Independent Ministers target housing and judge selection

Finian McGrath and Shane Ross take to airwaves and print to set out priorities

Finian McGrath (left) and Shane Ross have listed affordable housing and laws to ensure judges are selected on merit among their respective promises for Government. Photograph: Collins/The Irish Times

Finian McGrath (left) and Shane Ross have listed affordable housing and laws to ensure judges are selected on merit among their respective promises for Government. Photograph: Collins/The Irish Times


New legislation for affordable housing and laws to ensure judges are selected on merit are among the promises set out by the Government’s two newly appointed members.

Minister of State, Finian McGrath and his Independent colleague, now Minister for Transport Shane Ross, on the airwaves and in print, have been setting out their priorities.

Mr McGrath told RTÉ Radio One’s Brendan O’Connor that he was working on legislation with voluntary housing groups, in relation to affordable housing.

“I’ll probably have that bill ready to roll in maybe four or five week’s time,” he said.

But, he said, in terms of housing, the priority was to deal with the 1,100 families living in crisis accommodation and he suggested that could be done through the use of local authority houses that are boarded-up.

“You cannot have young kids living in hotels and trying to go to school and be normal, that’s solvable if we move quickly,” he said.

He “got a lot of stuff on disabilities” into the programme for government, and also on extending the medical for families on the domiciliary care allowance.

His key areas were health, disability and cystic fibrosis, he said.

“Of course it is a huge political risk for me, but I’m about trying to deliver for the people,” he said.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult, I’m getting it in the neck, but I can take it in the neck any day of the week, if I can deliver on cystic fibrosis, disabilities and health issues.”

He also said some taxes would be going up, and there would be a sugar tax, and more tax on tobacco.

Mental health

He said there was a “good section” in the programme for government on mental health. Issues to be tackled included access to mental health services at primary care and youth mental health, he said.

“We also have phrases [in the programme] like more 24/7 service and liaison teams at primary and emergency care,” Mr McGrath said.

He said “the Government knows if we don’t get particular issues, we are fighting like hell for them”.

In his role as a Super Junior Minister, Mr McGrath can attend Cabinet meetings and speak, but not vote.

He said he had not paid the water charges. Asked if he would agree to pay if the Dáil accepted a recommendation to impose charges by a commission to be appointed to examine the issues, Mr McGrath said he would listen to the democratic vote.

He also highlighted a section in the programme for government, which allowed for “times in the Dáil when the whip is loosened”.

“The world doesn’t fall apart when that happens, by the way, it happens in other parliaments, 25 per cent of other parliaments across the world have free votes,” he said.

In his column in the Sunday Independent, Mr Ross highlighted his commitment to “ridding Irish life of insiders and cronyism”, including in the appointment of judges.

“New legislation, ensuring that judges are selected on merit and no longer on political patronage, is now on the way,” he said.

“The old system will be replaced by a selection body with a lay majority and an independent lay chairperson. Politicians and judges will no longer choose our judges.”

State bodies

He also said the selection of directors for state bodies will be “unrecognisably reformed”. He said the Taoiseach had agreed to abolish the Economic Management Council, which had been made up of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

On his appointment to transport, he said his “views on semi-states in permanent convalescence” were well documented. He said he wrote a whole chapter in a book about the goings on in Iarnród Éireann, and once suggested fares should be restricted to €1, and there should be “wholesale culling of the boards of quangos”.

“I am really looking forward to my first meeting with some of the organisations which have received harsh criticism in this column,” he said.

“God knows how the bearded trade unionist Jack O’Connor and I will get on if we ever have to sit across the table over the Luas strike or any other dispute. Everyone says he is really nice, committed guy, but we have a bit of a history.”

Mr Ross said the difficulties in transport are formidable, yet the unique background to the formation of the government suggests that real reform is possible.