Monday 16 December 2019

Editorial: 'Ministers fumbling in dark over housing and health'

This evening, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy faces a vote of no confidence. (stock photo)
This evening, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy faces a vote of no confidence. (stock photo)


If failure truly is the condiment that gives success its flavour, the Government must be licking its lips in recent days.

Aside from four by-election defeats and an ignominious sprint to distance itself from candidate Verona Murphy - even though she was anointed by no less than the Taoiseach - things could actually get worse.

This evening, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy faces a vote of no confidence.

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But, of course, there is a reason turkeys do not vote for Christmas. Thus, a gaggle of independents are unlikely to pull the roof down on their own heads. So an immediate election is unlikely, but it is a lot closer than it might have been.

Mr Varadkar will still have to rely on the support of at least three unaligned independent TDs as Fianna Fáil is likely to abstain.

The Government may limp on a little longer, but after a rotten week, there is woodworm in the walking stick. The controversy surrounding Dara Murphy's Dáil attendance has been damaging.

Reputational damage has been done to core values, such as prudence, reliability and trust.

Taken on their own, the Government might see off these storms, but it is sitting on two fault-lines.

Today, the focus will be on Mr Murphy - but it might just as easily be on Health Minister Simon Harris.

The Government is extremely vulnerable on health and housing.

Its incomprehensible failure to recognise the anger and hardship caused by the property crisis and soaring rents will have to be confronted.

Mr Murphy may legitimately claim to have provided more houses than any other minister in recent years, but they are beyond the reach of most.

True, the Government inherited a housing emergency, but it has made critical errors in handling it. Its over-reliance on the private sector to fill the gap has been exposed.

Failure to address accelerating demand saw prices spiral, making it massively attractive for vulture funds to swoop in and speculate on 'buy-to- rent' developments.

Thus, international investment funds are making a killing on a scarcity of homes, which the Government has facilitated.

Mr Murphy is entitled to argue the problem could hardly have been fixed overnight. But too much time has lapsed, and the pressure has been allowed build to breaking point.

Rebuilding Ireland, a plan that was meant to be the answer, has not cut it.

In health, the trolley crisis is likely to worsen as we get into the depths of winter. There is also the prospect of consultants voting for strike action to be factored in.

Thomas Edison famously never accepted defeat, and would argue instead: "I haven't failed, I just found 10,000 ways that don't work."

Before this Government considers mounting a similar defence, it had best produce its own light-bulb moment, ending the fumbling about in the dark.

Irish Independent

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