THE eviction ban was lifted last weekend and only time will tell whether the government made the right decision or not, in refusing to extend it.
The timing is critical because, with an election coming down the tracks, if this goes badly wrong, then it could have a massive impact on who is in charge of housing policy in the next government.
Unfortunately, most of the rhetoric this week was about a tweet posted by Sinn Féin Housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin with a controversial image.
The tweet included a photo by artist Adam Doyle, which mixed an old image of an eviction of a family from a thatched cottage, with a recent modern-day eviction showing members of the gardaí present.
The photo, created by the artist who is also known as ‘Spicebag’, was posted with a brief comment from TD Ó Broin: ‘No words needed’.
Those words in themselves seem quite ironic now, because Ó Broin may have been in less hot water if he had added a few more words, explaining, as he later was forced to, that he didn’t wish to involve the gardaí in the debate.
After meeting with garda representatives, he later tweeted: ‘I stressed it was not my intention to offend, criticise or drag An Garda Síochána into a political controversy. My intention was solely to highlight the issue of homelessness/evictions & criticise Govt policy.’
But by that point, the damage was done.
It was a veritable own goal for Sinn Féin. For a party whose representatives are so well briefed and coached in political speak, this was an error of mammoth proportions. Not so much in the content itself, but in the opportunity it gave to SF’s opponents.
The two major government parties spend so much time looking for ‘smoking guns’ in Sinn Féin’s public utterances – and rarely find them – that this must have seemed like manna from the heavens just as the eviction ban was about to be lifted.
The timing could not have been better for the Big Two. Instead of writing about the lifting of the ban last Saturday, and scurrying to find families that had fallen victim to it, national reporters were instead despatched to get commentary from both sides of the ‘SpiceGate’ debate and the focus was off the real story, for at least a few days.
But the major parties did not cover themselves in any glory, either. In their excitement to capitalise on the housing expert’s faux pas, they trotted out that tired old line – that Sinn Féin members were ‘letting the mask slip’ – a lazy and over-used phrase that will do them no favours in the polling booths.
Young voters – the grassroots of SF support – care not a whit whether any masks are slipping, or the subtle nod to ‘balaclavas’ in that phrase – because they have no knowledge of, or interest in, what went on 30 years ago or more.
All they want is a roof over their heads at some time in the future, whether by lease or purchase. When ‘Spicebag’ himself turned up on Virgin Media’s Tonight Show on Monday night, explaining that he had little interest in politics, but was serious about depicting the horror of evictions, social media lit up in support of him.
The image of him being shouted down by older journalists and TV pundits only served to magnify how out of touch many of those engaged in politics are today.
The forthcoming elections may prove to be a turning point in this country. But whether that is a turn for better or worse, only time will tell.