Thursday 29 September 2016

We all have to settle for less than ideal solutions

The Irish Left has a vested interest in keeping Erica Fleming homeless, says Eilis O'Hanlon

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

HOUSING ISSUE: It’s better for the Left if Erica Fleming remains homeless. Photo: Mark Condren
HOUSING ISSUE: It’s better for the Left if Erica Fleming remains homeless. Photo: Mark Condren

According to one Irish charity, Dublin may soon become the homeless capital of Europe.

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If it does, there will be one group quietly celebrating and it won't be landlords or the Government, however much campaigners appear to believe that both secretly relish not finding people places to live.

It will be the Left, who have decided that homelessness is this year's water charges - the single issue that will cause maximum discontent and bring down the ruling class, boo hiss, at the earliest opportunity. Apparently, the 1916 centenary commemorations didn't work out quite as well as they hoped. We were all supposed to be rioting in the streets by now, demanding the immediate implementation of the Proclamation. Instead, the 100th anniversary came and went and the Irish still stubbornly refused to be stirred into revolutionary socialism.

So it's back to the drawing board. This season's weapon of choice - Erica Fleming.

Of course, they couldn't actually care less whether Erica gets a house. If anything, they'd rather she didn't, because at that point her usefulness as a symbol would end. The more the merrier, right?

Think that's being unfair? On the contrary, it's the Irish Left's official position. As far as they're concerned, there is no deal to be done to help the homeless. Or those on hospital trolleys. Or those in failing schools. They've made that abundantly, explicitly clear.

If there was such a deal on the table in return for their participation in a future coalition government, they would turn it down, unless they also got to implement every single one of their other policies.

Again, that's not making unsportsmanlike allegations against the Left. That is literally what they said before, during and since the election.

If it comes down to a choice between everything or nothing, they'll choose nothing. As a matter of political principle. These are not the stances and actions of normal politicians, but of extremists by definition.

It's not an accident either. It's a deliberate tactic, one which is now being adopted by the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party in the UK, which is currently completing a remarkably swift destruction as a parliamentary force of one of the country's two main political parties. Author John Harris saw it in action in his small corner of the north of England in the 1980s, as a small group of hard Left activists first infiltrated, then took over, the local Labour branch to which he belonged.

It's not just the "trademark displays of righteous belligerence" that he now recognises again - though boy, our own lot could teach Jeremy Corbyn's new kids on the block a thing or two about that.

It was also the return of the so-called unattainable "transitional demand". "In other words," as Harris wrote recently, "the herd gets whipped up into a frenzy about something you know it won't get, while you smugly sit things out, hoping that if everything aligns correctly, another crack will appear in the great bourgeois edifice". It's all about playing the long game.

Unfortunately, those at the bottom of the heap don't have the luxury of long-term strategic planning, they need short term solutions so they invariably suffer in the meantime. Housing is a classic example.

This gives the Left a vested interest in the homelessness crisis not being solved, indeed in it becoming worse, because there's no point making unattainable demands if people such as Erica Fleming then start settling for less than ideal solutions to their situation.

But isn't settling for less than ideal solutions what everyone has to do? Isn't it what hundreds of thousands of Irish families already do?

How many 30-year-olds are living in the midlands and commuting into work in Dublin because that's what they can afford? Many of these people would love to be offered the chance of a two-bed apartment in Clontarf at someone else's expense, but they'll never get the chance because they are unfairly deemed not to 'need' help.

Erica has many positive things going on in her life now. She's about to start a new course at Trinity which might qualify her down the line as a social worker, at which point she, like so many others, may decide she wants to take up job opportunities in other parts of the country, where she has a chance to own a house - because that's what people do. They go where the jobs are.

So why is it a non-negotiable demand from the Irish Left that people like Erica, unlike the long-distance commuters and those who up sticks to seek work, must get exactly what they want right now?

It's neither possible or fair to say that one section of society - those who work and pay their own way - must cut their coats according to their cloth, whilst those who rely on the help of the State should be able to leave a wish note under the pillow and expect the tooth fairy to cough up.

The insistence that private rented accommodation is an unacceptable answer to long public waiting lists is particularly provocative. When the rent is not being paid by you, but by the State, then you can't expect to have a veto on who owns each property. There is a right to good living standards and facilities, but whose business is it whether the house or flat is owned by a private landlord or the council?

If it is morally objectionable to you that an individual is making a profit from the rent, even though you're not paying it, then just accept you'll have to wait even longer until the perfect property comes along, something that private renters and buyers rarely have an option of doing, just as they have no guarantee that their rent won't go up at some point in the near future too. No one is asking those on housing lists to do anything those paying rent to private landlords out of their own pockets are not already doing.

It's probably frustration at the growing realisation they're being caught by this classic Leftist pincer movement of the 'transitional demand' that led Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to suggest that officials should be free to fight back against accusations that they have not done enough in particular named cases.

Someone inside Dublin City Council promptly did just that, leaking details of offers made to Erica, causing a storm of protest as a result, as those who back the young mother turned on those who released her personal details, purporting to find it outrageous that anyone would dare suggest she has a 'shared responsibility' to solve this problem.

Varadkar himself intended to write, first, to the Data Protection Commissioner for clarification of what steps ministers and officials could take; he didn't advocate jumping in with both feet - but what are they supposed to do? Just sit there and take it as their daily efforts to help people in need are deliberately misinterpreted as part of an explicitly partisan political campaign?

Erica Fleming has become a political figure, a campaigner, a player. The rules change when you do that. You can't expect to be treated as a purely private individual anymore.

The Left seems to think that it can bring pitchforks to the battle and then expect their opponents to fight back with feather dusters. They revel in the lack of rules and accountability in the new social media-fuelled campaigning, whilst demanding that those who attack them back should be constrained by ever more injunctions and punishments when they cross a line.

Most people's respect for the Irish Left could only sky rocket if they ever stopped behaving like perpetual sociology students and actually went into government on realistic terms to deliver X number of new homes for people such as Erica Fleming, or train X number of new nurses and teachers, but they never will.

Dublin City Council has offered Erica more help in two years than the Left in Ireland ever would if she waited for them to come good her entire life, because they don't care about real people, only The People.

Sunday Independent

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