Bryan Wall: Boutique Living


From top: Maria Bailey (right) with Eoghan Murphy (centre) and Damien English at a Housing Summit last year; Bryan Wall

To say that we have an out of touch government would be an understatement, and probably incorrect. Being out of touch doesn’t imply that you don’t care.

But in the case of our government it seems that it does. Eoghan Murphy’s latest foray into the realm of informing people who struggle to afford a home what they actually like was as successful as you’d expect.

Defending the idea of co-living he told Newstalk that it’s really the equivalent of “staying in a trendy boutique hotel”.

What kind of hotel has 42 people sharing one kitchen?

The kind of hotel whose living areas are smaller than disabled person’s parking spot of course.

He later withdrew the remark without actually withdrawing it. On Twitter he wrote that

“Coliving elicits outrage in some because they assume it’s what we propose as a response to families in crisis. It is not”.

But the fact of the matter is that individuals and families in crisis will end up in any co-living development that goes ahead. We are in the midst of a housing and homelessness crisis.

People need homes. That means people are going to take whatever’s available. And if that’s an apartment complex with tiny rooms and one kitchen for 42 people then no matter.

Landlords will making a killing, the government will claim it’s tackling the housing crisis, and people will have a roof over their heads. What’s not to love?

The problem is that it’s indicative of a pattern of behaviour. Over the lifetime of this government we’ve seen again and again how it seems to lack any understanding of daily existence for the majority of people in the country.

It’s not Leo Varadkar in particular who’s liable to saying something outrageously uninformed. It’s the entire party that simply does not care about housing, homelessness, and in any way trying to make Ireland a more equitable country to live in.

Hence, as I’ve argued before, Varadkar isn’t actually gaffe-prone as such. Everything his says is intentional. The shock his comments cause, and people’s descriptions of them as gaffes, means that at least people can still be shocked.

Essentially, we haven’t reached the bottom of the barrel quite yet when it comes to mainstream politics. So when our fearless leader opens his mouth there’s still the possibility that what he says will cause some level of outrage.

On the other hand, it’s like being angry at the scorpion for stinging the frog. It’s a scorpion. What else is it supposed to do? When neoliberal members of a neoliberal party say things that dismiss or denigrate the needs of the masses it shouldn’t be surprising.

What else are they supposed to do? Contempt for the working class is a core element of their being. How could they behave otherwise?

Take another stalwart of Fine Gael: Maria Bailey. We have been beaten over the head with stories of welfare and insurance fraud carried out by the ne’er do wells of Irish society.

We are told this is why people on welfare have to be surveilled given their obvious propensity for fraud and deceit. It’s also why insurance premiums are so high.

The fact of the matter is that both welfare and insurance fraud are essentially non-issues.

In the case of the latter, this was wonderfully highlighted by Pearse Doherty during an Oireachtas committee meeting.

At this meeting representatives of the insurance industry were there to argue their case for high premiums. Doherty pointed out at the meeting that: the insurance industry is completely exaggerating the issue of fraudulent claims in a way to try and justify the type of premiums they are charging, and the increases we are seeing in certain sectors.

He then asked the representatives of the assorted insurance companies to detail the level of fraud they deal with.

FBD claimed it deals with around 10,000 fraudulent claims every year. But Doherty revealed only 19 cases of fraud were reported to the Gardaí between October last year and March.

Approximately 1% of Allianz’s claims are apparently fraudulent. And Axa, which handles roughly 5,000 claims every year has reported only 55 incidents of fraudulent claims since 2013 to the Gardaí. As Doherty argued:

“That’s a fraction of a per cent”.

What this means is that the insurance industry is bleeding the consumer simply because it can. At the same time we are to be reminded of the fundamental untrustworthiness of the masses.

Yet when someone in a position of power such as Maria Bailey is found to have, at the very least, exaggerated her injuries in order to make a claim for a sizeable payout, it is portrayed as an aberration.

Never mind the fact she was clearly dishonest about her injuries. The Fine Gael investigation surrounding her claim is to be kept private in the name of decorum and not party embarrassment.

It seems her punishment is to lose the party whip. Nobody is calling for a public flogging but to lose the whip doesn’t even raise to the level of parody. But what else is to be expected?

Just as the scorpion stings the frog the party apparatus is not going to throw a member under the bus. And especially so when the numbers in the Dáil are stacked against them as it is and a General Election is coming sooner rather the later.

Instead we’re left with the Baileys, Murphys, and Varadkars of the world for a while longer.

There are likely more shocks to come. Varadkar will probably say something as stupid as it is ignorant mixed with an indifference which lets the neoliberal mask slip once again.

His above-mentioned cohorts will probably deliver just as well. And as the General eEection looms we can rest assured that more of the same awaits us.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column usually appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall