.

He said that the Coalition had introduced measures in the budget aimed at protecting those hit by rising prices.

Mr Martin added "we will continue to work across different areas to reduce that impact".

He said the Government would engage with the social partners and others on the issue.

He was responding to Solidarity TD Mick Barry who said that workers were suffering from a "defacto wage cut".

Mr Barry also cited the secretary general of the Department of Health who he said had received a €80,000 pay rise.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Finance has told the Dáil that "many families, many businesses, many workers" are facing cost of living increases which are "rising far more quickly" than before.

Paschal Donohoe acknowledged the worry that this is causing, especially for those on fixed income.

In deciding how to tackle this other factors must also be considered, he said.

He pointed to the rising national debt, which per capita is "one of the highest levels of public debt in the developed world".

"We can't forget the risks that we were aware of before we entered into the very dark days of this pandemic," he said, concerning corporate tax in the future, on which our reliance deepened during the pandemic.

He was speaking after Labour's Finance spokesperson, Ged Nash, told the Dáil that cost of living increases mean that "people are in real trouble".

Mr Nash told the Dáil that living standards will fall further without "a package of meaningful measures".

The Finance Minister acknowledged the role of the Labour Party for its support and ideas during the pandemic, and without whom - he said - the economy would not have been in the strong shape it was in before the pandemic hit.

He insisted he understands the anxiety and worry people are experiencing.

The minister outlined measures the Government introduced in the budget to help people.

He dismissed criticisms that label the Government's support for electricity bills as "tokenistic", saying the Government's measures must be considered "in the round".

The Government will continue to do all we can to address "a rising burden" and "additional anxiety" people are facing, he insisted.

Speaking during Private Members' Business, where he presented a motion on the cost of living, Mr Nash warned that "the least well off bear the VAT burden when the prices go up", especially on fuel.

He called on the Government to act immediately to "keep the wolf from the door".

EU states with left-wing governments are exploring an approach to get a derogation on VAT on fuel for a six month period, something the Government should pursue, he said.

Deputy Nash said this would cost €200 million - the same amount the Government is spending on a "gimmick" to refund electricity payments.

Increases in the cost of living is the urgent economic issue of this year, and needs to be taken seriously, Deputy Nash said.