Min­is­ter, for­get pub­lic per­cep­tions and fo­cus on fix­ing hous­ing cri­sis

Irish Independent - - News - Kevin Doyle Po­lit­i­cal Editor

IT WAS Fi­nance Min­is­ter Paschal Dono­hoe who ad­mit­ted six months ago that this Gov­ern­ment would be judged on its abil­ity to tackle the hous­ing cri­sis. He said it was the “most press­ing prob­lem of a gen­er­a­tion”.

Yes­ter­day, em­bat­tled Hous­ing Min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy said this was a “young Gov­ern­ment” that is “am­bi­tious for the fu­ture of our coun­try”.

The two state­ments fit a nice nar­ra­tive – which is that progress is be­ing made, if every­body would just back off and give them a chance.

But that isn’t go­ing hap­pen as Sinn Féin is weigh­ing up whether to make Mr Mur­phy col­lat­eral dam­age in a po­lit­i­cal game of cat and mouse with Fianna Fáil.

An­tic­i­pat­ing an on­slaught from the Op­po­si­tion, Mr Mur­phy’s of­fice cir­cu­lated a memo ear­lier this week to Fine Gael TDs in which he set out his achieve­ments over the past year.

They were bro­ken down into five cat­e­gories: Sup­ply More Homes; So­cial Hous­ing; Af­ford­abil­ity; Pro­tect­ing Ten­ants in the Rental Mar­ket; and Home­less­ness.

It be­gan by not­ing that we need 25,000 homes built each year from 2020, ris­ing to 35,000 from 2022.

But does the doc­u­ment stand up to a stress test? Not re­ally.

The fig­ures cited for the past year are al­ready out­dated be­cause of the anal­y­sis which the CSO pro­duced yes­ter­day.

Un­der so­cial hous­ing, he be­gins by list­ing all the prob­lems in­her­ited by the Gov­ern­ment in 2011.

It is true that there was an aw­ful mess, with 3,000 ghosts – but at some point Fine Gael has to start deal­ing with the here and now, rather than what Fianna Fáil did. It’s been seven years.

The third sec­tion is on af­ford­abil­ity. It points to the Re­build­ing Ire­land Home Loan, which is “a new af­ford­able home loan for first-time buy­ers”. Then there is a “new Af­ford­able Pur­chase Scheme” which in­volves buy­ing houses on lo­cal au­thor­ity lands.

And fi­nally the “pi­lot Af­ford­able Rental Scheme”, which uses a cost rental model on lo­cal au­thor­ity sites.

Per­haps what’s more telling, though, is that the pa­per omits that house prices have soared by 13pc so far this year – and ex­perts an­tic­i­pate more rises.

Rent Pres­sure Zones are cred­ited with cre­at­ing a “slow­down in the quar­terly growth rate in Dublin”.

“New rents in­creased by only 1.1pc to­wards the end of 2017,” it says.

But if we look at the big­ger pic­ture, we find that rents through­out the State ac­tu­ally rose by 7.1pc in the past year. In Dublin, they have in­creased by 7.8pc.

Ad­mit­tedly, there are some pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments listed in this area, in­clud­ing plans to beef up the pow­ers af­forded to the Res­i­den­tial Te­nan­cies Board.

Fi­nally, Mr Mur­phy’s doc­u­ment talks about how “more than 9,000 peo­ple” are in emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion. Again, this fig­ure is dis­puted.

Of­fi­cially the Depart­ment of Hous­ing re­ported 9,652 liv­ing in emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion in April – but this came af­ter hun­dreds were purged from the list as part of a re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion ex­er­cise.

And therein lies the prob­lem at the heart of the Gov­ern­ment’s argument that it is mak­ing head­way on hous­ing.

It is liv­ing in a fan­tasy land where am­bi­tion is enough to get by. For the peo­ple on the streets and the first-time buy­ers los­ing hope, the real­ity is much dif­fer­ent.

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar ef­fec­tively warned Fine Gael on Wednesday night not to let his side­kick be turned into the ‘bo­gey­man’ for a snap elec­tion.

There’s no doubt that Fine Gael is ready for an elec­tion. Metic­u­lous planning is tak­ing place be­hind the scenes – but the party is wary about get­ting the blame for caus­ing it.

Be­cause ev­ery­thing that hap­pens with this Gov­ern­ment is about pub­lic per­cep­tion. With hous­ing, it’s not pos­si­ble to spin past the real sto­ries with a set of nicely pre­sented statis­tics, es­pe­cially when they are ques­tion­able.

“This is not like click­ing one’s fin­gers,” Mr Mur­phy said this week be­fore, in his own words, “es­cap­ing” the Dáil for a quick dip in the sea.

We were treated to some Twit­ter pic­tures of the min­is­ter in his pink trunks as he high­lighted the plas­tic in our oceans.

But maybe, just maybe, he could limit his am­bi­tion to fix­ing one prob­lem at a time.

Right now the Gov­ern­ment’s suc­cess rat­ing on hous­ing is very low.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.