Monday 17 June 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'We should have given Fine Gael bloody nose over inept handling of housing crisis'

'This was a moment for the electorate to take decisive action and send a message to Leo Varadkar and his Government that nothing about the past few years has been acceptable.' Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
'This was a moment for the electorate to take decisive action and send a message to Leo Varadkar and his Government that nothing about the past few years has been acceptable.' Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Ignoring the existing quality of its councils, 20-something per cent of us went out on Friday and voted for Fine Gael. This was probably to be expected, but it's still disappointing. Realising that local elections are about our localities and their schools, potholes and bus corridors, we didn't treat these elections like they were a mini-referendum on the Government and how it's performing.

Fianna Fáil is back in the running and the largest party on Dublin City Council. Some of us went to the left and to the Greens. Some of us went to Independents. But not enough of us to really shake the system. Culture Minister Josepha Madigan wasn't overly concerned at the results. She said: "You have to put this into context, this is a mid-term election, in the last 20 years there is no government that has made gains in a mid-term election."

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This was a moment for the electorate to take decisive action and send a message to Leo Varadkar and his Government that nothing about the past few years has been acceptable. At a time when homelessness figures hover above 10,000, this wasn't the moment for voters to behave like apathetic sheeple. People are pointing out how it could have been worse for Fine Gael, but the point is that it could have been so much better for the country.

Tellingly, in the RTÉ exit poll just 42pc of voters trust this Government to manage the economy and public spending well. Some 54pc of voters polled disagreed with the statement "I trust this Government to manage the economy and public spending well", and 82pc of those polled agreed that local issues such as homelessness are much more important than European issues. Nine out of 10 voters (89pc) believe there should be more policies to resolve the gap between rich and poor.

Strangely enough, that's how most young people - disproportionately affected by austerity, shut out of the housing market, forking out vast sums of tax and USC and mostly ignored by the Government - feel. The Government keeps saying that it has a shiny housing plan, but talk is cheap and the homeless numbers keep on growing.

We have had co-living options, posturing and shaky policy offered up in various see-through attempts to win voters over. All of this has been intended to mask the obvious: we're a long way from being able to house people decently and the Rebuilding Ireland plan isn't really working.

There are now 10,305 people living in emergency accommodation in Ireland, including 3,821 children. This is an increase of 277 people on the January figures, including a rise of more than 160 in the number of homeless children. The number of homeless children has risen by more than 1,000 and the number of homeless adults has jumped by about 2,400 since May 2016, when the Government came into power.

Crucially, these figures don't include people sleeping on the streets, people couch surfing, homeless people in hospitals and prisons, those in direct provision centres, and in domestic violence refuges.

The spring rough-sleeper count found a total of 128 people sleeping rough on the night of April 9 and early morning of April 10. This is a decrease of 28 from the winter rough-sleeper count in November but a rise of 18 on the spring count last year.

Young people have suffered the most under an ongoing housing crisis. The generation before us bought up a hefty proportion of property and is now either sitting on it or renting it to us for astronomical monthly fees. Headlines tell stories of rents that far surpass what we saw during the Celtic Tiger. People can't afford to wait.

The psychological benefits of being able to decorate your home, of being able to choose your own furniture, of choosing the other people you live with will have terrible repercussions for our broken society in years to come.

For all the campaigning that us voters put up with this election season - posters on lampposts, cheery canvassers on the front stoop, dozens of slick flyers piling up in the hallway - nothing much will change and people will still sleep in doorways on Dublin's Henry Street tonight.

The housing crisis is one of the biggest problems that Ireland has ever experienced. But it doesn't have its own range of slogan jumpers and badges. It isn't trendy, and it doesn't hashtag well. I'm disappointed that people are only motivated to come #hometovote when there's a sexy social issue at stake.

The shock we need to absorb too is the loss of half of the electorate to stay-at-home, none-of-the-aboves. Voter turnout was unimpressive. Anger with the clumsy and cruel Cabinet was not enough to get us out of the house to cast our vote.

Before the next election, Opposition parties need to find brazenly bold good reasons why people should vote for them instead, and we need to use our vote.

Again and again, it feels like the Government is getting away with it.

After every mistake, inaction and act of downright cruelty that's come to pass, it's a pity that it wasn't punished proportionately by the public it has been stringing along for the past few years. Well done Ireland.

Irish Independent

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