Enda Kenny had TBSCITWIWTDB. Micheál Martin is currently rocking HITSMISIFIT. And Leo Varadkar has, from December 17th until whenever, to come up with an equally snappy acronym to define his time as taoiseach. That DKAAHF from his previous stint really doesn’t cut the mustard.
Who can forget Enda’s famously fintistic Ireland is “the best small country in the world in which to do business” slogan?
The jury is still out on Leo. “Dear Kylie Am A Huge Fan” just isn’t a signature saying.
The Taoiseach has been working really, really hard to establish one: “Housing is the single most important social issue facing Ireland today” while simultaneously trying to retain possession of it in the teeth of strong Opposition pressure.
In an unusual turn of events, a feature of Dáil exchanges in recent weeks has been a sharp escalation in the battle to claim bragging rights for being the first political party to twig that the country’s housing infrastructure is an absolute shambles.
Mary Lou McDonald couldn’t have arrived in the Dáil any faster had she been shot from a cannon
For months, Micheál’s stock response to Opposition leaders lambasting him about the situation has been to repeat the “housing is the single most important ...” mantra as proof of his own and his Government’s bona fides in dealing with this difficult matter. Yet they persist in accusing him – and the Minister for Housing – of not fully recognising the crisis.
Then a few weeks ago, when Darragh O’Brien was asked by Virgin Media’s Claire Brock if there is a “housing emergency”, the Minister barged in with his hobnail boots and replied: “No, I don’t.” He hastily added that an accommodation crisis exists and is indeed an emergency for “many people” but the damage was done.
Mary Lou McDonald couldn’t have arrived in the Dáil any faster had she been shot from a cannon.
“Taoiseach, can I put it to you, do you accept this is a catastrophe?” thundered the Sinn Féin leader at the time. “Do you accept that we are living through a housing emergency? If, like your Minister, you do not, that goes a very long way to explain your abject failure in meeting the housing needs of people.”
You can see Micheál’s irritation every time he is asked this sort of question and is forced to roll out his HITSMISIFIT line again.
Labour’s Ivana Bacik has also been tormenting him over who cares most in this calamity. The day after Mary Lou’s remarks she informed him the housing crisis is really an emergency “despite the Government’s failure and refusal to call it such”.
But no matter how many times he insists his administration is acutely aware that housing is the single most important social issue facing Ireland today, they don’t listen.
At one point the Taoiseach told Mary Lou: “You’re not the first to come up with the term ‘emergency’.”
In terms of political point scoring in the chamber, that’s a new one on us. He gave chapter and verse of when he first declared our housing crisis to be a “social emergency”. Apparently it was at a policy launch in September of 2021.
And he quoted himself again to Ivana the following day.
On Wednesday this week, in a brief break from bricks and mortar, Mary Lou decided to turn her attention to the continuing “fiasco surrounding delivery of the national children’s hospital”. In World Cup parlance, this would be called “an open goal”.
But why let that stop her from getting in a bonus dig at the other fiasco: Micheál’s “emergency”, so good he named it first.
“There has been, rightly, a lot of focus on your inability to build houses, but clearly you’re not good at building hospitals either.”
Back of the net!
Deputy McDonald was having a field day, peppering the Coalition penalty area with her disdain and listing Fiasco, Debacles, Bungles and Incompetence like a commentator reading out Micheál’s defensive line.
The hospital will open a decade behind schedule at the earliest, and the latest screamer from the Department of Health is that the bill for it is likely to top the two billion mark. So what is going to be the final cost, when will it be finished and open for business?
The Taoiseach got to his feet.
“Who do you think I am? Nostradamus? How long is a piece of string?”
He didn’t actually say that. But you know he wanted to. There was no chance he was going to challenge for bragging rights as the first politician to claim this dumpster fire as an emergency.
“I would first of all make the point that, of course, the children’s hospital has been a project that has been ongoing for quite some considerable length of time, well in advance of the formation of this government.” So let there be no pinning of the blame on Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil.
Nonetheless, it is one of the most important projects in the country “managed” by others but “clearly overseen” by the Government. And because the children of Ireland will benefit from a first-class, world-class hospital their objective is “to complete this and to get the hospital done”.
Which is a relief as it’s already half built. He wouldn’t talk about the ultimate cost and had no intention of prejudicing what is a live contract. “That would be a mistake ... you don’t announce to the contractor the level which you want to go to.”
There are other issues too. “Obviously, the war in Ukraine and the cost of building materials and so on will impact.”
Mary Lou concluded that both he and the Minister – no, not Darragh O’Brien this time, but Stephen Donnelly – have “no notion” of what the final bill will be.
He didn’t disagree.
Then Ivana Bacik steered him back to the other debacle. As they say in World Cup parlance, all credit to the Taoiseach for being the first to call it an emergency. The Labour leader brought up the shocking story of an unauthorised development off Dublin’s Camden Street where the 27 residents, mainly young overseas students, have been given two weeks notice to quit by the landlord because the two-storey corrugated metal structure has been condemned as a fire hazard. They are each paying €500-€600 a month for a tiny room, three shared toilets and two shared showers and cannot source alternative accommodation anywhere in Dublin
Their plight was highlighted by Kitty Holland in Tuesday’s Irish Times. The unfolding situation at “the ironically named Liberty Lane ... is one example of the really sharp end of the housing disaster that we are seeing”, said Deputy Bacik.
“I was very concerned when I read that article,” replied the Taoiseach, noting that the council is pursuing “an enforcement issue”. He commended the authorities for taking action as the property is a fire hazard.
Ivana agreed it was the right thing to do, but moreover, what does Liberty Lane say about the housing crisis when people are choosing to live in such conditions out of desperation because there is nowhere else to rent in the city?
People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith also mentioned the dangerous lodgings and the businessman running it.
“Will this State move against landlords who exploit the housing crisis to profiteer from it in this way in order to prevent anyone else doing it?”
The Taoiseach didn’t comment for fear of “prejudicing any case that may arise”.
But at the very outset, he was grateful to Ivana for her housing question because, well, HITSMISIFIT.
“I thank the Deputy for raising what I have said consistently is the single most important issue facing us as a society.”