Comment: Housing Minister loves a photo op - but pictures of children sleeping in garda stations should come back to haunt him
THERE are lots of photographs of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.
There are photos of the minister in his office with his shirt sleeves rolled up reading an important looking document.
There are photos of him on building sites wearing a hard hat and a hi-vis vest. There are lots of photos of him in lycra – with or without his top on.
There are also photos of him eating ice-cream, swimming, cycling and running.
There is not, however, a photograph of the minister lying across a line of plastic chairs in a Garda station.
And, for everyone’s sake, let’s hope there never will be.
But yesterday, a very grim photograph did emerge on the social media account of a 28-year-old woman named Margaret Cash.
She uploaded a photograph of five of her seven children lying on benches in Tallaght garda station. The youngest was in Ms Cash’s buggy.
They ranged in ages from 11 to one year old. Young, innocent and fragile.
They spent the night in the station. The next morning they ate breakfast on the floor of the station’s waiting area.
Who knows what they saw during those hours? Serious criminals are routinely processed by thestation.
Yesterday, she was provided with temporary accommodation until next Monday.
Ms Cash and her seven children are among the 9,872 people recorded as being homeless by the Department of Housing.
Until yesterday they were a statistic.
A number crunched by the civil servants or a figure press-released by a political party seeking to damage the Government.
Today, her five children have become an iconic and lasting image.
An image which encapsulates a crisis the Government just can’t get a handle on.
The photograph will appear on the front of most newspapers today, including the Irish Independent, and it was broadcast across the main evening news bulletins last night. It’s also safe to say it went viral.
It’s the type of blanket media coverage Eoghan Murphy and Fine Gael would love for one of their many and regular policy launches.
But this coverage was not the outcome of a carefully crafted media strategy complete with PowerPoint slides and colour-coordinated backdrops.
Instead, it was a camera phone image taken by a mother and uploaded to social media.
Yes, there are many facets to the housing crisis.
There are many people affected by the shortage of housing.
For example, there are also the hidden homeless sleeping on friends’ couches and the working homeless who get up and go to work every morning before returning to a hostel.
There is also little political discourse around the plight of the hundreds of thousands of hard-working young people who view home ownership as an unreachable goal.
People trapped by extortionate rents and overly stringent mortgage rules.
People will also ask why Ms Cash did not take up the accommodation she was offered in Meath even if it meant she would be farther away from her family.
But Ms Cash made the decision she believed to be best for her children and held out for another place.
There are people who are overly dependent on the State but the Government also has a responsibility to provide a safety net for those who fall through the cracks.
Since the recession and the onset of the housing crisis, the cracks appear to be widening and more people are slipping into poverty.
The youngest in our society have to be protected, nurtured and encouraged to have aspirations.
A cycle of deprivation must be avoided at all costs and long-made promises must be urgently fulfilled by the Government.