Sunday 21 January 2018

Time not on Coveney's side as house crisis grows

Minister Simon Coveney (SPORTSFILE)
Minister Simon Coveney (SPORTSFILE)
John Downing

John Downing

That grim and ancient adage - "It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good" - applies to politics more than many other walks of life. Thus, back in autumn 2008, harassed health officials took a grim dividend from the nation's all-round economic crash. For once in two decades they were not first in the firing line simply because something far more awful was happening on a larger stage.

We might be looking at a less obvious and pronounced repeat. The health systems many vicissitudes remain ever with us. But the problems besetting housing and homelessness may be set to eclipse the myriad of other problem areas which confront this new hybrid coalition experiment.

Yesterday, we got the full and final text of what is pedantically called 'A Programme for a Partnership Government'. Over 156 pages it belts out commitments to creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, pumping billions into public services and reducing hospital waiting times.

Bar the odd detail we have known the overall shape of things since last Saturday morning. Final publication was another small step in government-making.

The programme reiterates that we will have new ministries dealing with rural affairs and housing. And just hours earlier, Simon Coveney, the man who moves from the lush groves of the Agriculture Department to what will be the hectic challenge of trying to resolve the housing and homelessness crisis, was on radio with Seán O'Rourke.

Among the horrors he rehearsed was the reality that we spend €46m a year for hotel rooms as emergency accommodation in Dublin. It says everything about the vicious circle we are in: that sum would refurbish and/or build a heck of a lot of homes in the round of a year.

Making sense of a complex and multi-faceted problem is now a huge challenge for Simon Coveney, still rated as a putative Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach.

The one thing he does not have is time - this Government may well be on a very short rein, with a shorter lifetime than the lead-in period required to deliver new homes.

When closely questioned on the issue, Mr Coveney talked about drawing on his agriculture and food business experience to further the case. That was a puzzler - but we will hope he can surprise us.

Irish Independent

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