Sunday 15 September 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'You have to pay up if you want a fair society'


'The homelessness crisis is indeed shameful. But let's not place all the blame at the front gate of Leinster House.' (stock photo)
'The homelessness crisis is indeed shameful. But let's not place all the blame at the front gate of Leinster House.' (stock photo)
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

I have just heard a tale of woe that would melt a heart of stone.

Nothing particularly unusual about it in the current climate. It's simply the story of a separated young mother who has been told that the landlord is demanding her home back for major refurbishments.

She knows she can't afford to rent a similar house in the same area or even anywhere close. In fact, she's wondering where she can rent at all.

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For all sorts of reasons, financial and familial, her options are narrow and her choices few.

There is surely something broken in a system that can't offer modest accommodation on a reasonable lease to a family.

This hard-working mother isn't looking for a hand-out. In fact, she's not even complaining. She hasn't the time to luxuriate in self-pity.

This is where the blame game usually begins. What's almost as infuriating as the crisis itself is the cheap and populist chanting for political sacrificial lambs when, really, we have mostly ourselves to blame.

Much of this predictable sound and fury comes from the incoherent left without the perquisite rationale, reason or honesty thrown in.

Apart from the calls for Minister Eoghan Murphy to be disembowelled and fed to the seagulls, most of what they demand would simply scare away landlords, the very people who are providing accommodation.

They love to call out vulture funds too when about 6pc of rental properties are owned by them or go all Mao about repossessions which are among the lowest in Europe. All of this is aligned with their DIY Marxism which analyses the housing crisis as being driven by an ideologically pure deep capitalism imposed on us by a callous elite.

But a taut thread back to 1977 is a fine example of who is really to blame for the gradual collapse of local authority housing. In the General Election campaign of that year, Fianna Fáil promised to abolish rates. Voters lapped it up and gave them an unprecedented 20-seat majority. Abolished they were. Local authorities were never the same again after they became dependent on central funding.

We, as an electorate, made a selfish choice back then and we have shown precious few signs of changing our minds since. In fact, there are plenty of occasions since where we chose 'Me' over 'Us'. The recent attempt to re-introduce water rates is a case in point. It shouldn't be forgotten that Sinn Féin and People Before Profit manned that particular barricade with shrill enthusiasm.

The homelessness crisis is indeed shameful. But let's not place all the blame at the front gate of Leinster House. Much of it should firmly be deposited at our own hall doors. We talk big about a fair society, but we never seem to want to pay for it.

We see it was right move now the smoke has cleared

I was never really a smoker, but I would occasionally have a sneaky puff over a few pints.

God knows why because, like Bill Clinton before me, I never inhaled.

It was probably because almost everyone in the pub was at it. In the seventies and eighties it was still the thing to do. But I out-grew that and the more responsible me enthusiastically endorsed the smoking ban, introduced 15 years ago just last week by Mickey Martin.

By then passive smoking was tut-tutted as much as the shameful pleasure itself and I resented ingesting someone else's second-hand toxins. No more waking up the morning after smelling like the Poolbeg stacks and with two hang-overs instead of the one I had actually paid for.

They said it couldn't be done. Aren't we glad it was?

Irish Independent

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