At least 10,000 homeless - Crisis is one of political relevance

Somewhere in the bowls of Government Buildings, this week or next, a committee made up of second-tier bureaucrats, maybe a theatre consultant too, will meet to update preparations for the events scheduled to mark this Republic’s looming foundation centenaries.

These meetings will occasionally be visited by, say, decision-makers from the Department of the Taoiseach or the Department of Heritage and Culture to prod or curb as required. It is unlikely that this committee, no matter how inspired, might suggest a re-enactment of the burning of Cork or, say, the Ballyseedy Massacre or even the Sack of Balbriggan. That would be too close to the bone, too contentious. Too real.

It is certain, too, that mention cannot be made of the great social changes, the great escape from poverty, and unprecedented creation of opportunity driven by the courageous and barely affordable social housing projects that, during the early decades of the State’s existence, did so much to lay the groundwork for today’s well-educated and affluent Ireland.

That would be far too real, far too challenging.

This week’s appalling figures on homelessness make such didn’t-we-do-well cheerleading impossible.

It would be interesting, however, to hear what those who did so much to get our forefathers out of urban tenements might say about our situation today — we were never richer but we never had so many homeless people. Those pioneers would be appalled.

This week’s Government figures show that more than 10,000 people are homeless, though Fr Peter McVerry suggested the figure is closer to 15,000. The mercurial, evasive performance of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy on RTÉ yesterday morning gives credence to Fr McVerry’s view.

Mr Murphy was at best Jesuitical, at worst dispiritingly over-whelmed. He repeatedly batted questions away, describing them as ideologically-driven. Blind to the mote in his own eye, and his Government’s, he did not recognise his own ideological commitment to the principles that have caused and sustain the crisis. It was as if he went out of his way to confirm Fr McVerry’s assertion from some months ago that this Government is ideologically incapable of resolving the crisis.

This catastrophe has been with us for so long that it has conventions of its own. Einstein’s phrase:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results” is invoked.

So too in the Kenny Report from all those years ago. Kenny laid out a roadmap that was, and would be today, radical but justifiably radical. No government in the decades since it was published has found the courage to implement it.

This week’s figures, whether it is 10,000 or 15,000 show that this is no longer just a housing crisis. It is a crisis of political capacity and relevance, a crisis centre-right politicians all around the world have failed to tame. Brexit is one symptom, France’s gilets jaunes another — as is the Trump presidency.

Unless Taoiseach Varadkar’s administration, in the short time it has left, shakes off the shackles of conservatism and puts people before property the chaos that might follow will make the housing crisis seem a thing of nothing.

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