Thursday 24 May 2018

Election looms if 'major progress' is not made on housing, warns McGrath

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Arthur Carron
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath. Photo: Arthur Carron
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Independent Alliance minister Finian McGrath has warned that an election looms unless "major progress" is achieved on housing in 2018.

He said that if the crisis has not been resolved in 12 months, then "we have a problem" and added: "There's no point in being in Government if you can't deliver on housing."

The Government has come under sustained criticism from the Opposition on the pace of its efforts to get to grips with the problem and the issue is set to dominate the political agenda in the coming months.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Disabilities Minister Mr McGrath said he would himself be judging the Government's performance on the issue at the end of 2018.

"If we haven't made major progress in housing in 12 months' time, we have a problem," he said.

Mr McGrath said the Government was "very focused" on the housing crisis, but warned: "We have to have movement in 2018."

He defined movement as "major progress in building more affordable and social housing", and added: "I'll use that at the end of 2018 as a benchmark.

"If we don't deliver on that, that has the potential to cause a general election."

Asked if he would consider pulling the plug on the Government over the housing issue, Mr McGrath replied: "There's no point in being in Government if you can't deliver on housing, health or education - or in my case disabilities."

But pressed on the issue, he said he had "total confidence" in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy's ability to make progress on tackling the crisis this year.

"I think he's having a difficult job starting off and he's pumped a lot of money into homelessness. I think we'll see the impact of that in the next two or three months," Mr McGrath said.

He also said he wanted to ensure that new social and affordable housing projects include units for people with disabilities.

He said he believed the Government would get through 2018 without an election and could even make it to a fourth budget if it renews its deal with Fianna Fáil.

On his reasons for predicting that there will be no election this year, he said he thought Fianna Fáil would stick by its agreement to facilitate three budgets.

He also said nobody would want an election that would clash with the abortion referendum planned for the summer.

Mr McGrath, the super-junior minister at the Department of Health, said the health service was another issue that could spark an election.

He said there was "a long way to go as regards reforming the whole health service", but that "it's very easy to be critical of health and the money it costs".

According to Mr McGrath: "There's a lot of room for reform. There's still more room for proper investment."

He said he had a "great relationship" with Health Minister Simon Harris and "we're determined to get things done while we're here".

Mr McGrath said his main ambition for 2018 was to improve services for people with disabilities and to get the long-delayed ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities over the line.

This could be put to votes in the Oireachtas as early as next month.

Mr McGrath, whose own daughter has an intellectual disability, said he was disappointed that the convention, first signed a decade ago, wasn't ratified last year.

He said he had started doing things to protect the rights of people with disabilities, pointing to increased spending of €167m over two years. He said ratifying the convention "sends out a statement to tens of thousands of people with intellectual and physical disabilities that you are important, we respect your rights as Irish citizens...and we will do certain things to protect those rights".

Irish Independent

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