The Gist: No homes to go to
Housing has dominated the headlines for a month and the political consequences are only beginning. This is the Gist.
It is Easter Sunday and everyone should be enjoying themselves with their chocolate eggs. But, for Fine Gael, the theme was more chickens coming home to roost as the first big poll of the Post-Eviction policy came out. Fine Gael registered their lowest ever result in the B&A poll published in the Sunday Times, dropping eight points in one month.
This plummet, though well outside the 3% margin of error, was just one poll, on one month. But it does seem to have been the predictable outcome of the mysterious Fine Gael impulse to put themselves forward as the political face of the pro-homelessness movement.
Fine Gael made choice after choice over the course of the last month. Each decision was so politically perverse, it might have been the result of the party racing through a fistful of monkey-paw wishes. Every single action they took, on the most important topic in the country, was almost assured to repel voters. From having a row over an artwork having the temerity to interpose modern images of evictions into a Famine-era painting they immediately turned around and decided that attacking the bona fides of Fr. Peter McVerry looked like the thing to do.
By the end of the month, the only surprise was that Fine Gael's ministers didn't call a photoshoot where they demolished a thatched cottage themselves, leaving some actors dressed as Famine-era peasants to die in a ditch to really ram the message home.
And all of this damage was done before the first actual eviction happens as a result of the government's choice to increase homelessness in order to deliver benefits to landlords.
For reasons which seem more psychological than political, more pathological than strategic, Fine Gael has pushed itself forward to be the party owning evictions and homelessness. Fianna Fáil mustn't believe their luck.
Back in June 2022, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced she'd be slipping in an amendment to the already commenced Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022. Avoiding the tiresome stage of pre-legislative scrutiny, the Minister told the GRA (as opposed to the Dáil) that she would create a legal basis for the Garda Síochána to use facial recognition technology. She told the police that the technology would soon be "helping to identify suspects in a crowd". Later, when a bevvy of UN experts objected to this idea, Simon Coveney told them that the proposal was "to introduce both retrospective and live facial recognition facilities into An Garda Síochána."
And yet, despite the then Minister for Foreign Affairs insistance that Ireland could bring in madcap local laws if it wanted to ahead of a wider EU legislative framework, we have heard almost nothing more about the matter.
This week there was a report that suggested one of the reasons for this sudden silence on the matter. The Green party had decided they didn't want this backdoor introduction, and that it ought to go before the Oireachtas as stand-alone legislation.
What was interesting, for the sharp eared amongst us, was the statement issued by Simon Harris' Department of Justice in defence of their plan.
The ability to automate searches on legally held images and footage would allow the organisation to operate more efficiently and effectively.
Gone, from the subsequent long list of things the police would do with these powers, is any mention of using 'live facial recognition facilities'. Whether that element of the plan still exists or not, the recent CJEU and Supreme Court death of the Department's long fight to deny the ban on mass surveillance applied to them or the police means that they have given up trying to argue for it.