Paul Murphy: Hey, maybe the state should seize all hotels

One of these days, my friends, Ireland will find itself facing a problem to which Paul Murphy’s answer will not be “seize all private property”. But it is not this day. Here he is, popping up on RTE’s Drive Time radio programme to advocate….. seizing hotels and turning them into Government prison camps quarantine facilities for foreigners and Irish people who come here without a vaccine.

What is interesting, if you listen to all seven minutes of that (which the national broadcaster felt important enough to put on the air, for some reason), is that Murphy does not really have much of an urgent reason for seizing private hotels. There is no reason, for example, that the state could not just extend the contract for mandatory hotel quarantine to lots of hotels using a contractual vehicle – paying them to take residents. The costs are likely to be smaller, since the state would only be paying for capacity it uses, rather than getting into the hotel management business for the rest of eternity. This is just “Paul Murphy likes the idea of nationalising things, and here is a thing he can nationalise”.

As noted above, this is where questions need to be asked of RTE (yet again). To be fair, the presenter challenges him robustly on the absurdity of this idea, but it’s so absurd that there’s a real question to be asked about what the value of having him on at all is. There are lots of people out there every day with relatively good ideas who do not get airtime, but Captain Cuckoo here gets on every single time he sees something on the street and things “we should nationalise that”. It’s impossible to take him, or his party, seriously. Sadly, though, it is our job to try, so let us go through some of the problems with this plan, just in case any of you thought “well maybe he has a point”.

First, how many hotels should the state nationalise? We have already learned, in very short order, that the state is not very good at predicting how much capacity it will need for Mandatory Hotel Quarantine, assuming it persists with the policy. The first wave of capacity ran out after two weeks. How much will we need in six weeks’ time? In six months’ time? The answer, simply, is that we do not know, and cannot know. The reason we do not know is that we simply cannot say what impact MHQ will have on the numbers wanting to travel here in the first place. You could make a good case that by august, there will be thousands arriving into Ireland every week looking for a holiday. You could make an equally good case that once word gets out that Ireland is locking people in hotels, passenger numbers will be a trickle. So should Ireland nationalise one or two big hotels, or enough hotels to cope with a massive surge? Will Paul Murphy take the blame for wasting all that money if it ends up we don’t need the beds?

Second, what is a fair price that the state should pay for a hotel in this market? Bear in mind, hotels now are decidedly unprofitable, since they are closed by order of the Government. So, could the Government get them at a knock down price? Or might the courts have something to say about that? Purchasing hotels for pennies on the dollar because you have tanked them into unprofitability is the sort of thing that would be illegal under any other circumstances. Imagine, for example, that a criminal gang kept intimidating guests from entering a hotel – and then, when it went bust, tried to buy that hotel for next to nothing. We would call that gangsterism, so why would it be any different if the Government tried it? The state would probably end up paying more than present market value.

Third, and, of course, most importantly, this is not a plan that would be constitutional. The constitution protects the right of people to own private property. Even if Paul Murphy was elected to the Government in the morning (he never will be, but come on, this is his fantasy, not mine) there is the small matter of that prohibition on seizing private property. He might argue the case for a compulsory purchase order based on the urgent needs of the people, or whatever, but that is unlikely to fly given that the courts would be able to find plenty of reasonable alternatives.

The whole thing is so mad that the only possible explanation for inviting him on to national radio to discuss it is to give people a bit of a laugh talking about how mad Paul Murphy is. This one won’t be happening. He knows it. The presenter knows it. The audience knows it. This should be classed as entertainment programming by RTE, not news.

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