Subscriber OnlyOireachtas

Darragh O’Brien dazzles Dáil with his best housing figures - but don’t mention the leak

Minister got Housing Commission report ‘just 13 days ago’ and was not ready to talk about it quite yet

That leak couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Minister for Housing pretended he was pleased.

Nobody believed him.

Darragh O’Brien was in the Dáil to deliver a progress report on his Housing For All plan – over 2½ years after it was launched, but better late than never.


“I welcome the opportunity to provide you with an update,” he informed the near-empty benches and his arch rival, Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin’s housing guru.

And in a serendipitous twist, not only was Darragh able to dazzle the Dáil with his best figures from the housing front but the occasion allowed him go one step further. “Today provides me with the perfect opportunity to discuss the conclusions and recommendations of the Housing Commission report.”

The opportunity was far from perfect. And he didn’t.

Instead, Darragh explained why the body was established, how long it took to complete its work and when he took delivery of the report.

Three years in the making and he got it “just 13 days ago”.

Just in case anybody was under the impression he had been sitting on the findings until after the elections.

Darragh also thanked the commission members for their work, promised to publish their conclusions this week and will ensure its findings are “implemented where appropriate into our housing targets”.

And that was it.

Had the report not been leaked, Mary Lou McDonald and Ivana Bacik could not have faced the Taoiseach at Leaders’ Questions armed with its verdict that “a radical strategic reset of housing policy” is required.

And later on, Eoin Ó Broin could not have sat across the floor from the Minister, luxuriating in the moment. If he had a handlebar moustache, he would have been twirling it.

Meanwhile, those leaked lines from the commission handed his party leader a ready-made “We told you so” moment. Mary Lou doesn’t miss those.

Labour leader Bacik also radiated big vindication vibes. This leaked summary merely confirms “what we have all known for some time – your government’s half-measures and ineffective policies are not working”.

The commission’s view cannot have come as a surprise to O’Brien who has been up to his oxters in the housing crisis for the last couple of years. He was privy to some of its research over a year ago and it indicated, among other things, that Ireland needs twice as many new homes a year as the amount set out in the Planning for All strategy.

The Opposition was unable to establish if he received any draft findings before the final document was issued earlier this month, but the earlier research figures did not paint a pretty picture of the Government’s housing policy.

In the unlikely event of that final document producing favourable findings, would it have taken 13 days and counting to publish it?

Or would the instant wheeling-out of the podiums for the press conference have left scorch marks on the carpet in Government Buildings?

It’s a very comprehensive report, as the Taoiseach pointed out. It needs to be read and digested before the Dáil gets stuck into a debate. Opposition TDs might take the time to read it before deciding what they think it says, he tartly remarked.

It won’t tell them anything they don’t already know, presumed the Sinn Féin leader.

“Lots of people have been telling you for the longest time that your housing policy has failed,” she told Simon Harris. Now an investigation commissioned by his own government has proved them right.

She firmly believes the damning report wouldn’t have seen the light of day if it hadn’t been leaked. The Labour leader is also very suspicious.

Was that report “going to gather dust” in the Minister for Housing’s office until after the elections? Was the Coalition “deliberately delaying publication”?

But Darragh only got it on May 8th, pointed out Harris. That hardly amounts to suppression.

But the leak, Taoiseach. It was the leak which smoked out the Minister and his dubious pleasure in suddenly being able to talk about maybe talking about the findings some time.

The Opposition is in no doubt about this.

Eoin Ó Broin was in his element all day. First he got to sit beside Mary Lou at Leaders’ Questions, shaking his head sadly over the commission’s damning comments and looking suitably martyred.

Then he got to make a speech during the afternoon because the Government decided to dedicate business to bells-and-whistles statements on its Housing For All strategy in an effort to draw the sting out of Sinn Féin’s follow-on motion on housing.

But that tactic was decided upon before the damaging leak.

Deputy Ó Broin made another speech during his party’s motion.

“I suspect when the report landed on your desk on the eight of this month, your heart sank,” he told Darragh who was “hoping to sit on the report” but the leaks forced his hand.

“I challenge you – publish it tomorrow! Put it in the public domain tomorrow,” urged Eoin, keen to get a Dáil debate on it next week.

All this back and forth is fairly immaterial to the Taoiseach. He said he was well aware that a lot more houses have to be built and quickly. He doesn’t need any report to tell him that.

“We are all in agreement,” he said to his Opposition counterparts. “The question is: How?”

Simon may be new in the job, but his party is 13 years in power and still hasn’t figured out the “how”.

Still, there’s a new broom now and he says a fair analysis will show that there has been major progress with increasing housing supply but “it is absolutely true to say that every single day Government is restless to do more”.

He wasn’t going to get any thanks from across the floor.

Happily, Noel Frances Duffy of the Greens was on hand to bring a little balance into his life. Noel is a TD for Dublin South West and is married to Catherine Martin, the Minister for Media.

During policy questions, Noel, who wouldn’t be one of the Dáil’s more prolific contributors, asked the Taoiseach a very probing and testing question.

“Over the part 12 months up to April 2024, commencement notices for 52,500 homes have been actioned. This is a significant and a welcomed increase on previous years where commencement notices typically represent houses built.

“If you can confirm this, I would like to congratulate the Government and the Minister for exceeding the Housing for All targets by 57 per cent in the 2024 outcome projections.”

The Taoiseach had a quick think.

“Those figures do seem right to me. We are obviously seeing a very significant increase…”

Posing the question:

When is a Green backbencher not a Green backbencher?

When he’s a plant.