Fine Gael ministers are fearful their “posh boy” image and failure to solve the housing crisis will “kill” their chances of retaining power.
Amid mounting internal calls for a general election before Christmas, several party ministers, speaking to thein recent days, have said they are increasingly “angry” at Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy over failure to deliver tangable progress on the housing crisis.
While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other senior ministers such as Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris have publicly expressed confidence in Mr Murphy, behind the scenes the unease over the housing crisis is mounting and the rookie minister is under pressure to “deliver some good news fast”.
It is clear Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael ministers are increasingly keen to capitalise on the established lead over Fianna Fáil, and are concerned that a bad winter on the housing issue could see their support levels fall.
We are getting hammered on health and housing and the posh boy image is killing us, and Murphy’s name keeps coming up,” said one minister.
A number of the ministers have cited pictures of Mr Murphy in his swimming trunks at a Cabinet meeting in Co Kerry as being damaging to party’s standing in the minds of the public.
If he is not running, he is out swimming at a time when a family of small children are forced to sleep on uncomfortable chairs in a Garda station,” another minister said.
“It reinforces a perception we only care about the middle classes.”
The ministers also hit out at Mr Murphy being on his holidays in Spain at a time when thousands of students across the country are struggling to secure affordable accomodation ahead of the new college year.
There were 9,874 people homeless in the week of June 18-24 across Ireland, up from 7,421 people homeless, including 2,546 children in 1,239 families in mid-2017.
A canvass of Fine Gael ministers has also shown a strong desire for the Taoiseach to call a general election before Christmas should the party be near 35% in the opinion polls.
“Our numbers have been good, but we are vulnerable on the housing front,” one minister said. “But if we are near 35%, we would be absolutely crazy not to go to the country. A reason to go early could be found.”
Ministers have said the party is hoping that, on a good day, it could achieve 70 seats, but increasing to above 60 seats from their current 50 is a minimum.
Responding to the negative briefings from his colleagues, Mr Murphy’s spokesman accepted that Housing is an “exceptionally difficult and challenging portfolio” but insisted progress is being made in the fundamental issue of supply.
He cited latest CSO figures which showed that 4,490 homes were built between April and June, more than was built in each of the years between 2011 and 2015. So far, the total figure of new homes built stands at about 8,000.
In response to criticism of his “posh boy” image, Mr Murphy’s spokesman said such comments were not helpful in terms of fixing the crisis.
A person’s background has no impact on their ability to do a job,” he said.
He also rejected concerns that the brief is beyond a first-time minister, saying Mr Murphy is “well up for the challenge”.
The Taoiseach’s spokesman said it is clear a lot of work remains to be done in the housing portfolio and is at present “probably the most difficult portfolio”.
Asked if the Taoiseach retains confidence in Mr Murphy, the spokesman said: “Absolutely he does.”
Last month, Mr Murphy was chastised by Fine Gael minister of state Catherine Byrne over plans for the State’s first “cost-rental” housing estate.
Ms Byrne begged Mr Murphy not to destroy her local community.
“It’s the wrong decision at the wrong time and I will not stand idly by any more and not give my opinion,” said Ms Byrne.