Policy agenda proves Fine Gael head back into power caring less than ever about housing
Once upon a time, many millennia before the Great Lockdown, the Republic of Ireland held an election.
Among the many key issues in this election were rents so overheated that they were unsafe to approach, years of rising homelessness, and homebuyers priced out of the market. In this time before corona, we referred to this set of circumstances as 'the housing crisis.'
The results of the election left Fine Gael the third-most popular party in Ireland, having lost more than 20% of their seats. Indeed, such is the disdain for Fine Gael among much of the electorate that many people will read this article even though it has the words "policy agenda" in the headline.
But that election was eons ago, and now the very same Fine Gael have agreed to move forward in forming a government with Fianna Fáil, who have apparently passed Varadkar and co.'s "policy test." Or, as they have called it, their Vibrant Policy Agenda.
Ooh, vibrant. Are you getting excited? Aroused, even? I know I am. So what kind of vibrant, modern, sexy policies are on this agenda?
First up is an innovate jobs and recovery plan. Innovation is very important at times like this. Of course, usually you need to explain how something will be innovative before just calling it innovation, but for now that adjective is doing all the heavy-lifting by itself. Actual innovation sold separately.
There will also be a dynamic public service that "promotes voice and choice for citizen users," which I think we'll all be relieved to hear. Similarly, after nine years in power, Fine Gael are looking at "developing a workable strategy to increase climate ambition." Yes, after a decade, they're finally looking into coming up with a plan to get more serious about the climate.
They plan to "introduce a clear [social] contract for the young who have borne many burdens in recent years." Phew! And best of all, there is a guarantee of supporting fairness and equality. It's like hearing the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King himself.
Now I don't know about you, but I need a moment to process this staggering overload of detail as to how they plan to improve our lives. I, for one, cannot wait to have my voice promoted with regards our dynamic public service.
But, and I hate to quibble, I really do, there are some evocative words that don't feature. Housing is one of them. Rents is another. Homelessness is a big one.
That's right. After all this time, after everything that's been said and written, all the protests, all the seats they've lost, the goodwill they've squandered, Fine Gael cannot bring themselves to even mention, even mention, housing.
Forget about trying to reduce the cost of housing. Forget about using public money to build social housing. Forget putting the people before landlord profits and foreign developers. Forget all the ideological obstacles Fine Gael have to the above ideas. In amongst all the vague language, how does it remain impossible for Fine Gael to so much as try something, anything, to make it affordable for everyone to have somewhere to live?
Not even that little grain of hope, not even lip-service to the idea that this is not just what people want, but what they need to feel human. How can this be?
There's a very simple explanation. It is not important to them.
This is something they have demonstrated again, and again, and again, and again. One bad election has not changed their stripes, nor has a pandemic which is seeing Ireland saved by all manner of people - shelf-stackers, retail workers, An Post, nurses, receptionists - most of whom on salaries that will never facilitate home-ownership.
It's times like this, and times like this only, that I wish I worked in print media, because I'd like to have this article appear in a newspaper so I could whack somebody with it until the message gets across.
There was wave of optimism from the left after February's election. A long time ago. A galaxy far, far away.
That joie de vivre has since shrivelled into a bitter little prune, and it's not even May yet. Coronavirus inadvertently gave Fine Gael the opportunity to flex their muscles and exert themselves as a stable authority figure, something they've done with smooth efficiency. It also presented them with an excuse to do what comes naturally and forge an agreement with their ideologically identical twin Fianna Fáil.
It cannot be said that the Irish public has called for a revolution two months ago. But the majority certainly called for the tires to roll forward, at long last. For some progress from what we've become used to. Fine Gael's anti-ambition document spells out that we will be spinning in place for five more years at least.