A bizarre attempt to defend the indefensible
Published 17/05/2016 | 02:30
The phrase "ah, sure..." could be one of the most dangerous in Irish politics. It becomes even more so when followed by "it's just" or "it's only" - and is used to explain away the indefensible and inexcusable.
So when Junior Minister Finian McGrath feels he can sign up for a Programme for Government and not pay his water bill, we have an "ah, sure" moment followed by "it's just Finian". The problem is that the Government is barely a week old, and Mr McGrath is back in the news bizarrely seeking an easing up of the smoking ban that has unquestionably saved countless lives and has been seen as a model in world health policy.
His ill-advised and ill-judged comments on the unfair treatment of smokers and the need to provide indoor smoking rooms have been roundly condemned. Naively and disingenuously, he sought to defend himself by arguing that he can support Government policy while holding completely contradictory personal views.
Of course, he is entitled to hold private views, providing he keeps them as such. He is a member of a minority government with the support of just 59 TDs. Provoking rows or instability and undermining the authority of a Government that is probably already the most fragile in the history of the State is reckless. As a Junior Minister on a salary of €121,639 he was obligated to pay his Irish Water bill, which would have set him back €3 a week. But as Minister for Disabilities he ought to be even more acutely aware of the appalling harm cigarettes do to the health of Irish people. As has been argued, a cigarette is the only consumer product that, when used as directed, can kill its consumer. And it has also been said that smokers who wish to know more about lung cancer need only just keep on smoking, so Mr McGrath really should know better.
Unpicking the locks of the housing crisis
Given that a property glut played such a part in the implosion of the economy, the current scarcity of housing suggests that we have a long way to go to break the feast or famine cycle.
Our dysfunctional relationship with property has been highlighted before, but the comments by IRES Reit chief executive David Ehrlich - that he had never seen a market like Ireland with such an extreme imbalance between supply and demand - need to be noted.
New Housing Minister Simon Coveney has now revealed that he is planning to introduce emergency legislation to allow city and county managers to fast-track the planning process for social housing projects.
He also hopes to reduce the public consultation period from eight weeks to four, and give managers the power to approve projects, bypassing councillors.
All of this is to be welcomed.
The new Government has given itself 100 days to come up with a meaningful solution to tackle the housing crisis. But according to Department of Environment data, building has started on only 181 homes since the start of this year. Unquestionably, this is a multi-headed hydra and tackling it will require a new approach. But, in essence, it comes down to supply. As things stand, people are locked out of the market by high mortgage deposit levels, with soaring rents eating into their capacity to save. They are further shackled by the failure of developers to move on new sites.
Mr Coveney will need to pull off something of a Houdini act to unpick all these locks.