Miriam Lord: From Iarnród Enda to Sewer Rod Enda
Micheál Martin’s predecessor made an unexpected appearance at leaders’ questions on Tuesday
Kilcummin sewerage scheme near Killarney is an issue of huge importance to householders living in what Danny Healy-Rae said is “the biggest parish in Ireland”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
And even when the houses are built the troubles keep on coming.
Look at Enda Kenny, unwittingly polluting the Lakes of Killarney every time he visits his holiday home in Kerry. The former Taoiseach is a dodgy septic tank away from being up to his bicycle pump in sewage.
From Iarnród Enda to Sewer Rod Enda.
Not only that, but the road to his little house where he owns the hearth and stool(s) and all is in a terrible state of repair. Enda’s bicycle wheels are more buckled than a pre-clampdown Saturday night in Portobello Plaza.
Micheál Martin’s predecessor made an unexpected appearance at leaders’ questions on Tuesday, very much to the Taoiseach’s surprise and most everyone else in the Dáil chamber. It was a welcome diversion from another bout of ratty exchanges between the Government and Opposition over the housing crisis.
The long comin’ but still not comin’ Kilcummin sewerage scheme near Killarney is an issue of huge importance to householders living in what Danny Healy-Rae said is “the biggest parish in Ireland”, but his passionate pitch in the national parliament to get this local project underway next year provided a little light relief during a tense and cheerless afternoon.
There was a bitter edge to exchanges on the housing crisis, which remains the burning political issue. Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín brought up the cyberattacks on the HSE and Department of Health and questioned the government’s commitment to securing national data from such “monstrous crimes” and then news broke of Aer Lingus’s decision to close its Shannon base after 70 years in operation with the loss of up to 130 jobs.
And up pops Danny in the middle of all the gloom from his perch high above in the front row of the dress circle. The people of Kilcummin have been trying to get their sewage system sorted since the year 2000 and it nearly got off the ground around 2007 but the contractor couldn’t deliver so a new tender was put out and then the Department of Finance dropped the scheme in 2008 “because the country was gone bust and you know that as well, Taoiseach”.
Now, there was also money available to upgrade the road to Kilcummin, but the county council didn’t see any point in resurfacing it before the sewerage scheme was put in. Between the jigs and the reels didn’t Irish Water “lo and behold” announce last week that the project is finally going to start next year?
“But the sting is in the detail,” said Danny. Three roads, involving 40 houses were left out.
The Taoiseach said he would talk to the relevant Ministers to see what can be done as the Government is very gung-ho on getting proper infrastructure in for housing.
Deputy Healy-Rae was not entirely convinced by his assurances. “Goddamit,” cried Danny, the people of Kilcummin are good, honest, hardworking people and they have been waiting for 21 years.
“We believe it will protect the Lakes of Killarney too,” he added, as his Nokia phone started ringing in his pocket.
Again, Micheál repeated he would check it out.
“These houses have been left out!” spluttered Danny.
“I know that,” soothed Micheál. “And we will work with Irish Water . . .”
Then Danny played his trump card.
“Deputy Kenny’s house . . . our former taoiseach’s house is going to be left out,” came the roar from above.
“Whose?” asked the Taoiseach.
Danny upped the decibels, bellowing: “Former Taoiseach Kenny is also going to be left out if this continues.”
“You’re really calling on all the shots now, deputy Healy-Rae.”
“That’s the truth. He comes there every summer and he’s welcome.”
Sure doesn’t the Taoiseach know Kilcummin well? “We might be there in the summer, Covid restrictions permitting.”
The Ceann Comhairle was fascinated. “We might have an official opening of the place in due course, when the scheme is finished.”
The interlude was a nice break from six consecutive days of back and forth over what is and what isn’t being done, Taoiseach Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald have settled into a routine of trench warfare. There is a circular feel to their arguments now: Mary Lou berating Micheál for his Government’s failure to shut down “cushy tax arrangements” for investment funds outbidding individual buyers while repeatedly asking what is being done to help people “caught in this housing nightmare”.
Micheál attacking Mary Lou for Sinn Féin’s hypocritical “exploitation” of a serious crisis for its own political gain while voting in Dublin City Council against “16 out of 21 housing developments” and opposing measures such as the help-to-buy scheme, the shared equity scheme and the Land Development Agency.
“Stop spoofing and posing,” she tells him.
“You’re doing the spoofing. And Sinn Féin is!” he tells her.
The Sinn Féin leader repeatedly fires lines about his Government attracting cuckoo funds with “sweetheart” tax deals, bestowing an unfair advantage over workers who scrimp and save to buy a home. “You cannot wave the flag of surrender and abandon whole communities to investment funds,” she says, urging him to tax the cuckoos into submission.
The Taoiseach snipes back with his lines about “the largest social housing programme in the history of the State” and how much money has already been committed and how Darragh O’Brien is doing the divil and all to get things moving. And how the Government will clamp down on investment funds gazumping owner-occupiers but will never be able to solve the supply shortage on its own.
“Our objective is to solve this problem. Your objective is to exploit it,” he says angrily.
“You caused this problem and you are sustaining it,” retorts Mary Lou.
Round and round it goes.
“No answers. Only spoof from the deputy from Cork,” she scoffs.
“I see nothing in your proposals, deputy. Nothing but bluster and empty rhetoric!” he snaps back.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly weighs in. The situation in Galway is dire. “I am telling you that there is a housing emergency. I am telling you that the market-based approach is not working and we need a commitment for public housing on public land.”
Catherine is a very straight talker.
“Please don’t tell me, like you told the leader of Sinn Féin, about rhetoric and bluster. I’m allergic to it.”
The Taoiseach, on the receiving end of yet another barrage about his government’s housing policy, looked thoroughly browned off.
He turned his head away. “So am I,” he growled under his breath.
Then, for the umpteenth time: “The fundamental problem facing this country is one of supply.”
“The fundamental problem is that your Government has commodified houses. You’ve decided it is a commodity to be sold and traded.”
Micheál “I’m allergic to bluster and political rhetoric as well” pushed back. “You have falsely represented my ideology.”
At least Richard Boyd-Barrett was happy. Nothing to do with ideology, but the vaccine programme.
“I got my notification that I’m getting my vaccine tomorrow in the Aviva Stadium. I’m delighted.”