You can tell a lot about someone from what they worry about. The Housing Minister Simon Coveney isn’t so much worried about people sleeping on the streets at the moment. He is losing sleep about the thought that other people might fill their swimming pools with free water!
In an interview during the week with the Irish Examiner he said “So if you have one house in the estate that is filling a swimming pool out the back, everybody else in the estate has to pay for it. That is just not fair.”
This writer lives in a 1980s estate built by the council in Dublin. As with most such estates its easy enough to see what the neighbours are up to out back as the gardens are small, overlook each other and were separated by low chain link fences. I’ve not seen anyone with a swimming pool. I’m not even sure you could fit one in except on some of the corner houses.
In fact I don’t even know of anyone with a swimming pool. The only time I’ve been in a house with a swimming pool is when I’ve rented Lanzarote ‘villas’ for group holidays with mates, although those overgrown bathtubs are a bit small for actually swimming in.
Of course Simon Coveney like most politicians isn’t like you or me. He’s from a wealthy Cork family and spends his time with the sort of wealthy people who probably do have swimming pools, and maybe a helicopter pad to boot. Those sort of people don’t tend to live on housing estates though, so what’s his game?
The problem the super rich have is there are not very many of them in proportion to the rest of us. We might reckon it was a bit unfair that some people have swimming pools and helicopter pads while others sleep in doorways. We might even feel we should do something about it.
The role of Coveney and other politicians is to make sure that doesn’t happen. If all else fails they send in the cops - we saw that again and again in the water charges campaign. We may see it yet with the Apollo House occupation, it’s rather obvious Coveney is terrified by the threat of that good example but so far he has been unable to find an acceptable way to dress up his opposition to squatting as a reasonable step to reducing homelessness in a way that would fool most of us. Fooling most of the people most of the time is what politicians do, as soon as they fail they get replaced, ask Charlie or Bertie or Brian or Joan.
A very common way they do this is by getting us to to be suspicious of each other, to seed the idea that its other ordinary working people who are the cause of shortages rather than the greed of the super wealthy. So they scapegoat people on the dole, asylum seekers or the fictional person on your estate with the swimming pool out back.
You can probably tell Coveney isn’t very good at this, if he was Enda level he’d have met someone holding four pints who flushes there toilet all days for the craic of it. Then his division sewing “If people are using more than that, why should their neighbours pay for it through general taxation?” might have got some traction. It might have got us distracted by this wasteful chancer who loves the sounds of the flush at great cost to ‘the taxpayer’.
I don’t know about you but if if I’m worrying about fairness its generally not on the level of counting how many times a day the neighbour flushes the toilet. It’s more about how I live in a city with 36,000 millionaires on the one side and tens of thousands either homeless or crammed into overcrowded accommodation on the other. Some of the 3 bedroom houses on my estate have 9 or more people living in them. Grown up ‘children’ with children of their own have had to move back in with their parents thanks to the soaring rents and unpayable mortgages created so property speculators and landlords could rake in even bigger profits.
Coveney is a landlord himself, we only know this because he’s making at least 2600 a month from his property so has to declare it. A nice little top up to the 160,000 he takes in as a minister. As I said he lives in another world to you and me.
We seem to have ended up marking 1916 by recreating the conditions my great grandparents lived in, just down the road from where I live now. Dublin in 1916 wasn’t just a city of slums, back then it also had its super wealthy families. We don’t need to monitor each others toilet flushing habits, we need to end the division of society into have’s and have nots. It's not just that 'out of touch Coveney' has to go - its landlordism and the rest of the capitalist gang we need to show the door.
WORDS: Andrew Flood (follow Andrew on Twitter)