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‘You’re wrong, you’re wrong’ - Simon Harris equipped with bar charts leaves Sinn Féin rivals reeling

It was a bit rich for Mary Lou McDonald to complain about rent supports when her party had often called for spending to be increased, he said

Simon Harris is living the slogan.

He wasn’t wrong when he promised a New Energy.

If the new Taoiseach doesn’t slow down, he’ll start sparking like an overloaded socket one of these days and spontaneously combust in the Dáil. He was on fire during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday.

Simon’s morning began on the steps of Government Buildings when, flanked by fellow Coalition leaders Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan, he announced that Ireland will formally recognise the state of Palestine.


A moment of history, beamed around the world.

And by midday, he was feeling the hand of histrionics on his shoulder next door in Leinster House. Although as fits of the vapours go, Mary Lou McDonald and Eoin Ó Broin were far more restrained than usual.

They seemed somewhat stunned by the high-octane response from their latest Taoiseach to a routine attack on the housing crisis.

Palestine could wait until later in the proceedings. Holly Cairns of the Social Democrats was the first leader to raise it because Mary Lou was not going to pass up another chance to exploit some more of the leaked conclusions from the Government-sponsored Housing Commission. This time, she zoomed in on the damaging finding that Ireland spends more than most countries in Europe on social and affordable housing but gets one of the worst returns for the outlay.

This is because Fine Gael in Government shovelled money which could have been used for social housing at private developers and landlords, she contended.

The Sinn Féin leader lambasted Fine Gael for putting €10 billion in 10 years “into the pockets of private landlords” through subsidies such as the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap), the Rental Accommodation Scheme, rent allowances and long-term leases.

Money which could have been used to house “ordinary people”.

“Housing supports are necessary, but they must be short term and temporary and not result in a never-ending bill for the taxpayer.”

She urged him to heed his Housing Commission’s recommendation to reform rental subsidies to make them short-term temporary supports.

Simon Harris had one big advantage when it was his turn to respond: he had read the full report. The Opposition, already in a lather of vindication over the leaks, was demanding immediate publication.

He jauntily confirmed this would happen later in the day. His tone implied “be careful what you wish for”.

He cautioned Mary Lou and colleagues to read it first because they mightn’t like some of its recommendations.

Even the commission members couldn’t agree on everything, he revealed.

Having explained all that, he couldn’t let the Sinn Féin leader away with attacking the Government’s record on social housing. “For the people at home,” he whipped out a simple bar chart and held it aloft to show the very definite upward curve in commencements since his party’s post-crash Government took power in 2011.

Furthermore, it was a bit rich for Mary Lou to complain about the Government spending ten billion on Hap and RAS payments and other such schemes when “every single year, every single year, you could paper the walls of Dáil Éireann with press releases and statements from Sinn Féin TDs asking us to increase the limits and asking us to spend more”.

He held up his arms, fingers clutching an imaginary roll of wallpaper.

Cue outraged denials from across the floor. A spluttering Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin’s housing guru, was scandalised. He did no such thing.

Paper the walls with Sinn Féin demands for more spending? The cheek of him.

“No, you can,” insisted the Taoiseach, looking at the little pile of printouts he brought in with him. “Including yourself, Deputy Ó Broin. I have one here... so just be very careful what you tell me you don’t do because I have it here.”

Eoin looked slightly winded. So did Mary Lou. The shouting stopped.

“You say landlords, I say renters. You say 10 billion given to landlords, I say 10 billion given in rental support to people who come into your constituency offices and come into mine looking for assistance.”

In fact, Simon couldn’t believe he was hearing Sinn Féin say that the ten billion spent on rent supplements wasn’t well spent at the time when the country was broke and people needed help “in the here and now”.

He was flying.

If a contest in fluency and verbosity was an Olympic sport, you’d win a gold medal. But it doesn’t win houses

—  Simon Harris to Eoin Ó Broin

The Ceann Comhairle turned and called again on the leader of the Opposition. “Mary Lou McDonald,” he intoned, the slight rise in inflection at the end saying “folly dat”.

She rose slowly.

“So, the point here is that your Housing Commission report is damning,” completely ignoring the pasting and bumbling on again about spending all that money on rent allowances for people when it should have been building houses for them.

“But of course, that’s not the Fine Gael way,” she sighed.

The Taoiseach was out of the traps instantly.

“Aaaw, that’s a great line. But unfortunately, the graph shows you’re wrong.” He held it up again.

“You’re wrong. You’re wrong. You’re wrong. Look at the increase in social house buildings since my party came to office. You’re yet again wrong.”

Eoin told him to get another graph showing “need”. The country needs twice the amount of social housing being built by the Government.

Simon was totally energised.

“No, seriously. Seriously. If a contest in fluency and verbosity was an Olympic sport, you’d win a gold medal,” he retorted. “But it doesn’t build houses.”

Talking a mile a minute.

Not afraid to take radical steps. Asking the Housing Commission to come up with ideas is one of them. How to build a policy that can resist a boom and bust cycle. That’s another.

And Sinn Féin asks how he can stand over spending ten billion?

“Because you know what? There was a political consensus in this house that we needed to take steps to help people in the here and now and you led the charge.”

And he had the evidence to prove it.

A statement from Dessie Ellis. He waved it around. “RAS has provided many people with housing and allowed them to dig their way out of the poverty trap.”

And now his party is criticising the spending which one of their own lauded.

Simon fished out another sheet of paper.

“Your legislation that you proposed to make sure people could get their Hap applications processed quicker.”

He scrabbled around on the ledge and pulled out another one.

“Calling on the Minister for Housing to increase the housing payments!”

Ó Broin shouted that they also called for more social housing at the time.

The Ceann Comhairle told him to stop interrupting as the Taoiseach brandished yet another piece of evidence, shouting into the din about a Sinn Féin demand to increase the rate of Hap payments.

That one came from Deputy Ó Broin, two years ago.

The Taoiseach was at full throttle by now.

He finished with a plea to Mary Lou McDonald to explain how she would provide €300,000 affordable homes for people in Dublin. It’s been 153 days since she made the pledge.

“How? Please tell us.”

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill joined in: “How, how ya gonna do it?”

“How, how,” chorused the few Fine Gaelers present.

“How. How How. How?” repeated Simon.

Go read the Sinn Féin website, said Eoin. “We published it in 2021.”

How. Now. Dáil. Row.

This round to Simon Harris.