As a species, we are as noted for our ability to learn from the experience of others as for our disinclination to do so. A look at the current travails of the coalition is a case in point.
The coalition members have been sitting on top of a potential bonfire on housing since its formation. Yet this week, not alone have they added cartloads of kindling through the lifting of the eviction ban, they have also given the opposition an opportunity to supply the spark.
It has been quite a week, for just as the ban ended, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar revealed we have a housing deficit of about 250,000 homes.
Mistakes are inevitable in the life of any government – what happens after you make them matters more. But too little has been done, and what was looks like being too late. The first failure was in not bridging the gap between supply and demand – a blind spot for successive governments.
But Fine Gael’s difficulty is that is has been in office for 11 years. The Government now finds itself having to defend a position from where it argues that while houses may not be provided overnight, people may soon be put out of them as quickly as that. Their feet are to the fire because it is not only impossible to buy a home at an affordable price, it is just as difficult to rent. This double knot has choked the life out of the dream of finding a home for far too many.
Therefore, failing to fully prepare for a new wave of homeless people as a result of ending the eviction ban strips the coalition of cover, and leaves it open to attack on all fronts.
The Taoiseach said he is not “unduly concerned” should he find himself leading a minority government following Sinn Féin’s planned motion on lifting the ban after the St Patrick’s Day recess.
If he is not worried, you have to wonder is he paying attention. The flak the Government is taking is not simply for ending the ban, which could not continue without further damaging the supply of houses. The mortal error was in not preparing for its termination. To announce it at a time when emergency accommodation is stretched beyond limits without full contingency plans has the potential for real hardship.
Mr Varadkar said the Government “agonised on” the decision, but public sympathy will be with the real agony felt by the families who fear being turned out on to the streets as there is nowhere for them to go. Mr Varadkar also accepts not enough had been done regarding tax breaks for landlords.
The terrible injustice of the litany of errors made in creating our housing emergency is that those least responsible for creating them have been left to suffer the most.