This last week has seen the stark reality of the homelessness crisis hit home in Ireland. Three homeless people were found dead in the country, in Cork, Dublin and Kildare. The news brought the issue back to the fore of the media agenda as the stark brutality of government policy was laid bare. Rob Winkel writes.
These are by no means the first deaths of the homelessness crisis. We can remember the situation in the winter of 2014, when homeless man John Corrie was found dead just a short distance from Leinster House in Dublin. Every time the issue flares up the government launch a friendly PR exercise to pretend that they care about such tragedies and that they will address the issues.
It is clear to many that the housing crisis is not difficult to solve. With such state reliance on the private sector, the crisis was in the first place entirely predictable. Its resolution requires opening up NAMA and other vacant housing units to those who need it, investing on a large scale in public, affordable housing, and improved state provision of help and services for the most vulnerable in society. Ireland has more than enough resources to address this emergency.
In summary, the solution is ending the reliance on the private sector to manage the country’s housing. Each year that passes without action is putting thousands more at risk of homelessness or precarious living situation. Yet there is no desire to address the crisis using serious state intervention.
For the government to admit that massive state intervention is required would shatter the absurd ideology that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have spent years propagating — a cynical and divisive one epitomised by Leo Varadkar’s reference to helping those who “get up early”. Tax-haven Ireland is now a neoliberal world in which Varadkar wants to help those “who don’t expect the government to do everything for them” and who want the government to “help them or get out of the way”.
In short, Fine Gael politicians would like us to believe that those who die while homeless do soas a result of their own failures in life — and that their deaths have no connection to politics.
Fine Gael’s political decisions — with Fianna Fáil’s support (or lack of opposition) — are by no means unlinked to these deaths. Whether Simon Coveney or Eoghan Murphy is Housing Minister, there is no political will to address the housing crisis. So far, there has only been political will to use the crisis to help subsidise the private property developers who previously led the Irish economy to ruin. Fianna Fáil have called for tax breaks for private property developers.
It is not helpful when the main opposition to a right-wing government is pressuring the government to do more to help the wealthiest in the country. Their worldview does not lend itself to providing socially just solutions. Whether politicians from either of these parties are fit to govern without addressing the basic human right for housing is a discussion that must be had much more publicly.
The ideology of Fine Gael and their “opposition” is continuously reinforced by those in the media. A discussion on Newstalk on the housing crisis on 22 August, following a Daft.ie rental report for 2017, showed lots of faith in the private market. In the morning discussion, Ciara Kelly and Shane Coleman discussed the crisis and government policy. There was praise for Fine Gael Housing Ministers: Coleman thought that previous Minister Simon Coveney “seemed like he was really committed to” the issue of housing and that new housing minister Eoghan Murphy “seems like a decent operator”. Ciara Kelly then went on to present the problem as one that can only be solved by the market provision of cheap bedsit-type accommodation:
I think the government trying to fix the housing crisis is like the government trying to stimulate employment. There are carrots and sticks they can use to incentivise people to make behavioural change but the reality of it is this: it is the private sector that’s going to provide houses in the same way that it’s the private sector that provides jobs. What we need to see is the market meeting demand here […] taking out bedsits and house-shares and all those low-cost accommodation situations for people hasn’t worked […] we did away with cheap accommodation for people who were broke
Later that day on Newstalk, Jonathan Healy called for more subsidies to private developers:
It is ridiculous to think at this point, we are not addressing the issue properly, by saying ‘Developers, builders: we don’t like it, we don’t want to give you a tax break of some kind, but if that’s what it takes to get houses built, and to eventually start addressing the issue, then government is going to have to show leadership and do it.’
Healy’s comments also addressed other issues such as the state not having the desire or skills to build houses, yet ‘leadership’ is equated with giving handouts to property developers. The overall reliance on the private market for housing within the Irish media is at least problematic if not disastrous. If we are going to discuss the issue of housing, we need to learn an important lesson from the last ten years: private housing developers do not act in our best interests. They are not our friends. And neither are any government who implement policy after policy to help them.
People are dying because of these policies. The bankrupt ideology of Ireland’s right-wing parties is the only barrier to a serious resolution to the housing crisis.