Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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The Housing Czar: a political fantasy.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 28, 2019 in Irish Politics

It is 2029, and the morning news bulletin reports that the Chief Executive of the State Housing Agency, known in the media as “the Housing Czar”, is finishing her ten year term at 12 noon today. Already a crowd of protestors has augmented the usual crowd demonstrating outside her modest home in south Dublin. The dozen Gardai usually stationed there, some suspected to be armed given the not infrequent death threats, have also been reinforced by members of the Public Order Squad parked discreetly around the corner.  The czar, a divorced 55 year old mother of two, architect, engineer and professor in urban planning before her appointment steps out of her front door to the usual cat cries and abuse, a significant amount of it sexually orientated. 

No one throws anything this time, and her Garda driver and bodyguard secure her in the vehicle before inching out of the driveway. Protestors hammer the roof of the car despite the best efforts of the Garda to keep them back. 

She avoids eye contact with the protestors, studying her tablet. She genuinely doesn’t notice them that much, so used to this behaviour for at least eight years of her term. Her children will be brought to school later by the au pair, as they have found that they receive less abuse when she is not present. 

The last time a protestor screamed abuse at one of her children, a ten year old, one of the Garda broke the protestors’ nose.

An even bigger crowd will be at her office on St Stephen’s Green. Opinion polls give her a satisfaction rating of nearly just under 30%. They don’t seem to poll many of the people who now live in the 100,000 affordable rented units across the country built and operated by the agency under her leadership. From the 30 storey towers overlooking the mouth of the Liffey to the integrated new towns linked by speedy electric light rail outside Galway, Cork and Limerick. Everybody remembers the huge public demonstrations against the towers as she used her powers and budget to overrule legal objections to “go high”. 

The same politicians who had demanded a national housing emergency and immediate action on housing stood with the mob booing as the diggers and cement trucks inched their way past. She smiles at the memory of columnists and talking heads on the radio who swore blind that no Irish person would ever live in towers as high, that they’d be white elephants, left empty. 

Some even talked of a public inquiry into the waste of taxpayers money. There was the usual talk that she was obviously in someone’s pocket, as there always is in Ireland. 

Then when the first tower was completed, and the media revealed the spacious high ceilinged apartments, with their floor to ceiling windows looking out over the coast on one side and the city on the other, and their moderate controlled rent, the same politicians backflipped.

One sanctimonious member of the Oireachtas notorious for playing both sides of the housing issue was the first on the airwaves demanding that his constituents be given preference, having stood against the building a mere six months previously. 

As she arrives at the agency’s offices a small phalanx of Gardai force a channel through for her, as all sorts of jibes and allegations are flung at her. That she is a fascist for forcing through the building of units against local objections. That she is an elitist for insisting that every tenant sign a social contract allowing for prompt removal under the agency’s “three strikes” policy. 

That had been a controversial decision, but one she regarded as vital for making sure that every sector of Irish society bought into the idea of the state as the primary provider of affordable housing to all. No more public housing being for “those sort of people”, and as part of that she focussed on ending the stigma (often myth) that somehow public housing wasn’t safe. 

The agency had its own live-in supervisors in all its developments, all with the power to call in an anti-social behaviour (ASB) unit . Tenants didn’t have to put up neighbours playing music at all hours or dumping rubbish in the hallways. A phone call to the supervisor and the ASB were at the door in 30 minutes guaranteed, normally four big Eastern European ex-military. Three warnings and they’d assist you in moving out, on the spot, whether you liked it or not. 

It was probably her most popular policy, at least as far as the neighbours were concerned.

Of course, Ireland being Ireland, there was always some party willing to stand on the side of the anti-social, declaring that they themselves are the victims and are being oppressed. 

Columnists in leafy suburbs or private well-to-do apartments wrote savage pieces accusing the czar of being a right-wing authoritarian, attempting to impose her social values upon the creatively challenged who don’t wish to “get up early in the morning.”

As was the case with the man from the International Monetary Fund and the chief state pathologist, she gets a public profile far out of what would be expected for an appointed public official. 

Irish people just can’t help but personalise everything, even her policies. 

Her counterparts in other EU countries and internationally find it surreal that she is so well known, to a degree that newspapers actually run opinion polls as to the public’s attitude to her performance. 

It’s not just her building policy that shapes the country. Early on in her term a shortage in available builders with skills, brickies, electricians, plasterers, carpenters, leads to her setting up a state construction sub-agency with its own apprentice scheme. Politicians attack her as the school fills with Eastern and Central Europeans, but within three years she has her own capacity to supplement the private builders she is issuing contracts to.

As she packs the boxes in her office, taking the last of her private belongings, she looks at the far wall facing her desk. Hundreds of small single pictures of her or one of her officials presenting the keys to a new home to a smiling family. She remembers the tears, the people who never thought they’d afford a decent home. The excited children marvelling at their new rooms or the playgrounds at the heart of every development. 

She also remembers how almost every single development was met with local opposition, the housed coming up with excuses as to why they sympathised with the need to build new housing, but here was not the appropriate place. 

Who did she think she was? Coming into our neighbourhood, our town, our parish, issuing her diktats?

She was the first housing czar. She’d built 100,000 affordable high quality homes for rent, as her mandate had been when she had been appointed by the minister.

She would also be the last, her position to be abolished as part of a coalition deal with a promise to find a “more appropriate structure.” Populist politicians talked about selling the homes she had built to their tenants, with the promise to build more, but without a housing czar “bullying local communities and riding roughshod over local feelings.” 

She looked at the mob outside. They’d demanded a national housing emergency be declared.

Then a terrible thing happened: the politicians had given them one.  

 
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Irish Independent: Time for an EU refugee safezone in North Africa.

Posted by Jason O on Oct 5, 2019 in Irish Politics

https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/jason-omahony-eu-should-create-a-new-frontier-of-compassion-by-opening-a-safe-zone-for-refugees-in-north-africa-38558268.html

 
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Irish Independent: Time to take on the litter louts.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 8, 2019 in Irish Politics

https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/jason-omahony-reesmoggs-plummy-tones-might-be-the-answer-we-need-to-shame-our-litter-louts-38465176.html

 
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Irish Independent: Ireland is a world leader in democracy.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 23, 2019 in Irish Politics

https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/jason-omahony-we-might-have-issues-but-were-a-world-leader-in-democracy-38329433.html

 
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Irish Independent: We need to talk about a United Ireland.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 21, 2019 in Irish Politics

https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/jason-omahony-we-need-to-talk-about-a-united-ireland-tds-wont-38308180.html

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Unlistenable Politician.

pol books2Repost: Every time you see or hear him about to speak, you give him a chance. He’s an important senior politician, a leader in our country. His opinion matters.

Forty five seconds in, you’re flicking over to something else. Anything else. It’s not that you disagree with him or what he’s saying, after all, there’s some pleasure to be had screaming “You’re a f**king eejit!” at the telly or the radio. That would mean he’s actually said something.

No, it’s worse than that.

Every single time he says nothing. Every single time. He talks and talks and you can hear the cogs in the brain lining up the next trite offend-nobody vague platitude into the breech to be fired at us.

He’s like a football pundit who doesn’t really have any interest in football.

It’s not lies. It’s not offensive. It’s just nothing. It’s all a bit of a chore, one of those offshore gas drilling platforms that has to burn off the excess gas every while, only with him it’s words, all safe and harmless and meaningless.

We’d actually be better served if he just read out funny words he came across in the dictionary, or told us about an episode of  “Elementary” he watched recently, or rolled up a shirt sleeve and showed us a rash and asked us what caused that, do we think?

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Fairweather Revolutionary

Repost: “We’re not taking it any more! It’s time the country be taken back by the ordinary people! Feck the bankers and the political parties! It’s time for a country based on social justice and equality and housing and health and education as rights! Yes to free healthcare! Yes to free education! Yes to…sorry, say that again…you want to pay for free healthcare by doing what?…means testing children’s allowance….now, hold on a minute there…putting Capital Gains Tax on private residences…wait there one minute now…the rich should pay higher taxes, but not ordinary people like me, yes, I know I bought my house for €300k and it’s now worth €500k, but that’s MY MONEY….tax MY profit???….to fund free healthcare and social justice?…….get away from MY money, d’ya hear, that €200k profit is MY money, not yours! Get your stinking thieving hands off my filthy lucre!”

 
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An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Naysayers.

Repost: It’s a hard wired genetic response, whether it is to exploiting natural resources offshore or fracking or even postcodes. A section of the country just can’t help itself, and comes out in opposition to everything. There is even a standard pattern:

1. A proposal is made by a company or body. The benefits in terms of revenue or employment tend to be so over-hyped as to trigger scepticism everywhere, even amongst people in favour of the project. Why do we have to oversell everything?

2. In the area concerned, muttering starts, normally led by a local nut who votes No in every referendum and disconcertingly mentions the Bilderberg Group and fluoride in every conversation. But he’s retired with time on his hands and is a wiz with mail merge, having the database from previous local campaigns such as “Stop Dublin stealing our clouds!” and “No to WiFi near St. Enda’s. There are children there for God’s sake!”

3. The usual malcontents, Sebastian from South Dublin, furious with Daddy for running away with Olga from Olgastan and making Mummy cry and tell them that “they have to be the man of the house now” after a bottle of Tia Maria during Murder She Wrote, arrive to “smash capitalism” (Daddy was a capitalist) and stand up for the “ordinary people” in the area.

4. The local opposition TDs and councillors start calling for an independent public inquiry because that’s what they always call for, and it’s not like they have to fund it out of their expenses, is it?

5. The planning process gets bogged down in court injunctions and walkouts and demands for a tribunal into the planning process. Vague allegations of corruption are applauded by the usual paranoid mob. The integrity of the process hinges entirely on whether it agrees with the No side.

6. Planning permission is granted. It is appealed to An Bord Plenala. They approve it. It is appealed to the High Court, then the Supreme Court, then the European Court. Judicial corruption is alleged every step of the way. Huge legal bills are run up by the protesters who then complain of being economically ruined by huge legal bills they ran up travelling through a legal system they “knew” to be corrupt in the first place.

7. The opposition wins the general election, and sets up a public inquiry because it has nothing better to do. The opponents of the project do not contest the election declaring the political process corrupt and “exclusionary to ordinary people”. You know, like voters. On polling day a group of young protesters meet to beam positive energy at the ballot boxes as they are carried out by the Guards.

8. The public inquiry approves the project. The protesters accuse it of being corrupt, and announce a campaign of civil disobedience, which seems to involve a lot of interpretive dance and giant Macnas style heads. One protester sprains his wrist when a giant Che Guevara head falls on him. He sues the state for not banning giant heads of South American communists.

9. The project starts with much civil disobedience, delaying the project’s completion by years. When it is completed, and starts providing tax revenue to the state much later than planned because of the delays, the people who delayed it are first in the queue with demands as to how the money should be spent.

10. 20 years later, when the project is no longer viable, the people who originally opposed it demand it be subsidised by the state as a vital contribution to the local economy.

 
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An Occasional Guide to EU politics: The Lonely MEP.

Twitter-phoneHe found one of those apps that tells you how much time you spend doing things, and it gave him a fright. Apparently he spends two-thirds of his day on Twitter trying to pick fights with people back home. What’s worse is that they’ve got the measure of him now, and just ignore him. He doesn’t get mentioned on the news, or in papers. He’s just gone. Like he’s dead.

He was going to show this crowd out here in Brussels, boy was he! But of course they’re well used to him and others like him coming out and shouting. Even Paisley tried it back in the day. Know what happened? Nothing. They ignored him. Anti-Christ this and Anti-Christ that and they just ignored him and went for lunch, and this guy ain’t no Big Ian.

He finds that he’s getting up later in the day, and watching a lot of boxsets in his apartment. The other MEPs from his country, the men and women from the parties he was going to make a holy show of when he got out, now just treat him like one of those fellas you buy a Club Orange and a pack of Tayto for down the pub on a Sunday afternoon. They don’t even argue with him now, just give him that “ah, bless, the poor creature” look. The women ask him is he OK? One even offered to sew a button that had fallen off his good jacket back on. He spent a whole day walking around not knowing that he was trailing a long piece of toilet paper on his shoe and nobody’d said anything. One of the Dutch MEPs thought he’d been trying to make some sort of avant-garde protest about waste.

He’s afraid to spend too long on the phone back home because he knows some bastard will FOI it, and he can’t even go home because it’ll effect his voting record, the one thing the public (or at least the media) seem to get stroppy about at election time.

What on Earth was he thinking coming out here?

 
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20 Years ago I put my name on a ballot paper…

Posted by Jason O on May 18, 2019 in Irish Politics, The Times Ireland Edition

PD Canvass card

Previously published in The Times Ireland edition.

I was reminded recently that this year’s local elections mark 20 years since I dipped my toe into the electoral pond as a candidate for the Progressive Democrats in Dublin City Council elections. Looking back on the adventure that was my running for election in the Pembroke ward I think I can say with accuracy that be 94% of the voting electorate who cast their first preference vote for candidates other than me displayed far more sense and insight into my potential as a city councillor than I knew myself at the time.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that I would have been a pretty bad councillor. It’s not that I would not have approached the job with good intentions or a lack of seriousness but rather that I now recognise the huge volume of work that is required to be a successful, that is, re-elected public representative.

Read more…

Copyright © 2019 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.