Friday 18 January 2019

Why Leo needs to find a new line of work

Leaving aside whatever you think of his politics, Varadkar's behaviour last week was just plain odd

By Tom Halliday
By Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

You can't, as Sir Michael Jagger used to sing, always get what you want. Last week, a chap with illusions that he has a talent for burglary was sentenced to three years, at Trim Circuit Court.

A householder disturbed the would-be burglar, who dropped his car keys and ran. He left his car behind and later told another victim his name, then fell asleep on the job. It was his 64th conviction.

Someone should take this lad aside and suggest he might have ended up in the wrong line of work. Perhaps he ought to try banking.

Many people end up doing things they really shouldn't.

Bob Dylan has long been under the illusion that he can play the harmonica, despite the recorded evidence.

Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards qualified to represent the UK at the 1988 Winter Games because he was the best ski jumper in Britain - an achievement only slightly diminished by the fact that he was the only ski jumper in Britain. He had all the aeronautic ability of a grand piano.

As you might guess, we are gradually and reluctantly getting around to Mr Varadkar, and his role in national life.

This column is primarily addressed to Fine Gael members. It is you, comrades, on whom the burden falls of taking Mr V to one side and gently breaking it to him: he owes it to himself to find a line of work more suited to his abilities.

The evidence is irrefutable.

Around lunchtime last Wednesday, I checked Twitter and found a tweet by TV3's Gavin Reilly: "Taoiseach tells Dail that someone on the average wage should be able to afford a home."

Reilly is widely regarded as reliable, but on this occasion I assumed his shorthand had failed him.

Obviously, what the Taoiseach must have said was that, due to the recklessness of the political class, someone on the average wage hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of buying a house at today's inflated prices.

Reilly had checked the figures and tweeted some lines that did indeed challenge the Taoiseach's rosy view of the housing market. To sum up his calculations: on the average wage of €37,500 your borrowing limit is €131,250.And the loan required for the average house, after you've saved enough for a deposit, is €193,500.

There's a sixty-grand gap.

But, surely, after all we've been through, the Taoiseach - of all people - can't be so detached from reality?

I checked the Dail record on KildareStreet.ie to see what the Taoiseach actually said at Leaders' Questions last Wednesday. And I found he had indeed said: "Somebody who earns the average income in the State should be able to get a mortgage and purchase a home."

Oh, I thought, that's not good.

There's so much easy money to be made from the housing shortage that vultures swirl around our heads. Rents are raised ruthlessly and people are evicted by the truckload to facilitate those rent rises.

The homeless figures keep rising, the emergency housing facilities are doing untold damage to children.

Pitiless money-grubbers, too ruthless to dignify with the term landlord, cram desperate people into disgusting kips.

The establishment's main concern about rough sleepers is that not too many die too close to Christmas - that's a real bummer for the politicians.

And the Taoiseach believes that anyone on the average wage can get a mortgage.

Blithely confident that mere tinkering is required, he seems to put most of his thought into how he can spread his fantasy of a society of industrious Fine Gaelers being undermined by work-shy benefit cheats.

Meanwhile, TheJournal.ie weighed in with a thoroughness last applied by the Columban monks at Kells when someone suggested the Bible they were working on could do with a few cartoons.

The Journal reporters sliced the figures various ways. Using the median wage of €33,000 (more relevant than the average wage), they showed that "a household with two working adults... buying a house for the first time would still not be able to afford a home".

The two salaries of such hardworking couples isn't enough to get a mortgage, but the gross exceeds the €42,000 limit to qualify for social housing.

Which doesn't matter, of course, because the Fine Gael/Fianna Fail cartel killed off social housing - and now that we're desperate for social housing Varadkar's prejudices ensure it has to be done through the private sector, which isn't interested because there are bigger profits elsewhere.

It's disturbing that journalists tapping their calculators routinely find the Taoiseach using fantasy facts and figures.

When you check out the Dail record - please do, Leaders' Questions, Wednesday, November 8 - you'll find Varadkar in an exchange with Eoin O Broin of Sinn Fein. Varadkar couldn't define social housing, he didn't know the figures.

O Broin - who has been in the Dail only since last year - dismantled Varadkar (class of 2007) on the facts.

The most avid Fine Gaeler, the most anti-Sinn Feiner, would blush on reading this.

If a surgeon wondered aloud what that sharp, pointy thing is called, the nurses would intervene. If a soccer player walked on to the pitch carrying a baseball bat, the referee would call time out. If a chef reached for the flour, the milk and the bleach, the waiters would raise the alarm.

What happened last week was the political equivalent of that. This is the Dail's responsibility, it is Fine Gael's responsibility, to do something.

To drag us further down the rabbit hole, in the same afternoon, Varadkar suddenly - for no apparent reason accused Micheal Martin of conduct "unbecoming" and refused to respond to the FF leader. He referenced "unparliamentary language".

Martin wanted to know what this terrible language was. Varadkar wouldn't say. It was, it seems, too foul for him to repeat.

This is beyond juvenile.

It appears the word that upset Varadkar was when Martin said some sectors had been "screwed".

Varadkar's colleagues have used the word liberally - Enda Kenny is very fond of the term (particularly when in Opposition).

John Bruton became Taoiseach without fighting an election; Bertie Ahern steered the country into economic la-la-land. Brian Cowen put the State in hock to cover the debts of reckless private bankers.

Enda, Lord help him, was fond of telling stories about apparently imaginary people, in particular the man with a pint in each hand. He was eventually caught out telling us about what was said at a meeting that never happened, by someone who wasn't there.

Now, Varadkar.

Like our burglar friend and Eddie The Eagle, Varadkar seems to have ended up in the wrong line of work.

We have to go back to Albert Reynolds, the pet food manufacturer, to find a Taoiseach who - whatever about his politics - could not be accused of fantasising. To ensure his dog food was up to scratch, Albert used to taste it. A sign of a man with a firm attachment to reality.

Varadkar's politics, particularly in housing, are dogmatic and damaging - as are the politics of his Housing Minister.

Beyond that, he doesn't do his homework, he's ignorant of the reality of the housing crisis - even though all the elements of it are the daily bread of politics. He seems obsessed with image and gesture. He's a man for whom political responsibility for housing primarily involves getting his photo taken, preferably in hard hat and high-vis vest, on a building site.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss