Irish Examiner View: A welcome embrace of State's obligations

A shift on childcare and housing?
Irish Examiner View: A welcome embrace of State's obligations

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien plans to restrict further co-living developments. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

As the unmentionable's tenancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue moves towards its welcome denouement and as that tenant tells lie after lie to bequeath an anti-democratic legacy of distrust, dishonesty and disruption, Joe Biden's Democratic party begins to focus on its own deep divisions. 

Whether the Democrats can, now that their particular dragon has been given the St George treatment, sustain the unity needed to deliver the promises made during their election remains to be seen. That party is, because of the challenge America and the world faced, an especially broad church. 

That party will face and must embrace internal compromise after internal compromise if it is not to open the Pennsylvania Avenue door to a slicker, less volatile nativist in four years' time. Such is politics, particularly when division swamps collegiality.

In recent days, two Cabinet statements suggest that compromise-or-calcify plotline is already alive here. It may be coincidental that these statements came from the non-Fine Gael arm of the coalition but then it may not - especially as those welcome statements go against the character if not the stated, default culture of the dominant coalition party.

The Fianna Fáil Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien yesterday announced what seems to be a ban on further co-living developments. Just as Biden's cabinet will, he made a warning offered while in opposition by his leader Taoiseach Micheál Martin concrete. 

Mr Martin had, accurately, warned that co-living projects could become “glorified tenement living”. He was right and even the suggestion that they might be part of the solution to our housing crisis was an indictment of this rich country's attitude to society's most vulnerable.

Mr O'Brien made officials aware of his position when he received a review of the guidelines for co-living, issued in 2018 by his predecessor, Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy. Those guidelines allowed for bedrooms of 12sq m – little more than a parking space. 

In many ways, the details of these rent-driven developments are almost immaterial as they are, no matter how the sales department butters the language, little more than hostels where residents are expected to pay rent north of €1,000 a month. 

The decision to ban further hostel-style projects is very welcome but it must be amplified by proposals that will break the vicious cycle behind our housing crisis. Saying "no" was the easy part, describing "how" will be more difficult - and possibly challenged in the darker, enduring recesses of Fine Gael.

The assertion, one that reflects a policy widespread across continental Europe, by Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman that an entirely State-funded childcare system is the best model may also challenge long-held views but it is not in any way diminished for that. 

He has promised that parents will see "a substantial reduction compared to what they're paying now" over the lifetime of this Government. Hopefully.

Irish childcare costs are out of kilter with EU norms and are a very real burden on young families already struggling to hold their footing in a dysfunction housing market. Indeed, Mr O'Brien's rejection of an early policy and Mr O'Gorman's recogntion of the childcare burden suggest an awakening of sorts, a sharper recognition of the State's obligations around sustaining society.


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