TDs battling it out on the floor of the Dáil last night were a damn sight more comfortable than the 4,000 children who will be homeless and stuck in emergency accommodation this Christmas.
All the talk had been about whether last night’s motion would trigger a snap general election or whether it was a blatant political stunt to benefit the opposition for last week’s by-elections.
Unfortunately, the true tragedy and despair for families living out of hotels or emergency beds was lost in the political rhetoric and quarrelsome exchanges in the warm surrounds of the chamber.
Despite the tight voting numbers, the Government managed to see off the confidence motion against Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy. But the real struggle lies outside the gates of Leinster House.
A recent report found that children living in emergency accommodation had problems chewing and swallowing, linked to their prolonged diet of non-perishable pureed foods. The Novas research highlighted anxiety problems for toddlers, as well as problems learning to walk while confined to cramped hotel rooms.
Politics aside, this is no way for a modern republic to care for its most vulnerable. It is simply sickening, no matter who is in power.
Of course, this is the opposition’s point. The Social Democrats, who tabled the motion against Murphy, argue that the Fine Gael-led Government’s policies to fix the housing and homelessness crisis have simply failed. They, along with others such as Labour and Solidarity-PBP, want a massive public housing programme.
Fine Gael is accused of being over-reliant on the private sector to fix the problem, by continuing to allow ‘the market’ to dictate. But the Government party says the solution is to increase supply and that further intervention could scare away investors or developers.
Murphy says 50,000 new homes were built over the last three years and that 15,000 families have accessed the help to buy scheme.
In fairness, it is difficult to imagine a new minister for housing being able to solve the housing crisis or end the stream of families being forced into emergency accommodation — at least in the near future. There is no fixing this national shame overnight.
Would a general election and a new coalition and its policies help things? We wouldn’t know for several more months, probably the best part of a year, if you consider just how long government negotiations can take. Any knock-on delay in resolving the rental chaos and in supplying homes would only further fail families already locked out of a normal life.
Fianna Fáil’s decision to maintain its support for the Government this week — by abstaining, as agreed under its pact — ensured there was no election and that Murphy didn’t get thrown out of office. Party leader Micheál Martin argued the general election instead would be the place to fight over Murphy’s record on housing.
Nobody wants a Christmas snap general election — not the Government, not the opposition, not voters, and, indeed, not even journalists.
For children living out of bags and in tight hotels rooms and with worrying development complications — such as eating and walking — it would have made little difference. But they deserve solutions. And soon. They don’t have the luxury of our elected representatives and they certainly won’t benefit from political scraps inside Leinster House.