It was dismissed by the Taoiseach as a “phantom debate”.
However, the only illusion was the one created by his Government when it tried to absolve itself of the very policy it created.
For four days, the Coalition has been running from the ghost of its own decision: That banks will be allowed to make a person give up their job if they enter talks on a mortgage writedown.
But it can’t hide from the undisputed fact that it has chosen to target working parents, their families, their careers, and their lifestyle choices with the powers it is granting to banks under the Personal Insolvency Service.
It was no surprise that Enda Kenny pleaded to the Dáil yesterday to “put an end to this debate now”.
The Government wishes it had never started. It would have been far more comfortable to slip through the measure without anyone taking note, giving banks powers to deal with families and households in debt in any way they see fit to reach a deal that has only one real winner: The banks.
The Taoiseach has been speaking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue. On Monday, he said it would be “incredible” if banks forced anyone to give up work under the guidelines. This begs the question: Why give them the powers to do so?
It was carefully crafted spin to ensure the public did not associated the unpopular measure with Fine Gael or Labour, but rather with the bad old banks.
Unfortunately for them, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar ruined it all by telling the truth, “As I understand it this would only pertain to cases where somebody’s childcare bills exceed what they are making at work,” he said.
When his comments appeared yesterday, the women of Ireland in particular were angry. Something of a storm broke out in senior Government ranks, as they no doubt feared the truth being told.
Mr Varadkar’s office issued a statement trying to shoot the messenger — this newspaper — for the furore caused by his comments.
He was being reined in to participate in the illusion that the Government had no responsibility for the guidelines it created.
The Taoiseach then came under pressure on the issue in the Dáil. He said “this Government is probably the most open of any administration of the last 50 years”, before continuing to confuse the message further.
He said “no guideline would be mandatory” and the banks “will not impose conditions on anybody, woman or man, to be required or forced to give up a job”. His words gave the impression the guideline would be scrapped. But it was nothing more than that, as nobody in Government has confirmed it will be removed, or stated explicitly that this will happen.
The Government has a choice: It can either include the guideline and have the courage to stand over it, or criticise it and take it out.
Instead, they are trying to have it both ways. They are doing one thing and saying another — one is the truth and one is the spin — and they hope the latter will win out and a gullible public will fall for their illusion.
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