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Latest Bye-Election Scandal: FG Candidate…. owns a nice house?

The media pummelling of Fine Gael bye-election candidate for Dublin Bay South, James Geoghegan, shows no immediate signs of easing off. One might suspect, given the ferocity of the criticism headed his way, that some elements of the media who had a soft spot for snubbed ex-TD Kate O’Connell are taking a little bit of pleasure in administering punishment beatings to the new rich-kid on the block. It is also quite revealing that, despite the state of the nation, the opposition has yet to muster a serious policy criticism of the Government, and propose an alternative idea. This would be hard, given that they have voted in line with the Government on most issues, but that is, you’d have to say, sort of the point of politics. Anyway, in the absence of any actual ideas, they have focused their energies on flinging muck at the Fine Gael candidate.

In recent days, Geoghegan has come under fire for having been a member of Renua (a matter in which he had limited choice, given that he was employed, at the time, by the party’s founder, Lucinda Creighton), and for being insufficiently in favour of repealing the 8th amendment in 2018. By themselves, those two stories are enough to damage him in the eyes of certain journalists, as we explored the other day.

This latest tale, though, takes the cake:

Fine Gael’s Dublin Bay South candidate and self-styled ‘voice for the generation locked out of the housing market’ James Geoghegan lives in a €730,000 house in another constituency.

Mr Geoghegan has pitched his by-election campaign at young people struggling to get their foot on the property ladder due to soaring costs of rent and unaffordable house prices in Dublin.

However, the Price Property Register shows the Fine Gael barrister and his wife bought a house three years ago in Clonskeagh in South County Dublin for €730,000.

Is it relevant that Geoghegan and his wife own an expensive home? First, let us consider that “expensive” and “large” are not the same thing, at least in the present property market. This bog standard bungalow in Clonskeagh, for example, is on the market for €745,000 – actually more than Geoghegan paid for his house. We have not seen his house, but it is reasonable to expect that if he paid that kind of money in Clonskeagh, he is not exactly living in a country mansion.

There is no doubt – none at all – that if Geoghegan can afford the mortgage on a €730,000 home, then he is significantly wealthier than the average person his age. That, though, does not mean, necessarily, that he does not have an interest in the housing crisis. After all, the chances are that he is paying a massive mortgage on what is, most likely, a perfectly average home. Indeed, one of the whole issues with the housing crisis is that even those young families who can, somehow, afford to buy a home are being lumbered with massive mortgages that cripple them for a lifetime.

Is Geoghegan crippled for a lifetime? We do not know, and that is not really our business.

In any case, the left wing argument against Geoghegan on this point falls apart fairly quickly, when set against the “fair play to him” approach those same people are taking to Pearse Doherty’s present endeavour of constructing a very spacious family home in Donegal. It cannot be simultaneously true that Pearse Doherty is a man of the people, and James Geoghegan is a wealthy plutocrat.

There’s another point here, though, and it is this: The argument of some people seems to be that this story should damage the Fine Gael candidate because people should resent his ability to pay €730,000 for a house. That is, firstly, and lastly, an appeal to begrudgery. You are supposed to resent him because he is, apparently, richer than you are. Geoghegan’s politics might be good, or bad (my own view is that on many issues, his politics are disastrous) but his personal wealth, or otherwise, has no bearing on what he would or would not do in office. In fact, the one advantage of wealthy candidates is that they are probably less likely to be doing the job for the money.

Note too that we have not heard what the other candidates homes are worth: Are we, for example, likely to hear what Labour Candidate, Ivana Bacik’s, house is worth? She is after all, a long time Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law in Trinity College. It would be mildly surprising if she lived in a hovel, somewhere.

This issue might matter to voters, or it might not: But we should be clear what the argument here is. You are being encouraged to read about James Geoghegan’s house because some people believe that it will appeal to the basest part of your human nature – to make you resent him, and therefore vote against him.

It has nothing to do with his policies, his abilities, or anything else. We are seeing that old perennial of election campaigns in Dublin Bay South: A campaign of personal destruction. Lucinda Creighton, Geoghegan’s old boss, of course, faced the same kind of campaign, last time she ran. How circumstances change, right?


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