Leading homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has claimed that Irish families are facing life on the streets for the first time “since the Famine.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, McVerry’s statements were in response to a public dispute with Environment Minister Alan Kelly after 271 emergency beds put in place at Christmas were removed and replaced with sleeping bags.

According to the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, 359 families are in emergency accommodations in the city, including 780 children.

McVerry said the government has failed in its plan to effectively end homelessness by the end of 2016.

While McVerry acknowledges that there have been increased efforts to tackle the issue, key reasons for the problem continue to be left unaddressed.

“We have a homeless crisis that is unprecedented in my 40 years [working in the sector]. For the first time since the Famine, families are being told they have to live on the streets because there is no housing for them.

“Nothing is being done to stem the flow of homelessness. In the private rented sector people are being evicted because they can’t afford their rents.

“There is more money, but nevertheless he [Mr Kelly] opened 271 more emergency beds before Christmas, but five weeks later we’re back to square one.”

Labour Party deputy leader Kelly had previously responded to McVerry describing the campaigning priest's plans to end homelessness as “Alice in Wonderland” politics by saying he had yet to hear McVerry "say one positive thing yet in relation to anything."

“I’m used to those comments from him,” said Kelly.

“I haven’t heard him say one thing positive yet in relation to anything, which is unfortunate because many members of his staff work with us and would have contrary views, or express contrary views. I’d rather if people were more constructive.

“To be frank, you’re talking to the person who has put more money into housing than anyone on this island in the history of this State.”