Eoghan Murphy on the housing crisis is like a talking Ken doll repeating himself

Eoghan Murphy on the housing crisis is like a talking Ken doll repeating himself

This article was originally published by The Irish Times.

Say what you like about the Government, there’s no doubting its sincerity about the right to choose. The Eighth amendment may have been repealed, but more choice is needed, as Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy tells Matt Cooper on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays). The Minister isn’t talking about reproductive rights, however, but the freedom to choose to rent rather than to buy, something he sounds very keen on. That so many people are unable to afford to rent is but a mere detail.

Cooper’s interview with Murphy underlines how far the Government is from solving the housing crisis. Even as the Minister announces a slew of new rent pressure zones to ease the skyrocketing cost of accommodation, he stays on message about the necessity for choice.

The host notes that many feel trapped by rents so high that they cannot save for a mortgage, which at least eventually yields an asset. The Minister responds with the usual emollients about the situation being “incredibly difficult”, but frames it as a “challenge” that “people don’t have the choice” to leave the rental market. Having dealt with that minor inconvenience, he moves to his main theme. With more people not buying, supposedly through choice, more houses are required so they can “rent with sustainability”. Or, to put it another way, not be made homeless.

The minister’s well-drilled shtick about providing exciting housing options only serves to highlight how few there really are

The encounter continues in this vein. Cooper asks firm but reasonable questions, Murphy trots out variations of his mantra with ever greater defensiveness. His tone resembles that of a suspect desperately sticking to his alibi even as the evidence piles up against him.

Asked by Cooper if he regrets his “gaffe” in which he called co-living apartment schemes “exciting”, the Minister replies by stressing the need to provide young workers with, yep, choice. Pressed on the slow pace of social housing construction, he talks vaguely about “pathfinder projects”, but like a talking Action Man (or Ken doll), says the same old thing again. “We have to recognise some people may not want to buy, but some may not be able to buy,” Murphy states. Indeed. Why not go the whole hog and say that losing one’s home is an opportunity for al fresco living?

Cooper doesn’t harass his guest with “posh boy” taunts, as other interviewers have done, preferring to maintain a wryly sceptical air. It’s a more effective approach. The minister’s well-drilled shtick about providing exciting housing options only serves to highlight how few there really are.

Word games

The intractability of the housing crisis is underlined on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), which features two items looking at the issue from different angles. On Monday, Tommy Meskill reports on how gentrification is affecting residents in working-class Dublin neighbourhoods. The main bugbear is not the arrival of hipster cafes, but the construction of expensive developments that squeeze out locals. People Before Profit activist Gillian Brien welcomes the rejuvenation of derelict retail spaces in the Broadstone area, but says that the only new buildings are luxury student accommodation and hotels. It all brings a new meaning to the term “choice property”.

Just because someone cries wolf doesn’t mean there aren’t any around

On Wednesday, the news that Ulster Bank is selling off more than 3,000 non-performing mortgages leads to a heated exchange between presenter Gavin Jennings and David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation. Hall is alarmed by the prospect of vulture funds owning more mortgages, saying they have no interest in restructuring the loans of indebted homeowners. “This is where the tsunami begins,” he says.

Maybe so, but as Jennings reminds his guest, it’s not his first prediction of such a catastrophe. The presenter lists off seven occasions that Hall has warned of a metaphorical tidal wave since 2014. “You’ve been predicting a tsunami of repossessions for five years, has it happened yet?” Jennings asks tartly. A testy argument ensues, on whether the 3,000-plus repossessions so far made constitute a tsunami, with Hall doubling down on his use of the term while accusing his host of taking “potshots”.

Hall might be accused of alarmism in his forecast of mass repossessions, but his talk of tidal waves is certainly ill-judged: an actual tsunami, after all, can leave hundreds of thousands dead. (His other metric, “a Croke Park full of people”, is more appropriate and has more impact.) But diverting as this grilling is, it also underscores another point that Jennings refers to, albeit more briefly: the absence of anyone from a bank or vulture fund to answer questions as Hall does. Just because someone cries wolf doesn’t mean there aren’t any around.

Processed and salty

If all that sends the blood pressure skyrocketing, help is at hand. On Tuesday, Ray D’Arcy (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) talks to Angie Brown of the Irish Heart Foundation about the dangers of high blood pressure, which she calls “the silent killer”. By way of example, D’Arcy is also joined by Eddie Molloy, who was unaware of his perilously high blood pressure levels until he was hospitalised.

So far, so worthy. But when Molloy is asked about his new lifestyle, he admits: “I still probably go through about five or six fries a week.” D’Arcy is audibly stunned, not to mention concerned. “Not to be brutally honest with you, Eddie, but you’d be dead after a year or two,” the host says. “I’m genuinely taken aback.” The irresistibly cheery Molloy replies that he gets hungry unless he has a fried breakfast, and anyway, he can always check his blood pressure with the heart foundation’s mobile health unit.

It’s simultaneously hilarious and shocking, if not quite, as D’Arcy claims, “the best bit of public service broadcasting in a long time”. As for Molloy, he remains unrepentant. A fry-up is processed and salty, he concedes, “but tasty”. It’s his choice.