Wednesday 26 October 2016

Coalition needs bold vision on housing

Published 08/10/2015 | 02:30

Enda Kenny has had successes and failures in his time as Taoiseach Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Enda Kenny has had successes and failures in his time as Taoiseach Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

He is playing peek-a-boo with his partners in Government and with the public over the date of the General Election.

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That's the prerogative of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who can face the electorate with no small degree of confidence - in economic terms at least -whenever he decides to 'go to the Park.'

Aspects of the recovery have certainly been impressive. Our unemployment rate reached a fresh seven-year low last month and the total tax take so far this year was €31.6bn - 5.8pc stronger than projections and unthinkable five years ago. This is all the more impressive given the legacy issues that Mr Kenny and his colleagues inherited.

The needle is moving in the right direction.

However, no amount of good news can conceal the failure of the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition to manage a housing shortage that has, under its watch, escalated into a full-blown homelessness and accommodation crisis.

It is true that many of the difficulties, such as the failure to invest in social housing and adequate population planning, were historic and constrained by our financial difficulties.

But the failure to adopt a cohesive housing strategy lies squarely with this administration.

Initiatives such as importing pre-fabs for the homeless, giving cash incentives to developers to sell homes at below market rates and effectively begging the Central Bank to relax rules put in place to offset a new crisis, suggest a lack of joined-up thinking across all Government departments.

Rent certainty for tenants is one example of legal reform that is not contingent on Troika constraints and could have been introduced to ease the plight of tenants and landlords before now.

The joint partners are still at odds over how an €180m plan to unlock thousands of homes should be funded, days away from the last Budget before the General Election. And admissions yesterday by the Department of Finance's chief economist that he is "puzzled" by the monumental rise in corporation tax is worrying, as Government forecasts are based on this data.

A bold, unified vision on housing is required before the ghosts of Fianna Fáil's past haunt the Coalition's future.

Pension schemes must keep their lay trustees

It was George Bernard Shaw in his play 'A Doctor's Dilemma' who coined the phrase: "All professions are conspiracies against the laity."

Although proposals by the Pensions Authority to remove lay trustees from the boards of pensions schemes is grounded in a wish to ensure appropriate levels of professionalism on such boards, it risks alienating the public and workers, many of whom serve as loyal, unpaid trustees.

Lay members play an essential role in maintaining public, as well as other stakeholder, confidence in the decisions taken by numerous boards and bodies.

That is why we have seen many professions, including lawyers and doctors, increasing independent, lay representation on their ruling and disciplinary committees.

Its not just a question of professional experience.

Lay members can act as an antidote to, and safeguard against, the type of peer reinforcement - or groupthink - that can arise when boards do not have sufficient diversity of expertise, both professional and real-world.

The authority's plans are misguided: the public cannot be excluded from having its say.

Irish Independent

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