Eoghan Murphy tasers opponent with housing stat

Minister for Housing resorts to old tactic when confronted by protestor

Eoghan Murphy: “This year we are going to build four times as many social houses as we built in 2015.” Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Eoghan Murphy: “This year we are going to build four times as many social houses as we built in 2015.” Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

Tasers release intermittent blasts of electricity to keep the assailant incapacitated. When the electrical charge is dumped into the body of the would-be attacker, communication between the brain and the muscles is temporarily scrambled.

They work in much the same way as statistics do in political debate. Take Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy’s response yesterday to being confronted by campaigners about the Government’s lack of action on housing.

After politely listening to the campaigner, Murphy did what any skilled politician presiding over such a major policy failure would do, point his statistical stun gun and fire.

“This year we are going to build four times as many social houses as we built in 2015,” he said, momentarily paralysing his opponent.

Quadrupling output in two years. Sounds impressive, but it’s only when you parse the numbers that you realise the minister is talking about bringing the State’s social housing building rate from a record low of 75 in 2015 to 300 in 2017, a tally that also ranks as one of the lowest ever social housing build rates.

Both numbers are also entirely meaningless in the context of a social housing waiting list that exceeds 90,000.

Of course, the Department will argue that in addition to direct builds by local authorities, social housing units will be procured from other other sources – via housing agencies, refurbished vacant units, private sector rentals and through the Part V planning regulations, which require developers to allocate 10 per cent of their developments for use as social housing.

The problem with much of the latter is that it is not adding to the State’s housing stock at a time of chronic undersupply, and in some cases, actually reducing supply to the already oversubscribed private rental market.

When questioned about his reliance on national housing statistics, which are based on electricity connections and notoriously unrepresentative, Murphy’s predecessor Simon Coveney similarly browbeat critics with statistics.

It’s a policy that merely buys time, something the Government is increasingly short on when it comes to fixing the State’s housing crisis.