At the MyNameIs concert at Dáil Éireann, from left: Dill Wickramesnhge, Dr Rory Hearne, Clare O’Connor, Anthony Flynn, Erica Fleming and Mick Caul.
To the people of Ireland.
To the renters worried about eviction or the next rent hike from their landlord, to the couch surfers, the overcrowded, the aspirant home owners, the distressed mortgage holder, to the homeless in emergency accommodation and on our streets, to the commuter, the student, the disabled, the Traveller, and those in direct provision.
Today, we declare to you – we cannot be silent. We can no longer be silent to your suffering and the suffering of our fellow citizens.
Today we have stood up and declared – that we, the people of Ireland, do not accept that homelessness and the wider housing crisis as normal. We do not accept our fellow brothers and sisters being left to die on our streets for lack of homes.
And because our Taoiseach and our government have shown themselves unwilling to take this crisis seriously, we out here on the streets – we, the citizens of this Republic – we will do what you are unwilling to do and so we declare the housing crisis a national Emergency.
Dear government we stand here in indignant rage at your incompetence, indifference and ignorance. How dare you claim our level of homelessness is normal. We have the fastest growing rate of homelessness in the EU . Shame on you.
There are now 3,333 children in homeless emergency accomodation in 1,530 families. Just two years ago, in January 2015 there were 865 children homeless and 401 families. That is a 450% increase in just over two and a half years. We now have more than one in three of those in emergency accommodation is a child.
People of Ireland – surely we can no longer be silent?
Too many times in our history Irish citizens have been silent while the state and church carried out abhorrent acts of neglect and abuse of our fellow citizens. The new emergency accommodation for families – so called Family Hubs – have been put in place under the cloak of clever and manipulative language.
But these hubs are still emergency homeless accommodation – they are not homes but are more like institutions. As the families there have explained –they are more like prisons – where children can’t mix with other kids – where families must stay in their rooms – where mothers cry themselves to sleep because their children ask them every day – when are we going home?
And in the cruelest and sickest of ironies – some of these hubs are in former Magdalene laundries – and so we have another generation of poor Irish, predominantly women and children, being forced into institutions – back then it was the pregnant single women who were blamed – now once again we are locking poor women and children away from view –to avoid our shame – and once again the state blames the victim.
Think of that child in a Family Hub or other emergency accommodation– who has to get up each morning and go to school – ashamed – unable to bring their friends back to play, unable to tell their friends where they live – thinking that nobody cares about them – that their country doesn’t care –that they aren’t worthy of a home?
We know that spending time in this emergency accommodation is having a devastating impact on the wellbeing of parents and children. We are robbing the childhood away from a generation of children. And when it comes to the tribunals and inquiries in decades to come as to how this happened, and how was it allowed to happen even when it was known the damage they cause to parents and children? Well, Leo, and Fine Gael, and all the restv– you will not be able to say you didn’t know.
The homeless are surrounded by silence. They are silenced by the state. Afraid. Ashamed. And so we are here to give each one of those a voice in the MyNameIs campaign. To try and give them a sliver of dignity back.
But isn’t it such a shame that homeless families are not just a bank or a corporation? Because in this Republic of Opportunity for the wealthy, we do whatever they need, whatever they want.
A bailout for private banks that will cost us €64 billion? Sure, no problem – because we have a bottomless pit of money for you if you are a bank and you need it. 13bn worth of tax breaks for a 900 billion dollar foreign corporation? Sure thing – we can afford that. But, oh, you are homeless because of our policies and inequality and you need a home? Then, no. The state has no money to build you social and affordable housing. We’re a poor country don’t you know?
But you are not a bank or a corporation and so not only do we have nothing for you – we will blame you for your housing problems. Unlike the banks, who we can always forgive and forget. We will silence you and your service providers from speaking out.
And what will we do with growing public solidarity and support for homelessness to be addressed? We won’t harness it to support a major policy shift to restrict landlords ability to evict or to forgo tax cuts and invest in building social housing. No, we will spend our €5 million of communications consultants to attack you and try undermine solidarity for you across society.
So we will silence you, the dissenters and your supporters. Lock you up – hide you away in our modern day institutions – because you tarnish our glossy superficial image in front of our new high priests and gods – the markets, the ECB and EU leaders and corporations.
But the real truth is you, the homeless, and all others affected by the housing crisis – you are not to blame. This crisis is not your fault. Neither is the crisis an accident.
The crisis is a direct result of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour governments who decimated the social housing budget under austerity (because of austerity we ‘lost’ 30,000 social housing units that would have otherwise have been built), who refused to stand up to the property industry and landlords and protect tenants from evictions, who brought in the vultures, and failed to build affordable housing.
The latest figures show just 773 social houses were built across country so far this year (with just 176 in Dublin where there is a social housing waiting list of 20,000) with a national housing waiting list of 100,000.
So it will be 100 years before we house those just on the social housing waiting lists, not to mind addressing the newly homeless, or the overcrowded or those who need affordable housing. Not one affordable house has been built in the last few years. No, the lack of political will to solve the crisis is where the blame lies.
The crisis results from an over reliance on a private housing market that treats housing only as a commodity – as an investment – – a way to accumulate wealth – and as an asset and does not prioritise what is its main function for most people – as a home!
And there is no crisis for the local and global property investors, the vulture funds, the Real Estate Investment Trusts, the landlords, estate agents and solicitors. For all these – the ‘Property-Finance complex’ – as the crisis worsens and rents and prices rise – they increase their wealth and profits!
So it’s clear now we need a government and politicians who are prepared to stand up to those interests and instead to put the housing needs and rights of our citizens first. And if you are not prepared to do it then it is clear that we must put politicians in there who are.
But each week the crisis – the emergency – grows to take in more people. There are hundreds of thousands of families, individuals, students, workers, elderly and disabled suffering from the housing the crisis – whether it is unaffordable rents, unaffordable house prices, the fear and threat of eviction, overcrowding, substandard housing.
The housing crisis threatens the economy. It now affects us all. We have workers paying 55% of wages on rent in Dublin and it is the younger generations and the poor who are most affected. S
It is staggering that the private rental sector now accounts for 1 in 5 of every household in the country. Our rate of homeownership has collapsed from 80 to 67%. And so the condition of the private rental sector really matters for much much more people.
There are 750,000 households renting privately and the overwhelming majority live in a form of housing stress – wondering will the landlord evict them, will the rent increase further. The private rental sector in Ireland does not provide a home or a right to housing – it is insecure and unaffordable.
And government housing policy is making the situation worse by instead of building social and affordable housing it is giving over 500 million per year in a subsidy to private landlords to house low income families through the Housing Assistance Payment and other schemes. We have moved from housing welfare – providing social housing for low income households -to corporate welfare for some of the wealthiest in society – private landlords.
Friends, brothers, sisters – this housing & homelessness crisis is ripping apart the soul of our Republic.
Today we withdraw our consent from this government to govern. Because they have encouraged and allowed this crisis to happen. Because their policies will mean this crisis will continue to get worse and worse, destroying the dignity and humanity of so many of our fellow Irish men, women and children. And so we declare that you are no longer a morally or ethically legitimate government of this Irish Republic.
And so we the citizens of Ireland declare today a new Republic that will guarantee housing rights for all. We declare a housing and homelessness emergency. We declare that the state must put every instrument at its disposal to immediately commence a mass building programme that will deliver 45,000 social and affordable housing on public land in the next three years.
And if they are looking for funding – they are putting €1.3bn away per year into a ‘rainy day fund’. Well that shows how blind they are to this crisis because it’s a f***ing flood out here – a tsunami of homelessness and housing misery. They could invest the money they are giving away in tax cuts or set up a new affordable housing agency that could borrow ‘off books’ and build tens of thousands of affordable houses.
We declare an end to evictions into homelessness. Put in place protections for private tenants to have indefinite leases and remove the ability of landlords to evict for sale.
Friends, brothers, sisters. To echo Martin Luther King’s words. I have a dream. I have a dream that the vision set out in the proclamation of this Republic is fulfilled. That all children of the nation are in fact cherished equally and there are no homeless children and families.
I have a dream that the right to housing set out in various UN conventions that our government has already signed up to (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) Article 25.1 states that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing) is put in our Constitution and legislation so that everyone in this country has the human right to a secure, affordable and decent standard of home that allows them live a life of dignity. Ta Aisling agam – nuair a ta cearta an duine do teach fein sa tir seo.
I have a dream that family hubs no longer exist and the families in them have been housed into permanent secure homes.
I have a dream that the people of Ireland rise up in an almighty movement – that all those affected by this crisis – the renters –the couch surfers – the students- the homeless- those in family hubs –those seeking to buy an affordable home – those in mortgage arrears – rise up and spread out the growing movement that started with the communities of St Michaels, Dolphin and O Devaney trying to get decent housing, Unlock Nama, Housing Action Now, the Irish Housing Network’s Bolt Hostel Occupation, and grew in Apollo House, the many local community actions such as North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis, the soup runs, the Inner City Helping Homeless, today’s MyNameIs Songs and Words for a Home for All and many other every day heroes helping the homeless, fighting evictions and pointing to the many solutions that exist to this crisis.
This Republic was founded on people rising up against all the odds, and today we must once more rise up. Together we can and will make these dreams a reality. Ni Neart go cur le cheile.
This is an edited version of the speech Dr Rory Hearne gave at the MyNameIs & Inner City Helping Homeless Songs & Words for a home for all creative protest held at Dail Eireann, December 12. Dr Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner.. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne