We all have to-do lists that haunt us, plans we never got around to, resolutions that wavered as time passed. A lot of people also know the importance of deleting aspects of one’s online existence so that things don’t haunt your future, when you’re a new person with new thoughts, new intentions and new ideas that don’t correlate with who you were in your past, naive performance of life.
So who can blame the Government for scrubbing the existence of ye olde grand plan for housing, Rebuilding Ireland, from its online territory? It's hardly something anyone wants to revisit. Even the website it once inhabited – rebuildingireland.ie – now redirects to the New And Improved Rebuilding Ireland, aka Housing For All plan. Rebuilding Ireland has been evicted, and let's never speak of it again.
Coveney's very poor stint as housing minister is overlooked, not because he didn't fail at the gig, which he did, but because the minister who came after him, Eoghan Murphy, was so bad, people often forget Coveney was even a housing minister in the first place
Except in order to understand the latest Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien’s, big plan, Housing For All, a plan like no other that has ever come before it (apart from the last one, five years ago), it’s worth revisiting Rebuilding Ireland, another grand, aspirational, shoot-for-the-stars-and-you-might-hit-the-moon plan.
“The government has set out a practical and readily implementable set of actions to create a functioning and sustainable housing system,” Simon Coveney wrote in Rebuilding Ireland way back in the olden days of 2016, when rents were cheaper and house prices were lower.
Coveney’s very poor stint as housing minister is overlooked, not because he didn’t fail at the gig, which he did, but because the minister who came after him, Eoghan Murphy, was so bad, people often forget Coveney was even a housing minister in the first place, that before he was lecturing Tories about Brexit on BBC radio, he was marketing Rebuilding Ireland. “Our plans to fix the supply of both social and private housing are working,” Murphy said in 2019.
Rebuilding Ireland failed and Fine Gael ministers left housing in an even worse condition than when they started, which is some achievement given how terrible a state housing was in when they set out. Fianna Fáil kept score though. It compiled figures through parliamentary questions that showed 52 out of 84 actions in Rebuilding Ireland failed to reach their targets or couldn’t be assessed.
But there's a new plan now, and it's massive, and it's going to radically change everything in ways we've never seen before. Right? But does anyone actually believe that?
The Housing For All document is starting, as the majority of government policy does, from a reactive place. This is because many of the systems in Ireland – health, housing, transport, local government – are stuck in loops of rolling crises and when you don’t have any ideas to fundamentally change not just the outcomes of those systems, but the systems themselves, all you can do is react to the conveyor belt of entrenched problems that are the result of broken systems.
Rebuilding Ireland wasn’t just a fantasy; things became actively worse in housing following its publication. Government policy aimed at addressing the crisis made it worse. How’s that for KPIs? At the most acute end of the crisis, homelessness increased by at least 65 per cent in the three years following the launch of Rebuilding Ireland, and family homelessness increased outside of Dublin by 225 per cent.
But there’s a new plan now, and it’s massive, and it’s going to radically change everything in ways we’ve never seen before. Right? But does anyone actually believe that? It does seem that the Taoiseach, the Minister for Housing, and his colleagues in Government are pretty peeved that Housing For All was not met with confetti from what they must feel is a perpetually ungrateful public desperate for someone in charge to pull the country out of the housing tumult we’ve been sloshing around in for more than a decade.
The issue for this Government from the get-go has been credibility, something that was lost at its outset, and it’s a Government that large swathes of the public does not rate when it comes to calibre and competence. So let’s be real here. Does anyone seriously think O’Brien is the person to solve Ireland’s housing crisis, or even to address it in a way that feels like things could radically change in the next few years? Maybe the existential issue is that people don’t want a Fianna Fáil plan for housing. They don’t want a Fine Gael plan either. And they don’t want a Coalition plan from both parties with bonus Greens thrown in. We’ve been here before. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were going to solve the housing crisis, they wouldn’t have caused it.
Some might say: just give it a chance. But why? One of the things we have to do as a society to address the housing crisis in a way that actually has a shot at working, is to get Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as far away from housing policy as possible. We need systemic change, not another one of their “plans”. The idea that those who created a hysterically dysfunctional property market, who then caused that to collapse along with the financial sovereignty of the country, and following on from that sold the country off in a way that now excludes even more people from renting or owning a home, are somehow going to make things better, is an exercise in delusion. We’re living among the wreckage of their grand plans and big pronouncements. That’s what’s real. The rest is just on paper.