Pat Leahy: Housing crux shows we must be a nation of geniuses

Boris Johnson not the only one who wants to have his cake and eat it

F Scott Fitzgerald said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

If he’s right, then we must be a nation of geniuses. Because an awful lot of our politics appears to achieve precisely this feat.

This week, in one of those opinion polls commissioned by a lobby group to achieve a result and make a point, we learned that nearly two-thirds of people believe that the right to housing should be inserted into the Constitution. The insertion of the right to housing and other social and economic rights into the Constitution so that they may be justiciable – ie, enforceable against the State in a court of law – is a debate you’ll hear more of in the coming years as NGOs and some parties gear up for a campaign.

It would require a bit of re-engineering of the Constitution. There are “principles of social policy” already laid down in article 45, though the Constitution is very specific that they are meant to serve as guidance for the Oireachtas, rather than as guarantees enforceable in court.


I’m not convinced that inserting a right to housing or healthcare in the Constitution will necessarily deliver housing or healthcare any quicker or more effectively for citizens. But it’s legitimate position to hold, and a reasonable argument to have.

New housing developments

What I find curious, however, is that many of the people supporting such a move seem to be so active in opposing new housing developments. They’re in favour of the right to housing, and of housing in the abstract, but distinctly queasy about the construction of actual housing; too great a density, not right for this area, not the right ownership model, too expensive, too high, too ugly, whatever. Just don’t build it here. Build it somewhere else. Oh, and by the way, put a right to housing in the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the people who want to reach out to unionists in a spirit of brotherly love to build a new Ireland are the same people who defend and justify the Provisional IRA’s long and bloody campaign against the union.

The administration that claims the mantle of prudence is currently a soft touch for every interest group that comes knocking on its door

Mary Lou McDonald this week boldly predicted that Northern Ireland would vote to join the Republic within a decade, declaring that she meant to reach out to “our unionist brothers and sisters” and persuade them of the merits of a united Ireland.

A day later we learned that one of her new TDs, Martin Browne, had told his local radio station in Tipperary, “We had an occupied country, a foreign force there. It doesn’t matter whether it was in the 20s, 50s, 70s or 80s it was the same aim, to free our country from an occupying force.”

This is a view unlikely to persuade Mary Lou’s unionist brothers and sisters, I fear.

Sinn Féin’s position

Browne may lack McDonald’s facility in interviews but he speaks authentically of Sinn Féin’s position on matters of recent history. He also called for a “truth and reconciliation process”, a version of the Independent International Truth Commission that the party periodically calls for.

What would Gerry Adams tell the “truth commission”, I wonder. That he wasn’t in the IRA?

Don’t start me on the socialists and feminists who spent the week abusing Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns on social media for the crime of having a boyfriend/partner/significant other who is a Fianna Fáil TD.

Respect for the personal choices of women in their private lives? Not if they make choices you don’t like, apparently.

The country seems incapable of having a rational policy discussion about anything to do with nurses

The double-think is not confined to Opposition parties by any means; it flourishes mightily in Government too. The administration that claims the mantle of prudence is currently a soft touch for every interest group that comes knocking on its door, as long as they can get a run on RTÉ and put the wind up a few backbenchers – neither of which is very difficult.

“We are saying yes to everyone at the moment,” says one Government Minister. “Nobody is being turned down.” “There is no discipline,” frets a senior official. “It can’t go on.”

Pay rises for judges

But this week’s announcements of pay rises for judges and pension top-ups for the very best paid pensioners was less an example of profligacy than of the administration’s aptitude for scoring own goals, coming as it did when Ministers were being flayed by everyone, their own TDs included, for not paying student nurses.

The Government has a reasonable point – the students should be learning, not working as healthcare assistants. But it will surely cave in soon enough. The country seems incapable of having a rational policy discussion about anything to do with nurses. For their part, the nurses want degree courses like university students, but to be paid for training like apprentices.

Another example: one of the better things the Irish Government does is it maintains a generous and effective international aid policy, spending nearly a billion euro every year helping poorer parts of the world make progress towards greater prosperity and better government. But the State’s tax structures are deliberately set up to allow multinational corporations channel profits made elsewhere through their Irish offices to avoid paying tax on them.

This week Mark Paul reported that cereal giant Kellogg’s ran more than a billion euro of sales made in Europe, the Middle East and Africa through its Dublin office. As Oxfam and others have pointed out, when multinational companies avoid paying tax in the developing world, it deprives those countries of desperately needed revenues.

This weekend, Boris Johnson, whose policy on cake is well-known, faces the realisation that he can either have his cake, or he can eat it. But cake-ism not limited to Mr Johnson or his compatriots; we are pretty nifty at it ourselves.