The biggest lie of the week is that this Government actually cares about homeless people, writes Shaun Connolly
WHILE it may be a good idea to let sleeping dogs lie, it is a bad idea for the Government to lie to financial watchdogs in the hope they will go back to sleeping.
Not that anyone in Government ever really lies of course; they just present things in a counter-factual way and hope we don’t notice. They have been caught out telling a rake of whopping fibs this week — which is some going, even for them.
First of all, in their scramble not to look like the incompetent techno-vandals they are, the Government insisted it did lift a finger to help the Dublin global Web Summit by putting €750,000 into it over the past three years, so don’t blame them for the highly prestigious event heading off to Lisbon in a fit of pique.
What ministers tried to portray as a subsidy was them buying space in the exhibition hall like everyone else. And, anyway, putting €250,000 a year into an event that brings a return to the State of 400 times that is a pretty paltry effort.
But, then, what kind of proactive innovation would you expect, when Finance Minister Michael Noonan insisted the Web Summit “wouldn’t be missed” — it only pumps €100m a year into the economy; why would we miss that?
The organisers’ complaints about the indifference of the Taoiseach’s department to holding onto this event speak volumes about the short-termist lack of vision of this Government. Which brings us neatly to the Budget. Financial watchdogs, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, and the ESRI, have both expressed deep concern about its expansionary financial package. They despair that the Coalition has learned nothing from the crash.
Again, Mr Noonan’s response is particularly laconic and dismissive, as he sniffed that: “An expansionary budget is a matter of opinion.”
Well, quite, but it is the opinion of the experts who were put in place to warn politians against committing calamitous financial mistakes to court temporary electoral popularity.
Even former Taoiseach and part-time political clown, Bertie Ahern, came out and said those who criticised him (so that’s just about everyone, then) should come out and criticise Mr Noonan and his blatant election buying. But, of course, there is no election to buy, as Enda Kenny insists we all got it wrong when we thought he was spoiling for a November poll.
This was the furthest thing from his mind, he implored, as the truth twisted away from him.
The fact he suddenly stopped insisting the election would be in the spring, and left more hints of a pre-Christmas poll than the phrase ‘Behind you!’ being shouted at a pantomime dame, had been totally misunderstood, he “explained”.
The overt flirtation with November was not broken off because Joan Burton plugged herself into the national grid and sent electric shockwaves through Enda’s ears, as the Coalition looked set to unravel even before the campaign had started, oh, dear me, no.
This Government would never get involved in such shady skulduggery. That must be why on a Saturday morning, while the nation was distracted by major sporting events, they slipped out the little announcement that an extra €1.7bn was being pumped into the chaotic health service, transport and other departments.
This came as a surprise to the financial watchdog, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, as it amounted to a second, shadow budget for this year, and more than doubled the €1.2bn-€1.5bn spending expansion it had approved.
Ministers seized on a minor correction the IFAC had to make regarding claims the Budget broke EU regulations, but the council insisted this technical error was due to it not being supplied with the relevant information by Government.
The body was specifically created to tell ministers what they would rather not hear — or let the public hear — and its main concern, along with the ESRI, was that throwing far too much money at voters when the economy was already growing rapidly repeats the dire mistakes of the Bertie/Cowen era.
But the Budget was nothing to do with the next election. That glib soundbite from Mr Noonan was that the gains, which amounted to one week’s wages for every worker in the country, were just a fantastic coincidence — the figures were not massaged to achieve such a voter-friendly amount, of course not.
Though rent being jacked-up by €100 a month will soon eat away all those gains, and while the Budget may have been coldly calculating, it lacked any sense of a heart that movement on rent control would have brought it.
Ministers are probably correct that boosting the rent cap will not do much to ease the problem, as landlords will just demand the extra booty, but the problem is that the Government has been trotting out this excuse of soaring rents for the past three years and what is the result? About 1,500 homeless children trapped in inadequate emergency hotel accommodation.
That’s hotel and B&B accommodation, which advocacy groups say is so unsuitable it is only a matter of time before children die because of where they are forced to live.
Do we really have to wait for a fire in a grotty B&B before this Government does anything? Have they learned nothing from the negligence of slashing the Traveller housing budget by 90%?
Rent regulation is long overdue and Mr Kenny’s great Budget failure was not forcing a doggedly stubborn Mr Noonan, and ego-laden Environment Minister Alan Kelly, to put aside their clear personality problems with each other, and strike a workable deal.
That failure means that the biggest lie of the week is that this Government actually cares about homeless people.
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