It’s an Emergency

This is from last September. The situation has only deteriorated since. But the solutions are available. They are doable. Now they’ve admitted it’s a national emergency the government can finally take the matter seriously.

There was an interesting development in how the Government has decided to handle (spin) the housing crisis this week.

Following a raw and at times brutal Morning Ireland interview with a homeless Secondary School student named ‘Amanda’, the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, rather than feel ashamed decided he’d side with the poor girl.

Mr Murphy said:

“The piece that was broadcast this morning on Morning Ireland is probably one of the most important contributions to this debate that we’ve heard in the past number of months.

The bravery that they had this morning to come out and tell the country about their particular circumstance was very brave but very important for people to understand what these families are facing.”

The family tragedy compounded by a Minister who is calling this crisis a debate. The time for debating is long gone. It is time for action, real decisive action.

Campaigns like #MyNameIs have raised the consciousness of the general public and the sense that more must be done is palpable.

In reality we have the means to take much more ambitious steps than the planned 23,000 social housing homes by 2021.

More importantly, even with this limited plan, who will be held accountable should this target not be met? Given that only 22 of the 1,500 promised by next year have been completed to date, can we believe in any new plan? Where is the accountability?

The lack of accountability in Ireland undermines many facets of our society. But to just focus on housing we can identify the problem quite quickly.

Unlike many other European countries, including Belgium, France and the UK, housing is not a right in Ireland.

In Ireland, under the 1988 Housing Act, our citizens run into a verbal wall.

10.—(1) A housing authority may, subject to such regulations as may be made by the Minister under this section –

make arrangements, including financial arrangements, with a body approved of by the Minister for the purposes of section 5 for the provision by that body of accommodation for a homeless person,

provide a homeless person with such assistance, including financial assistance, as the authority consider appropriate, or

rent accommodation, arrange lodgings or contribute to the cost of such accommodation or lodgings for a homeless person.

2. A request for accommodation may be made to a housing authority by or on behalf of a homeless person.

The blocker in the system is a small word that covers all manner of excuses. The word is ‘may’; as in the housing authority may or it may not do a,b,c or d.

It is not compulsory, and if it is not compulsory then there is no accountability.If there’s no accountability then there’s no repercussions for missing targets. Until may becomes must and the power to act become a duty to act then nothing will change.

This emergency didn’t sneak up on us either. It is the result of decades of bad planning and even worse policy making. We have gone, progressively since the 1970’s, from State provision to a combination of NGO and Market provision.

Both are failing – for different reasons. The NGO solution is common – the UK for example has a similar situation, with the important distinction that the State in UK decanted housing stock progressively to the NGOs, thereby providing a balance sheet base from which the NGO’s could leverage collateral to fund future housing stock.

The NGO model is endemic in Irish Social policy – the same approach applies in Health, Disability Services and in the past in areas such as industrial schools.

Whatever about its origins – a pauper State seeking access to property and services from institutions such as the Church, it now represents either an abdication of responsibility or, worse, an adherence to Victorian attitudes to relative poverty and provision, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Without diverting from the current crisis, this needs to be reassessed in all areas of Social policy.

Given the intolerable crisis we have today – 8,160 people(now 9,800) homeless and nearly 3,000 children(now 3,800) – anything less than “The State Will Provide” response from the Government will not suffice. Even if we are to only do so on a temporary basis until the crisis has abated.

There’s nothing in EU Law that forbids a country from acting to protect its citizens. Therefore it follows that there is nothing in EU Law (including the Debt to GDP rules) that can prevent the government from raising money to build social housing.

The “off balance sheet” argument is a red herring. They raised over €5bn to pay off the IMF. To not do the same for our citizens is an indictment of Right Wing slaves to the “free” market ideology. It is an indictment of us as a society and a country.

It is within our powers, as the 14th wealthiest country in the world, to build 10,000 social houses in the next 12-18 months. Any legislative roadblocks can and must be given the NAMA treatment.

Exceptional times call for exceptional measures.

If we can create NAMA overnight, ignoring legislative processes, to stop a Bank crisis and we refuse to do the same for our citizens then any plans from the Third Emergency Housing Summit are only window dressing.

The pressure is on, Fine Gael are rattled by claims that their ideological blindness to the less well off in our country have exacerbated this crisis.

Campaigns like #MyNameIs have embarrassed them and stung a Taoiseach obsessed with his image into action. This action must happen now and it must be on a scale that dwarfs the current 2021 plan.

Time is of the essence here. While things are bad they are about to get much worse. There’s 14,367 Buy To Let Mortgages at repossession stage.

There is no incentive or reason for the Vulture Funds that own these properties to rent them to the social housing/homeless part of the market. This will be like throwing petrol on a bonfire unless our government turns “may” into Must.

We have the means, the finance is available and the solutions are simple:

Make the provision of housing a right, at least until the crisis has abated.

Use the NAMA exceptionalist model to protect the citizens.

Commit to building 10,000 social houses in the next 12-18 months.

Make the Departments accountable and have repercussions for failure.

Incentivise/Legislate that the Vultures make their properties available to the Social Housing schemes.

Introduce a retrofit scheme for the approximately 900 units sitting vacant in Dublin.

Streamline the planning process.

Incentivise the use of over-shop-accommodation for the Air BnB market.

Deliver, deliver, deliver.

Fine Gael are 84 years old today. The Taoiseach used this occasion to remind people that he wants “to build a Republic of Opportunity”.

Well Leo, it’s no good waiting for opportunity to knock when you don’t have a front door. So get building.

Tony Groves

The Kite Runner

From 22nd March 2017

You have to ask yourself that if I wanted to sell something to myself, for more than it’s worth, in order to pay myself from the over-inflated price, would that be okay with the Companies Act?

Tony Groves writes:

Back in the Halcyon Days of the Celtic Tiger, I remember coming across a particularly complex (and not a little brilliant) version of the common practise of Cheque Kiting.

Cheque Kiting, for those of you unfamiliar, is where an individual has two (or more) accounts in different banks. He writes a cheque to himself (this first cheque is called the kite) from Bank A and lodges it into Bank B.

The following day (taking advantage of Bank B’s lax clearing system) writes a cheque to himself from Bank B and lodges it to Bank A.

These artificial funds are then lodged; allowing the first cheque to clear. The cycle then repeats, typically escalating the amounts until he is either caught, cleans out the accounts and runs, or lodges legitimate funds to cover the Kite.

The case I came across was based on the circular kite model, but due to the involvement of several individuals (over 10) and spread across every retail bank in the country at that time it was not easily discovered.

The seemingly reasonable monies involved in the cheques, the various clearing cycles of the banks and the fact that there was several people involved made detection next to impossible for any one bank. It really was well constructed and went on for months.

When the fraud was eventually spotted (due to address irregularities) and the kites crashed to earth, the Banks had been taken for several thousand euro. It really was a significant amount of money and I’m not sure any of the participants were ever brought to justice.

I recall seeing the last transactions on one accounts involved; it was a Laser Card purchase in Dublin Airport. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu…

When I read earlier how Independent News and Media Chief Executive Robert Pitt had made a Protected Disclosure regarding Denis O’Brien’s attempts to sell a company he owns (Newstalk, part of his Communicorp empire) to a Company (Independent News & Media) where he is the major shareholder, I had a flashback.

We know very little about the deal. But I suspect a Protected Disclosure wasn’t made lightly.

Whatever was in the Disclosure seems to have triggered the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement’s involvement.

It is also well known that the two parties could not agree on the price, with INM wanting to pay less than Communicorp are asking for.

We also understand from reports that if the higher price had been be agreed, Denis O’Brien stood to receive a “significant payout”.

I don’t want to go into the individuals involved and their links with Mr O’Brien, they are available here.

But I do wonder about company law, specifically the laws around conflicts of interest and the Fitness & Probity Standards.

You have to ask yourself that if I wanted to sell something to myself, for more than it’s worth, in order to pay myself from the over-inflated price, would that be okay with the Companies Act?

Even if it is legal, are the conflicts of interest not such that it would call into question individual’s fitness to operate public broadcasting licences? I don’t know. Nobody is really saying what did or did not nearly happen.

We know there was a falling out. We hear rumours of resignations. None of it looks good from a Corporate Responsibility viewpoint. Particularly given Denis O’Brien’s ability to have a “chilling effect” on democracy.

There are many kites floating out in the air here. Like all complex kites the cords become tangled and it’s difficult to know who caused the entire thing to crash to earth. I still laugh at the audacity of the Cheque Kite I was caught out by.

I look regularly agog at the audacity of Denis O’Brien, none more so than in his attempt to sell his company to his other company. What has all this got to do with Cheque Kiting? Maybe nothing; it just makes you think, doesn’t it…

Tony Groves

Tara Flynn #TogetherForYes Ep.48



It’s a little known fact that actor, writer, comedian and activist, Tara Flynn is our Fairy Podmother. So you can imagine the excitement when she came into the tortoise shack to discuss her play, ‘Not a Funny Word’, the current state of the arts, how going public with her story of having to travel for an abortion changed how she was perceived and working with the #TogetherForYes campaign to #repealthe8th!


Elaine Edwards #DataProtection Ep. 47


The Cambridge Analytica story has awoken a sleepwalking public into the dangers of the manipulation of Personal Data. So we were thrilled to welcome to the tortoise shack Privacy and Data Protection Journalist with the Irish Times, Elaine Edwards. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR)rules are coming into force in May and yet our government are looking to exempt themselves from the laws designed to protect our privacy. Think it doesn’t matter, think again!

Gemma O’Doherty #FakeNews Ep. 46



The appointment of Independent News and Media Group Editor-in-Chief to the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on Fake News raised some eyebrows. So we were delighted to be joined in the tortoise shack by Investigative Journalist and award winning Director of ‘Mary Boyle – The Untold Story’, Gemma O’Doherty to discuss the era of Fake News and the blurring between advertorial, propaganda and old fashioned journalism.
As a woman who sees journalism as a vocation, Gemma tells us honestly and passionately about her experiences, her current investigations and her concerns for the industry she has given her life to.

Terry McMahon #ThisIsOurIreland Ep. 45


Film was once the realm of myth making and escapism, but these days our politicians are the scripted actors who are playing roles in a PR Spun Irish success story. Award winning Actor-Writer-Director, Terry McMahon, joins us in the tortoise shack for a no holds barred discussion on Our Ireland, wanting to take over the GPO, Apollo House and the lies they were told by a government that wants to maintain the myth and normalise obscenity!
There’s also an incredible story about how Culture Ireland and our Government treated Terry’s movie success.
Warning: strong language and mature themes throughout!

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Brendan Ogle #Right2Change Ep. 44


Trade Unionist and Social Activist, Brendan Ogle is described in many ways, mostly as a radical. But as he said to us, what sort of country is it that deems the goals of housing, a decent healthcare system and a living wage radical? He sits down with us in the Tortoise Shack to talk about Home Sweet Home, Right2Water, Right2Change and creating a movement in pursuit of these goals.

Paul Murphy #JobstownNotGuilty Ep.43


Events at the Lidl in Fortunestown Lane, Jobstown, Tallaght gave a green light to the hard right(government TD’s included) to come out and smear an entire working class community over the actions of a few. So we were delighted to be joined in the tortoise shack by Solidarity TD for Dublin South West Paul Murphy, to discuss tackling class warfare, where to next for the Water Charges movement and what a real Left alternative might look like.

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Martin McMahon #Gigification Ep.40


When it comes to knowing about Bogus Self Employment, Martin McMahon has literally written the book. But he could hardly interview himself. So we put a call out to DIT Lecturer, FOI Guru, Investigative Reporter and friend of the pod, Ken Foxe.
Having written the extensive piece, The Gig Is Up, Martin sits down in the tortoise shack to outline what is really going and why this practice is the real Social Welfare Cheating that Cheat Us All.

Anthony Flynn #ShelterMe Ep. 42


Last week Storm Emma brought the country to a standstill. But the folks at Inner City Helping Homelessness were at the front line, coming to the aid of the most vulnerable in our society. ICHH CEO, Anthony Flynn, came back into the tortoise shack to tell us about what it was really like and why the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive was found wanting and how our leaders were stage managing a disaster.

Please support ICHH by visiting https://www.ichh.ie/donate/ and giving whatever you can.