Saturday 19 October 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Fear of the other crowd? We're in election mode'

At a time when we need leadership, most of our politicians prefer to play the blame game, writes Gene Kerrigan

Cartoon by Tom Halliday
Cartoon by Tom Halliday

Two senior ministers in the Varadkar Government - Eoghan Murphy and Simon Harris - made a show of themselves last week.

Around the same time, an independent TD, Noel Grealish, publicly insulted the entire continent of Africa. Mr Grealish appears to be angry with a lot of people.

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins said something about soldiers' pay, which he was entirely entitled to say. And senior government 'sources' began anonymously slagging off the President.

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Yes, folks, we're in pre-election mode, and the politicians are getting more jittery by the minute.

There's something I've wondered about - it concerns Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Perpetuating the Housing Crisis.

Does he have his own hard hat?

It seems like every time someone on a building site hammers in a nail, Eoghan immediately appears on-site, dressed in a hi-viz jacket and a hard hat, to have his photo taken.

Click - as Eoghan poses triumphantly beside the plaque that's installed to commemorate the successful hammering-in of the nail.

Sometimes, when a whole house has been successfully built, Eoghan brings the Taoiseach along to pose with him beside the plaque.

The obsession with marketing themselves is embarrassing. Does every building site have spare hard hats, in case Eoghan and Leo pop in? Or do they bring their own hard hats, in the boot of their State cars?

Last week, Eoghan was celebrating the O'Devaney Gardens development. This offers 842 homes, built on public land in Dublin. Whoopee! That's 842 families housed on public land, in housing they can afford.

Well, not quite. What could have been a real achievement was always going to be a major embarrassment.

Currently, global millionaires are genuinely astonished at the fortunes they're making out of the Irish housing crisis. The returns on their investment are spectacular, as a result of the policies imposed by the dominant political parties, FG and FF.

The golden rule is: no one can be housed unless and until the private sector gets its cut.

Projects favour developers, hundreds of millions of euros go in subsidies to landlords.

Take O'Devaney Gardens. A developer was chosen, and half the 842 homes built on public land are to be sold on the private market. And sold at top prices - big profits for one of the developers we love so much.

The rest of the homes are split between public housing (20pc) and what are - with a neat sense of humour - called 'affordable' homes (30pc).

The private developer has set the price so high that you can't buy a two-bed house for less than €270,000. Or a three-bed apartment for less than €420,000. Given Central Bank rules, that means you can't afford one of these 'affordable' homes unless you're on at least €102,000 a year, and you've saved a €42,000 deposit.

Only 14pc of the population earns €102,000 or more.

Eoghan Murphy went on RTE's Drivetime to explain why it's an achievement to let a private company use public land to build houses it will sell privately, at great profit.

He seemed chuffed that in exchange for this, the private company would build 'affordable' homes that only people earning over €100,000 can afford.

Mindful of the pending general election, Murphy explained that Fianna Fail is "reckless" and Fine Gael is "responsible".

A minute later, Murphy said FG won't be "reckless" like other parties. He then repeated that FF would be "reckless".

It sounded pathetic - you think we're bad? The other party is worse.

When Mary Wilson pointed out Murphy's repeated failures in the housing crisis he explained he had to deal with - guess what - the "reckless legacy" of FF.

Clearly the marketing company preparing the election campaign has chosen the "reckless" theme. Which worked in the 2011 election. But FG has now been in office eight years.

And it has done such damage to so many that some voters now look to FF - the brown envelope party - to protect them.

Not to be outdone in the pathetic excuses department, Health Minister Simon Harris popped up last week, to kick FF. He defended FG by denouncing Micheal Martin's record as health minister.

Martin left that job in 2004 - some 15 years ago.

This is the dreadful state of these people, as one failure follows another.

They think it's enough to point at one another and say: "They're worse!"

Meanwhile, the people of Oughterard have legitimate worries about whether they have the infrastructure to cope with refugees. Likely they're as human as the rest of us - they care about others and worry about themselves. Into this march the people with Very Firm Opinions about Africans and Muslims and people who are Not Like Us.

Unapologetic racists came sniffing around Oughterard. People of that sort are visible elsewhere throughout the country. They capitalise on the worries that arise in such circumstances.

When such people appear, political leadership is important.

Instead, we got Noel Grealish denouncing "Africans" - all 1.2 billion of them - as "spongers".

FG's Sean Kyne, a junior minister, was at that meeting. He shares a constituency with Grealish, and every transfer counts. He claimed on radio that he didn't hear Grealish's remarks.

I wasn't there but, oddly enough, I could hear the remarks clearly on the video of the event.

Should have gone to Specsavers, Sean, they do ears now, I'm told.

Everywhere you look, you find petty politicians - unable to deal with perpetual problems. Concerned only with the constituency and the seat - the holy seat - and helpless in the face of reality.

They'll make "representations", but they can't cope with anything else.

And that's why we have problems unsolved for decades, projects that double in cost.

Last week, President Higgins said soldiers should have pay and conditions "sufficient to provide for themselves and their families". An uncontroversial point, surely, plainly spoken.

Publicly, politicians said they'd no objection. "Privately, however", reported the Irish Times, "senior Government figures are angered".

Government ministers reckon that saying soldiers should be properly paid is extremist talk. The President, we're told, is "above politics".

Really? It would indeed be awkward if the President called for votes for one party or another. But that's not going to happen. And there's not a word in the Constitution that prevents the President expressing opinions. The President is free - in fact he has a duty - to engage with our welfare. He takes an oath to dedicate himself to "the service and welfare of the people of Ireland".

That covers a fair wage for soldiers.

In public, we put up with "the other guy's worse" as a political slogan. We let health and housing scandals linger for years. We let politicians deny the reality of refugees escaping war, flood, drought and fire - and the global nature of humanity. And when the President says what is self-evident, that soldiers are underpaid, politicians nod agreement in public and rage in private at such extremism.

Meanwhile, as problems linger and too many politicians concern themselves only with retaining their seats, people who see hate as patriotic offer scapegoats, to exploit the worries of the people.

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