Monday 16 September 2019

Editorial: 'People's real needs must be met now'

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Niall Carson/PA


After the local elections last May, the Government dutifully acknowledged the not quite "wallop" of some ferocity delivered to Fine Gael five years earlier, but the reality all the same that it had not fully heard in advance the public's demand for better government. That demand followed a series of concerns in the main, though not exclusively, related to housing issues, overspending on public projects and the environment. "We hear you," was the response after the votes had been counted to what was, in the round, an accusation of being arrogant and out of touch. Three months later and there was mounting evidence last week that the public's message of last May has actually fallen on deaf ears.

This may be the time of year when Official Ireland goes on holiday, but it is also a time when, this year, 58,787 students received their Leaving Certificate results. For families, it can be a joyous and anxious time in equal measure. In short order last week, the ministers with responsibility for education suggested that families who cannot afford to send their children to universities should consider more affordable options in regional colleges closer to home, accommodation being a barrier; and, separately, also suggested that students use their Susi grant to cover accommodation costs, even though, as critics have pointed out, the maximum grant of under €6,000 would not cover the rent in many halls.

Elsewhere, more than 300 homeowners who had been awaiting approval for a grant under the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland deep retrofit scheme, have been told they will not now receive funding anticipated and budgeted for to carry out work towards improving the environment we all share. Further, we discovered the operation of the expensive public service card scheme may have been illegal, and could yet leave the State vulnerable to massive law suits. Today, we report that the finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, has not only cast significant doubt over the future of the housing help-to-buy scheme by refusing to state whether or not it will be included in October's budget, but also that he is going to lock out anyone in Dublin where arguably it is most needed. Meanwhile, we also disclose that the cost of a Government initiative to revamp the country's nursing homes has doubled to an astonishing €700m, this on the back of huge concerns over other massive publicly funded projects such as the National Children's Hospital in Dublin.

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These developments have occurred in the quiet days of summer when the mind of the public at large may be elsewhere, other than those directly affected, of course; and at a time when the Government's thoughts are preoccupied by Brexit, which remains the dominant issue on its agenda. It is undoubtedly necessary that the primary focus remains on Brexit, but not to the exclusion of all else. The day-to-day lives of people exist in the here and now: a Susi grant, or grant to retrofit your home, or indeed the comfort of knowing there will be a school bus in September; or help to buy a home - these are issues in the here and now which can mean everything in the lives of people well into the future, and are not concerns which can be casually dismissed in the direction of consideration of other options. The Government must show it has learned the lessons of the elections last May and that it is governing effectively and to meet the real needs of people.

Sunday Independent

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