Saturday 22 October 2016

My Week: Simon Coveney*

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke
Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke

Monday: Fine Gael's the only party in Ireland where a Simon can ever truly feel comfortable, and for years I was the Number 1 Simon in there. Then along came Harris. Now he's the golden boy, fast-tracked for the top, and I've got Alan Kelly's old job.

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Today I have two plans to announce as Housing Minister. The first is a new proposal to put directly elected mayors into every major town and city. Yes, people of Ireland, you too can have your own Boris Johnson. Don't all thank me at once.

Second is a scheme to solve the housing crisis. The Opposition says I've done nothing to help on that front since taking over this job at the start of last month, but be fair. You couldn't even put up a conservatory on your des res in that time, never mind find a place to live for all the unfortunates who aren't well enough off to vote FG.

Together with my friend and colleague, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe - who I like to think of as an honorary Simon, because he really does look like one too - I announce a €200m fund to help build 20,000 new homes.

That works out at only €10,000 per house, which mightn't sound much, but that's not for the actual bricks and mortar, it's just to provide "small infrastructural projects" like access roads.

So for an estate with 200 houses, you'll basically get €2m. To build a road. If that isn't a good use of public money, I don't know what is.

I know it won't help provide extra school places for the kids who move there, but, hey, they'll just have to go to Clongowes like I did.

We're hoping to spend most of this money in the first two years, partly to kick-start another housing boom, but mainly because that's the longest this makeshift government can cling on.

Remember I said when I took charge of housing that I was "not afraid" to be radical? That wasn't entirely true. If I was that radical, I wouldn't be in the world's blandest party, would I?

Tuesday: Opposition TDs keep asking the Taoiseach what I'm doing about the bin charges now that changes I introduced have resulted, oops, in higher bills. Enda promises that I'm "monitoring the situation very closely". Am I? I thought I was doing housing this week?

I duly spend the day in talks with advisers as to what we can do about it. Bugger all, is the verdict.

"What can I do to make it look as if we're doing something useful even if we're not?"

"Now you're talking, boy," they say. "This is what we're good at."

Wednesday: The doom mongers warn there'll be rubbish piled up in the streets if I don't sort out this bin charges mess soon. The good news is that it won't happen in any of the nicer areas where FG voters live. Phew.

I wonder if there's any way I can blame my predecessor, Alan Kelly, for this. He insists this wasn't his fault either, but he's being blamed for everything else, so why not this, too?

"Take one for the team," I urge him.

"I'm not part of the f***ing team any more," he snaps. I don't know if he means the Government or just Labour.

Pressure eases slightly as those nutters on the Left reveal plans to protest outside the Dail against bin charges. That way generally leads to their supporters getting huge fines and prison sentences whilst the socialist princes prance off with the rest of us to another cushy summer school. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Thursday: I pledge publicly that no one will pay more for having their bins collected as a result of my proposals, even though they already are. What can I say? I got a bit carried away.

"How will you pay for it all?" the civil servants ask.

"Not a clue. Any ideas?"

It turns out they do, but their suggestion as to where I should shove my pledge is quite impractical, as I'm pretty certain it wouldn't fit.

I'm summoned to meet the FG chairman and secretary who tell me there's great concern in the party.

"Don't worry," I reply, "South Africa are bound to regroup after their thumping last week in Cape Town, but I still think we'll win."

"We're not talking about the rugby!" they shout.

What? Not talking about rugby, and they call themselves real FGers? I've never heard the like of it.

Friday: We hold a meeting with members of the rubbish industry. So do they. I demand action. Just like Michael Noonan did when he brought in the banks and demanded they do something about variable rate mortgages. And we all know what happened then. Nothing.

I'm not giving up. I plan to spend the weekend seeking a solution. In between the rugger, obviously, and maybe messing about on my boat. If you're up a certain creek without a paddle, after all, who better to put in charge than a keen sailor?

Simon Harris, meanwhile, sneakily unveils a €40m handout for care homes.

I catch Leo's eye in Leinster House, silently communicating. We were supposed to be the heirs-apparent. Now he barges in. Thankfully, every Health Minister is only ever one step away from disaster. Our day will come.

*As imagined by Eilis O'Hanlon

Sunday Independent

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