The biggest losers in the overhyped housing debate were the Irish public
Fireworks were promised for the big showdown between O'Brien and Ó Broin, only for things to depressingly fizzle out.
Let's be honest – we love a good row.
Let's be more specific – we love a good old-fashioned Irish political row.
It's why we routinely tune into Oireachtas TV.
Case in point:
"There's one law for Sinn Fein. There's a different law for everybody else."
There was an almighty row in the Dáil after Taoiseach Micheál Martin referenced Bobby Storey’s funeral. pic.twitter.com/hZfr7ngdi9
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) February 1, 2022
Someone might scream at someone else, briefly escaping the charade of civility and offering a barrel-chested reminder of what truly matters - circular arguments that don't really lead to anything, but hey at least that was a fun, intense couple of minutes.
Something that is decidedly not fun – though very much intense – is the ongoing issue of Ireland's housing crisis. And it is very much a crisis. It is very much an emergency. These aren't shocking headlines. We know this.
It's a grim, inescapable, escalating problem. It's a generational nightmare. It shows little sign of improving, despite noise from the current Government akin to, 'Hey don't worry, we get it, we're looking into it'.
RTÉ's flagship current affairs programme Prime Time has certainly been working overtime this week to shine the spotlight on housing, presenting a series of in-depth reports on the matter.
It all makes for difficult watching and reading but fair play, it's a necessary job and the Prime Time team clearly put the hard yards in throughout the week.
And so the stage was set for Thursday night's big finale – Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien in one corner / Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin in the other. Or, rather, awkwardly sat next to one another. Prime Time doesn't go full UFC, sadly.
In truth, neither combatant seemed all that up for a scrap, despite an intro that underlined how the issue "could make or break their political futures" as well as affecting hundreds of thousands of Irish individuals in the decades to come.
Spicy stuff, no doubt.
With an under-fire Housing Minister going up against a progressive and outspoken rival, surely we'd get some passionate and personal body blows, right?
Nah, not really.
As the debate commenced amidst O'Brien's insistence that "things are slowly improving", Ó Broin threw out a decent volley when snarking that O'Brien has seemingly strategically ducked this specific tête-à-tête to date.
"You've been running from this debate for far too long, Darragh," remarked the Sinn Féin man a little earlier, earning a quick bonus point for the passive-aggressive name drop right at the end.
In the host hot seat, Fran McNulty tried his utmost to keep it lively, regularly interrupting and challenging both participants when the moment called for it.
While not exactly Jeremy Paxman-esque, his attempts to get the lads to cut down on the waffling and actually address the question in front of them was, at the very least, welcome enough.
"Micheál Martin clearly knows as much about what Sinn Féin does and what I do in my job as he does about housing," bristled Ó Broin when reminded of the Taoiseach bringing up the subject of Ó Broin meeting with private developers earlier this week.
"Ah that's a bit disparaging now, a bit disrespectful, Eoin, to be fair," countered O'Brien.
Unfazed, Ó Broin insisted that he talks to anyone and everyone of relevance in housing – architects, builders, developers – as part of Sinn Féin's overall vision of creating 40,000 new houses a year.
O'Brien, in response, dismissed that figure.
"We have to be honest with people," he said.
Are you not entertained? Because that's pretty much the tone.
Is the government's plan to build 33,000 new houses a year by 2030 ambitious enough?
Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien and Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Housing Eoin Ó'Broin go head to head and debate the issue.#rtept pic.twitter.com/f5aCFJpqWX
— RTÉ Prime Time (@RTE_PrimeTime) February 3, 2022
It all felt a bit 'same old, same old'. Sinn Féin accused of regularly opposing supposedly affordable Government-approved housing developments one minute, the Government accused of distorting reality for its own ends the next.
Yes. We know this. What else you got?
One man tries to shout the other down, then complains when the same happens the other way. Politely, though. Cool.
We hate to sound in any way flippant when it comes to the living nightmare that is the ever-worsening housing crisis in Ireland, and sure it's churlish to expect WWE-style mayhem in this artfully-lit arena but... isn't this an issue that should provoke raised voices, spirited mud-slinging and perhaps even an awkward viral moment where someone rips the lapel microphone away, creating a brief muffled cacophony as they storm offstage while spewing indecipherable rage?
What better place then here? What better time than now?
That's a Rage Against The Machine reference. 'Guerrilla Radio'. Hell of a song.
You'd bet, of the two, that Eoin Ó Broin is the more likely to have a copy of The Battle of Los Angeles in his vinyl collection.
He projects a relatively cool, contemporary image, thanks in part to his penchant for hipster glasses – no shade, I have several pairs myself – and his natural occupation as virtuous, Twitter-friendly opposition to a failing system.
Perhaps that spot suits him better than actually leading. Perhaps that's a grossly unfair read. Perhaps it’s an extremely complex issue which, due to previous and current policies, will take decades to resolve.
In any event, Thursday night's debate felt like a pivotal opportunity for Ó Broin to really establish himself and his party as definitive backable visionaries.
Instead, his performance registered as a swing and a miss in the face of frustratingly composed and largely untroubled opposition. Maybe next time, sure.
For the viewer at home, yet further unease in the form of sobering truths, difficult questions, confused answers, troubling statistics and two political heavyweights who seemed content to punch out a draw.
Hey, at least the RTÉ Player is still reliably collapsing all around us, a national crisis all of its own, should you want to try and watch it back.