Proposals on housing, hospitals: Suggestions tear back an Irish curtain

Proposals on housing, hospitals: Suggestions tear back an Irish curtain

Though former president of America, Barack Obama, did not mention anyone by name this weekend when he attacked officials’ response to coronavirus, saying the pandemic showed many “aren’t even pretending to be in charge” he made his sharpest intervention so far in the White House race. 

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” he suggested.

Two assertions in Ireland this weekend tear back curtains too. They challenge principles long thought beyond question and confront the still-failing efforts to resolve our dangerous, divisive housing crisis and inadequate bed capacity in hospitals. These issues have long marked an ideological stasis at the root of too much inequity and stress. 

The suggestions may not resolve those difficulties but go a long way to showing how that might be done. That the first suggestions might not have got attention, or that the second might not have been made but for the pandemic, is revealing.

Kieran McQuinn, an Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) research professor warns that the “roller coaster” of house price slumps and surges must be stopped by “aggressive” measures. 

He also points out that house prices are too high compared to peer societies. He deals with the out-of-kilter cost of building a house and refers to an earlier suggestion that land/site tax be used to curb speculation.

McQuinn’s comments came as KBC Bank predicted house prices will fall 12% this year but rise 8% next year. No other European country where KBC operates experiences this merry-go-round. Soaring unemployment figures and uncertainty around the borrowing capacity of those trying to buy homes will feed the housing shortage. 

Experience and McQuinn’s analysis suggest that something far beyond the usual tweaking is needed to fix this festering crisis.

That understanding also informs the possibility that the Government may buy and nationalise private hospitals to increase public bed capacity. 

The Government is committed to increasing bed numbers and may buy private facilities rather than build new ones. That prospect comes as tensions between private hospitals, consultants, and the Government over the €115m a month pandemic deal show little sign of abating. 

Health Minister Simon Harris and his officials are said to be warm about the idea of buying for-profit hospitals for elective and non-urgent public procedures. The example of the NHS Golden Jubilee facility in Glasgow was offered. It was, until 10 years ago, a private facility but was taken over by the state and has operated successfully since.

Private hospitals may be tempted by this option as floundering efforts to establish a universal health system have been rebooted by today’s crisis. 

It might be too sceptical to suggest that private hospitals see the writing on the wall but that this proposal is even being considered marks a change.

Housing and health service provision, or their absence, are fundamental issues in the wellbeing and happiness of everyone in this society, so maybe it’s time to adopt Barack Obama’s iconic campaign slogan: Yes, we can.

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