There were angry scenes in the Dáil tonight during the debate on a Sinn Féin motion calling for the declaration of a housing emergency.

Sinn Féin's housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin interrupted the speech of Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien, calling him "the worst housing minister we've had in decades".

Mr O'Brien asked him to withdraw what he said was a personal remark and he said Sinn Féin should ask its colleagues to stop objecting to public and affordable housing projects on land across the country.

During his contribution, Mr Ó Broin said that although declaring a housing emergency was a symbolic act, he said it would lead to emergency actions.

He said the current housing shortage is having a social and economic cost with schools lacking teachers, hospitals without nurses and medical centres without GPs.

Mr Ó Broin there is also an increase in children sleeping in cars and tents.

The minister defended the Housing for All plan and he accused Sinn Féin of not believing in home ownership.

He said that housing is an emergency for all those people who are homeless, struggling to pay the rent or trying to find somewhere affordable to buy.

"Unfortunately today's motion is about semantics not actions. Housing for All is a plan for the next decade. It took Deputy Ó Broin less than a day to say it’s a failure," he said.

Labour's Ged Nash said Housing for All simply was not delivering and the underspend on housing showed it was not working.

Social Democrats housing spokesperson Cian O'Callaghan said housing commencements are down 14% this year and he pointed to a €500m underspend on capital projects.

People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett said it was an insult to deny there is a housing emergency.

Rent situation 'off the wall', McDonald tells Dáil

Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the rent situation in Ireland is off the wall and insane.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions in Dáil, Ms McDonald pointed to the latest Daft report that shows an annual rent increase of just over 14%.

She said the record rent hike was entirely foreseeable and Government had failed to act.

The "chickens" of the Government's inaction have come home to roost and renters are paying the price, she said and called for a three-year ban on rent increases.

"While this situation worsens ... the Housing Minister tells people that we don't have a housing emergency," she said.

The Taoiseach said the Government has from day one treated housing as an emergency.

Micheál Martin said actions speak louder than words and the First Home scheme and cost-rental initiatives were delivering homes for people.

He said the Help-to-Buy scheme had helped 35,000 people to buy their own homes, but Sinn Féin wanted to abolish this scheme.

The Taoiseach also defended the Government's underspending of the housing budget and said that every department carried forward 10% of its budget each year.

He was responding to Labour leader Ivana Bacik, who called for the Government to spend all of the money allocated to housing.

She raised a report in the Sunday Independent, which reported there was an underspend of almost €500m by the Government on housing.

The Taoiseach also called on opposition parties to support amendments to the An Bord Pleanála bill to help speed up the delivery of housing.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet has approved a €125m fund to buy new sites for social housing.

The fund, to be financed from the Department of Housing's existing budget, will be established under the Housing Agency.

It is intended to ease the burden on individual local authorities who currently have to seek out sites and then negotiate themselves.

Minister O'Brien also got approval for €100m to pay off local authority loans on existing sites to kick-start social housing projects.

This money will also be drawn from the current departmental budget.

Additional reporting Mícheál Lehane and David Murphy