Author Archives: Rory Hearne

From top: Mary Lou McDonald; Dr Rory Hearne

Tomorrow you continue the journey of history-making.

The decisions you, and your party, make in the coming months and years will determine if your Presidency of Sinn Fêin marks an important step towards an Ireland of social justice and an end to this failed Republic of corruption, inequality and continual crises – or if it marks a continuation of the status quo and another step on the road towards Sinn Féin becoming part of the Irish establishment.

I am writing this to you in an air of hope.

Myself and yourself have been part of many of the same campaigns over the last two decades – from protests in the 2000s against the Dublin Incinerator, for a Europe of social rights at the EU summit in Dublin in 2004, Shell to Sea, marches against the visit of war mongerer George Bush, and the campaign to Save St Luke’s Hospital in Rathgar.

To the 2010s when we marched against austerity, cuts to community and youth services, of course the historic water charges movement, and more recent housing crisis protests.

These were, and remain, movements of ordinary citizens – concerned with the state of their communities, their country and even the planet. Some ‘won’, some ‘lost’ – but I know that you are proud of your involvement in these, as I am.

I know you understand that these are the seeds of change – the grassroots so-called ordinary citizens in society. Many of your supporters were part of them and they were (and are) inspired by your involvement and championing of these issues. That is where your heart is.

But to the thorny difficult issues that I don’t think should be ignored on this historic day for you. Most importantly, the question of government and, coalition government specifically.

Before the last election you and your party signed up to, and advocated, the Right2Change policy principles that include the right to water, decent work, housing, health, debt justice, education, democratic reform, equality, a sustainable environment and national resources, that would form the basis for ‘a progressive Irish government.’

Your position at that point was to only go into government as a majority party. Your position has changed and you are now open to go in as a minority party. There are clearly different views within your party about whether to go into coalition or not with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

But on the eve of this historic day for you, I would like to make the case to you that supporting a Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil lead government would be a major mistake, not just for Sinn Féin as a party, but also for the wider movement working towards progressive substantive change on this Island.

Of course you will ask, well what is the alternative to a coalition government with either FF or FG? Gerry Adams has asked where and who is the left alternative that could go with Sinn Féin?

Firstly, there are others, although currently small in number, like the Social Democrats, and independents. But we are in a period of political earthquakes and instability. New political forces can emerge quickly. Ireland is not immune from international political trends.

After the next election the broad left is likely to increase its numbers, not to be in a position to form a government, but parties like the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin will increase their seat representation. That means a larger opposition after the next election. A larger grouping to put forward alternative policies. That is, if you or the Soc Dems do not go into government.

There is little point Sinn Féin going into government as a minority party because that means – quite obviously – you have not received a public mandate for your policies. There is no point in the progressive Left being in government if it does not have popular support for its policies.

Otherwise they will just be continuously opposed by the media, the establishment, IBEC etc and undermined without the broad public backing necessary to respond to such attacks. All of us on the progressive broad ‘centre’ and ‘genuine’ Left have a job to do before we should countenance entering government.

And that is to convince a majority of the Irish people that our policies are the best ones that can guarantee them improved living standards and a decent quality of life – from affordable housing, to access to quality healthcare, secure and well-paid jobs, women’s rights, community services, well-funded infrastructure for a sustainable steady economy, reforming the EU etc.

Importantly also the social forces that can do play a big role in society – the social movements, the civil society NGOs, the trade unions, the community groups – they need to be supported to enable that process of citizen education and mobilisation for alternative policies.

The lessons of the Labour party, the Greens and every small left party that has entered coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should surely warn you away from such a coalition move. What real fundamental change did any of those parties achieve? Very little I would argue.

They would have been better to stay in opposition, build that popular support for their policies, become the main opposition and then, when they have the public majority support, enter government and deliver real change.

And so I would argue you should take the path Labour have never been brave enough or willing to take – stay in opposition.

Being in opposition is not an irrelevant political place to be. Your decision after the 2016 election not to go into government resulted in the current historic situation whereby Fianna Fáil are supporting a minority Fine Gael government.

This has meant the government is weak and open to legislation being proposed from the opposition, the citizen’s assembly, and even civil society. It has made the Oireachtas committees, and therefore our democracy, stronger. Imagine what you could do as the main opposition party?

But importantly, to go back to those grassroots campaigns I started with. They, and the communities they come from, many of the most deprived in this country, but also many middle class people, and increasingly the younger precarious and excluded generations –many of them are your supporters. What do they want you, and Sinn Fein, to do?

Their response to Labour in the last election shows what they do not want you to do. They want real genuine change.

They want politicians and political parties like Sinn Féin to stand up for them, for the excluded, for the voiceless, and not to prop up another conservative government and implement policies you previously opposed. Citizen trust in politics is at a low ebb. We have a fragile democracy.

Will your decisions result in further disenchantment and disillusionment or in an empowered and hopeful citizenry? Where will these people go if they no longer feel represented by a Sinn Fein that ends up defending the establishment?

Will your name sit along-side those like Joan Burton, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Pat Rabbitte and others who promised in 2011 to stand up for working people but after the election ended up hammering those they were supposed to represent?

Pat Rabittee’s words should haunt you – you will rememberwhat he said when challenged on reneging on pre-election promises – that they were just pre-election promises after all – made to be broken.

Or will you, Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Féin, stand for something fundamentally different? Will you be the first female Taoiseach of a first broad progressive centre Left government in Ireland? Will you transform and grow your party and the wider Left and progressive civil society to become a real new politics in Ireland?

This is a time of possibilities. It is possible.

Are we at the dawn of a new Republic of Equality for all, or are we at the point of witnessing it being confined to the history book recordings of the 1916 Proclamation? You have a central role in determining the answer to this question – in determining this country’s path and its future.

You can shine the light on injustice –wherever it hides and crouches, carry the torch of hope, shake this tired corrupt establishment, and chart a road toward a real Republic of Equality, social justice and democracy. Dear Mary Lou, congratulations and good luck, but just please, don’t become them.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Top pic: Rollingnews


From top: Nigel Farage and John Waters at the irexit conference in the RDS on Saturday; Dr Rory Hearne

It is incredible how angry supposedly sensible people get when you express a contrarian view point. Or if you even raise questions about supposed ‘truths’ and general ‘commonsense’.

The impossibility of Ireland leaving the EU, or Irexit as it come to be called (or probably more appropriately Eirexit) is apparently one of these accepted ‘truths’.

On Saturday I had the temerity to question this assumption on twitter and got one hell of a reaction.

I posted the simple tweet:

Now to make it clear from the outset, I am not arguing that Ireland should leave the EU, and I am pro-immigration and I actually blame the policies of our own successive Irish governments of various hues of Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Labour/Greens/PDs as being the primary cause of our current problems. Although I do think the EU/ECB has had an important role too.

Clearly then I will have nothing to do with the Nigel Farage/John Waters Conference and any potential new Irexit party. They stand for a right-wing, conservative vision of Ireland and Europe that offers nothing positive for Irish people.

However, what I am saying is that there is a ‘progressive’, outward and forward looking critique of the EU that has real legitimacy, and it is this critique that needs to be listened to seriously.

For if it is not addressed, and quickly, then support for Irexit could grow.

I am also, therefore, making the case that some of those expressing support for Irexit have legitimate concerns that represent a not insignificant proportion of the Irish people.

Rather than dismissing these concerns, the Irish and European establishment should take them serious and engage in a radical overhaul of the direction of Ireland, the EU and its institutions.

There is a problem with our democracy, our political culture and this exists in wider Irish society. We are afraid to question and challenge the status quo. And our government and establishment media even more so.

Our ‘state’ not just dislikes questioning and challenge – it is terrified by it. And that’s why it actively silences dissenting voices – through gag orders on charities such as homeless NGOs or community organisations working on poverty.

And the system likes to portray those who question as dissidents or ‘Left-wing’ in order to try undermine your concerns. Rather than maturely engaging in a discussion there is a hysterical over-reaction. And this is reflected in the response to my tweet.

Why is it not possible to be pro-Europe and question fundamentally the current EU structures and process?

I am involved in the cross-European ‘Re-InVEST’ study into the impact of the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent austerity on the most vulnerable in 13 European countries.

The project aims to contribute to a more solidarity and inclusive EU through an inclusive and powerful social investment strategy at EU level and to give voice to vulnerable groups and civil society organisations.

We have found that:

“As a consequence of the recent economic crisis, institutional trust in these countries has fallen to dramatic levels. In particular, in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain, the effect of the economic crisis on public trust in institutions is especially prominent…respondents with low subjective incomes, low level of education, and those who are unemployed report significantly lower trust in national parliaments and the European Parliament”.

The reality is that in response to the 2008 crisis the EU institutions focused on macro-economic stabilisation rather than social consequences. As a result poverty and inequality have increased, particularly in the peripheral countries and political trust has declined. There has been a rise in the support for populist, anti-establishment, political parties.

But this is not just something that started in 2008. Inequality has been on the rise since the 1980s and the shift to neoliberal financial capitalism.

The EU has played a key role in promoting the free-market, neoliberal globalisation model. Citizens have become much more insecure – particularly in relation to work, pensions, and housing. The future for their children looks much more difficult than they had it.

There is a sense of going backwards, or not going in the right direction. And there is a sense of loss control over major decisions.

Ireland is changing too and Irish people are increasingly experiencing these insecurities. The generation in their 20s and 30s are scarred by emigration and insecure jobs and unaffordable housing.

Poor communities remain excluded across the country. Who represents these excluded groups? The establishment, particularly as represented by Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael, continues to ignore the excluded and is more focused on trying to stem the tide of change – as Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohue said after the last election –“ That is why it is more important than ever that the centre of Irish politics holds” he wrote in the Irish Times in April 2017.

There is a real danger that if these concerns are not given a political expression then the support for a right-wing xenophobic Irexit could grow.

That is why progressive, civil society, and ‘Left’ critiques of the EU and the unequal Irish model should be given a much bigger voice in the Irish media, and it is why the political left in Ireland need to maintain a strong critical voice in relation to EU – arguing for a Europe of social justice and human rights and opposing the current free-market corporate-dominated EU.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Rollingnews

 

 

From top: Preparations ahead of this week’s World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland; Dr Rory Hearne

The global elite of governments, corporate CEOs, and financial investors meet for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland this week.

Their discussion topics include such heart-warming titles as ‘Saving Economic Globalization from Itself’, ‘Global Markets in a Fractured World’ and, interestingly, very aware of the inevitability of another global economic crash, ‘Could 2018 Be the Year of the Next Financial Crisis?’.

But at the World Economic Forum it is the global elite talking to themselves about how they can protect and expand the privileges and wealth of the elite, while doing just enough (or even giving the impression that they are doing something that’s just enough) to keep the majority of their populations happy and ticking along without politically challenging the system.

Just look at the world they lead – Oxfam’s Even It Up! campaign )see below) has highlighted that the eight richest people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.

This is the result of forty years of economic globalisation and hyper-capitalism – the policies promoted by the elite at the World Economic Forum. Inequality, economic instability and environmental destruction have worsened substantially under their leadership and policies.

The reasons for the rise inequality are multiple and complex, but strong contributing factors include the fact that wages (which is most people’s income) have not increased relative to the dramatic rise in the wealth of those at the top of society and corporations.

The deregulation and globalisation of financial markets and the spread of speculative investment into all aspects of our lives has also unleashed the inherent instability and boom-bust cycles of the market in increasing frequency and ever-greater impact.

Inequality has also risen because the state has reduced its role in providing public services like health, social welfare, housing, and education, which in the past played a strong role in reducing inequality and providing more balanced economic development. Now the private sector and the market are much more dominant in these areas.

And this was the ultimate purpose of the neoliberal globalisation revolution promoted by global leaders from Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and their friends – to facilitate corporations to make as much profit as possible by reducing worker’s conditions and privatising public services, lowering the taxes corporations and the wealthy have to pay, and paying little attention to increasing the risk of financial crises and environmental destruction.

So now the dominant policies globally are free market economics (despite causing the great financial crash and recession of 2008) that measure countries’ development in terms of crude measures of economic growth such as GDP.

And this means that measures of people’s and society’s well-being – from health to mental health, economic and social inequalities, housing affordability, sense of safety and community, or the support for caring roles for our vulnerable populations and disadvantaged communities – these are all secondary (and even lower in policy and political priority terms) considerations and are not prioritised.

At the World Economic Forum (WEF), there will be lots of discussion, sincere frowns and strong words about the state of the world. This year they even have sessions on ‘Society Divided’ and ‘Solving the Economic Generation Gap’. But there will be no acceptance of the role of their policies in bringing us to where we are.

Business will continue as usual and governments, corporations and financial investors will meet, ‘network’ and exchange ideas and approaches on new ways of how the private sector can get more government contracts – like Public Private Partnerships – in areas like health care, elderly care, climate resilience, housing and transport – and how taxes on corporations, high earners and the wealthy can be minimised and finance further de-regulated.

How the economic globalisation train can be kept on its tracks – shuttling us and the planet towards a global dystopia.

Irish Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe (and possibly the Taoiseach) will be there speaking and representing the interests of big Irish businesses and large multinationals based in Ireland. But officially they are there representing you, the Irish public.

But don’t worry. They won’t mention any of the ‘downsides’ of the great Irish economic ‘recovery’. Instead they will extoll the speed and extent of the recovery (again using the narrow measurement of GDP growth).

There will be no mention of the socially and economically damaging housing crisis and homelessness (remember Fine Gael is the party whose Minister Damien English scolded us malcontents in the Dail in November last year for ‘talking down our country’ and ‘damaging Ireland’s international reputation’ by having the temerity to suggest that the government’s response to homelessness is ‘dysfunctional’).

And don’t worry – our reputation will be kept intact.

We will put our best face out for the global elite. There won’t be any mention of the deep inequality in wealth in Ireland. Where the wealthiest top 10% hold over half (53.8%) of all of Ireland’s wealth while the bottom half of the population have just 4.9% of the wealth. Nor will there be mention of the income inequality resulting from the very high rates of low pay in our workforce. 105,000 people who are working are living in poverty – the “working poor”.

Nor will there be mention of one of the most social corrosive and damaging issues which is given very little consideration – our high poverty rates – which are still double what they were prior to the crash in 2008.

The proportion of our population (8.3%) in consistent poverty is double the 2008 rate. And for our most vulnerable –lone parent families and their children – a quarter (24.6%) of them are in consistent poverty (up from 16.6% in 2009).

Don’t worry, neither the Irish Ministers nor the compliant media will embarrass you by mentioning the 790,000 people in Ireland who are living on an annual income below €12,358 (60% of the national median income – who are defined as being ‘at risk of poverty’.

Or that a quarter of a million of these are children. Or that a fifth of our population – 1 million people in Ireland – are experiencing deprivation. And a quarter of all children experience deprivation (still much higher than the 15% rate in 2007).

Deprivation is defined as households excluded from goods and services considered the norm in society, due to an inability to afford them. Individuals who experience two or more of eleven listed items are experiencing enforced deprivation. Don’t worry this hidden underbelly of a deeply unequal recovery will get little attention.

The reality is that Ireland, in contrast to what our Minister for Finance will be saying in Davos, should not be held up as a poster child economy for other nations to follow.

We are a tax haven facilitating some of the wealthiest corporations in the world to avoid contributing to society and we bailed out our banks and developers at enormous and devastating costs to society.

Both of which have resulted in massive austerity and under investment in public services leaving us with unprecedented housing and health crises that are amongst the worst in the developed world.

But if you think about it – Ireland is in fact the real poster child for global capitalism and the global elite in Davos. Here in Ireland we are a model ‘hyper-capitalist’ nation. Corporations pay little tax and make massive profits, workers do not have strong labour protections and collective bargaining –unions are not allowed to represent and organise workers in many private companies.

At the height of the crash and recession – the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael/Labour governments encouraged the vulture funds and financial investors to come in and feed off the carcass of an austerity ravaged population.

So the wealth of the global and Irish wealthy has grown even further from the exploitation of the population, most significantly the poor and young people paying ever higher housing costs as rents or mortgages. Public investment in public services is one of the lowest in the EU which leaves lots of opportunities for the private sector to provide public services and make a huge profit (we can see this in the growth of private healthcare).

There is scant constitutional protection for citizen’s human right to housing or healthcare – but the right to profit and private property is promoted and protected. Indeed, Leo’s Republic of Opportunity is a nice little corporate paradise for the private corporations, financial investors and the wealthy.

But Ireland’s reliance on its tax haven status, the financial sector and multinational corporate investment and the low level of public services and indigenous business investment makes Ireland deeply exposed to the future financial and economic crash, as was the case in 2008. This is rarely spoken of.

And even more importantly for the global elite – Ireland has played a very important role in the rise of global inequality in the past three decades – our financial tax haven industry based around the IFSC has helped the corporate and financial elite reduce and avoid taxes owed to national governments and thus increased their profits and wealth accumulation. No wonder then the Irish politicians get such a welcome in Davos.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Countries like Sweden and Finland have much more equal societies, better public services, better businesses and more sustainable economies – everyone is better off in more equal countries.

And even the global elite at the World Economic Forum know that their global order of hyper -capitalist globalisation they have created is deeply unstable –with another financial crash inevitable, is deeply unequal, and threatens the future of the planet. But they aren’t going to change direction – they have already shown they have no interest in that, and why would they – the elite benefits from the status quo.

So, as always, it’s up to ordinary citizens, communities, social movements, trade unions, critical NGOs, progressive politicians, and others, like you, to come together and bring about the change needed towards fairness, social and environmental justice.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

You can read more about what you can do at the Fight Inequality Alliance who are co-ordinating a week of action around the World Economic Forum, here

Top Pic: AFP

From top: Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy; Dr Rory Hearne

Not one affordable home was built in 2017 and the government did not meet its new social house building targets as the homelessness and housing crisis continues to worsen.

That is what the headlines on news articles covering the Minister for Housing’s ‘Social Housing Delivery 2017’ statement released this week should have read. Instead we had articles like this one from RTE stating that “Department of Housing figures show social housing delivery exceeded”.

Again it’s a case of manipulation of figures, spin, and half-truths being put out by Government Departments and Ministers that were left largely unchallenged by the mainstream media.

The reality is the homelessness crisis is worsening. Just in the last year the number of homeless families has increased by 26% (from 1,205 in Nov 2016 to 1530 in Nov 2017) and the number of children homeless increased by 30% (2549 to 3333).

On this government’s watch, an additional 784 children, or two children a day, became homeless into emergency accommodation the last year.

The number becoming homeless was even larger (Focus Ireland figures show 85 families newly homeless in Dublin alone in November 2017, or over two families a day).

Why will the government not declare this human catastrophe a national emergency and give it the political attention it requires?

The housing crisis also includes low and middle income households in the private rental sector who continue to be affected by rents at ever more unaffordable levels and they face the constant threat of losing their home by being evicted by their landlord.

For those hoping to buy a home, house prices are also rising further pushing a permanent home in their community out of reach and meaning, if they do get a mortgage, it will be even more unaffordable to them.

To really address the crisis the government should be building a minimum 10,000 social housing units and 20,000 affordable housing units per annum (10,000 affordable rental and 10,000 affordable purchase).

This new building by local authorities, and not-for-profit housing associations (and a new housing and homes agency which should be set up to drive delivery) is essential because it would actually increase the new supply of housing and thus address the heart of the crisis –the lack of affordable housing supply.

Meanwhile in this Republic of obfuscation, the government claims that it met the social housing need of 25,892 households in 2017 and “exceeded its overall target for new social housing supports”.

This gives the impression it provided a significant new supply of housing. But the overwhelming majority of these, 73% (18,900) are where low income households in the private rental sector are given housing support.

This is not new supply – it is using existing housing stock in the private rental sector – and so making the crisis worse by adding to demand in the private rental sector. Neither is it social housing as we would understand it – a secure home.

Landlords can evict these tenants easily as they can others in the private rental sector. It is also very poor long term value for money as it is a huge corporate welfare transfer to landlords –almost €500 million per year to some of the wealthiest in society for which the state gets no long term return.

So if we take away the housing provided under HAP, RAS and leasing from the private sector that leaves 6,268 new social housing units. Now, that is still not new build social or affordable housing supply, 1757 of this is existing local authority housing being refurbished (referred to as ‘voids’) and 2,266 is acquisitions, or purchases from the private market, again, not new build supply.

That leaves, just 2245, of which 388 is bought from private developers in Part V. This means that in 2017 the total actual new build social housing was just 1,857 (1,058 by local authorities and 799 by housing associations).

Therefore, of the new social housing trumpeted by the government in their statement this week, just 7% is actually new build social housing. At that rate of building it would take over 50 years to meet the housing needs of those on social housing waiting lists.

The facts are that the new build of 1,857 (or, 2,245 if you include Part V units) doesn’t even meet the government’s own housing plan Rebuilding Ireland targets – set out in July 2016.

The tables below shows that the new build targets for 2017 were 3,200. So the actual new build is just over half the Rebuilding Ireland targets.

Minister Eoghan Murphy said on the release of the statement that “Rebuilding Ireland is working”. The truth is Rebuilding Ireland is not working and the government is not meeting its targets.

The overall Rebuilding Ireland housing strategy is actually going to continue to make the crisis worse because it is not providing a significant increase in affordable and social housing supply. There is no sign of the government building actual affordable housing, like affordable rental and social housing any way near the scale required.

It has money to invest in building social and affordable housing – such as the hundreds of millions planned to be given away in tax cuts, the €1.3bn allocated to a ‘rainy day’ fund and instead of allocating €750 million to finance private developers that should have used it to seed fund the setting up a of new semi-state affordable homes building company that would actually build affordable homes.

The state through local authorities, and state agencies and NAMA has significant land banks that it could be building affordable housing on now – and not be waiting for the private sector to build.

The State Lands Management Group identified a tranche of public land including 700 local authority and Housing Agency owned sites (totalling some 1,700 hectares), and 30 sites (200 hectares) owned by state or semi-state bodies in the Greater Dublin Area and other major urban centres that could build up to 50,000 homes.

Instead we have 3,333 children with their childhood being stolen from them as they are left languishing in emergency accommodation and Family Hubs.

Myself and others in #MyNameIs highlighted their plight this morning by standing in the cold outside government buildings and greeting the Taoiseach on his arrival to work (at a tardy 8.20am!), unfortunately he drove straight past us and didn’t take the time to listen to our concerns.

Instead we have hundreds of thousands of young people, couples, families, the elderly, migrants, Travellers, those with disabilities and many others denied their human right to housing–as they are left in the private rental sector, at home overcrowded with family, couchsurfing, or in emergency accommodation and Family Hubs -languishing in unaffordable and inappropriate housing.

Welcome to Leo’s Republic of (Unequal) Opportunity.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Earlier: Mel Reynolds on The Echo Chamber

Michael Taft on Affording Affordable Houses

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 Hea
rne 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

Dr Rory Hearne

We live in extreme times. Extreme inequality – where the 8 richest men on the planet have the same wealth as half the entire global population. Here in Ireland the top 20% own half of all the wealth.

But it is also a time of extreme insecurity – a deep sense of fear and trepidation about the present moment (and the future) – how can I have some sort of decent life, or even just survive?

Be that trying to access an affordable secure home, hospital treatment or a living wage. And then there is our children – we are deeply worried about how we can ensure they have the possibility of a better now and even more importantly, a better future.

It is also a time of extreme individualism – where people (once known as citizens with rights) have been commodified by corporations into perpetual ‘consumers’ of products.

And the future increasingly looks like it is going to be an extreme dystopia (some of you might have seen this depicted quite well in the recent movie, Bladerunner) of digitisation and automation.

This presents a horizon of unlimited exploitation of the majority – as human consumer-slaves – by the corporate super-elite, global financial markets and their ‘bots’. And within all this is politics which is ever more distant from the people – hollowed out democracies where politicians and government serve their banker, corporate and financial market masters to the exclusion of their citizens.

But there are signs of hope.

New ‘citizens’ movements are emerging to try challenge this age of extreme inequality, and they are trying to create a new politics that actually represents the majority – and not just a wealthy elite and corporate interests.

From the Momentum movement that has been the backbone of the phenomenal rise in support behind the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, to the ‘People for Bernie’ Campaign supporting Bernie Sanders in the US, and the 15M and Podemos movements in Spain (visible also in the Catalan independence protest).

Here in Ireland we have seen new movements emerge to challenge the injustice of austerity and the unequal recovery –from small grassroots groups like the Ballyhea says no to Bondholder Bailout in Cork to the incredible Right2Water movement that involved hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.

We saw it too in the occupation of Apollo House last Christmas that drew attention to the homelessness crisis, the Tesco and Dunnes’ strikes by workers for a living wage and conditions, and, again in the recent Repeal the 8th pro-choice protests.

There are also tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of citizens acting in co-operative and solidarity ways (i.e. not just consumers) across this country in citizen’s movements, protests, community groups, volunteering with an NGO or homeless support groups, helping to build co-operative ‘not-for-profit’ housing, being active in trade unions.

But you are told every day in the media, at work, in universities and school that you can’t change things and so you just have to accept this age of extremism – be it homelessness, high rents, climate pollution, corrupt politicians, child poverty, unaffordable childcare, and contract work.

But these movements, action, protest and politics challenge this consensus of passive acceptance and assert that there is an alternative and better path. Most importantly, they provide an alternative way of living than just being the atomised, individualised and alienated consumer that is the current dominant form of so-called living today.

This co-operative action, where we work with others to help bring about change for ourselves and the community, country or organisation around us, is a fundamental challenge to the dominant economic thinking that sees us as people seeking individual profit maximisation in a Darwinian ‘fight for survival of the fittest’.

But interestingly, psychological studies on people’s well-being show that “engagement in collective civic action toward a common purpose increases connected­ness among individuals in a community, and connections to fellow human beings satisfy a basic human need for belonging….(which) stave off social isolation and depression”.

We have been sold the neoliberal ‘free-market’ myth that happiness comes from fulfilling our individual material consumerist desires -from having the latest technology – from purchasing what we ‘want’. But in fact, the state of the world around us – be it our community, our country and the planet affects us deeply in a psychological-emotional way.

Our identity and our sense of well-being is affected by the well-being of others.

This is profound as it suggests we cannot be happy if we see fellow citizens in our community suffering. So taking action – like protest – against inequality is not just an act of self-interest or charity – but a logical response that recognises our welfare is bound up with the welfare of others. And it has been found that more equal societies (where clearly the values of solidarity and cooperation are dominant) do better.

However, politics and our shallow democracies in this age of extremism have become a major problem.

Civil society movements can protest and change the frame of debate and influence some policy change but it is at government and national parliament level that decisions are made about the direction of our economies and societies. Increasingly it is in authoritarian, conservative right-wing ways.

But the movements in support of Corbyn and Sanders have recognised this – that the power of the people needs to create a new politics in government that is willing to challenge the power of the privileged, financial markets and corporations.

Here in Ireland, in the run up to the 2016 general election, the successful Right2Water campaign established, Right2Change, a political campaign which sought ‘a fairer, more equal Ireland that benefits all of the people rather than a select few’.

Right2Change developed with the participation of community activists, trade unionists and political representatives, ten policy principles that would underpin a ‘progressive Irish government’ (i.e. a government led by parties of the left and independents, rather than the two right-wing parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael that have shown time and time again, decade after decade, their inability and unwillingness to create a fair and socially just society). The principles included the right to water, decent work, housing, health, debt justice, education, democratic reform, equality, a sustainable environment and national resources (read them here  ).

Right2Change convinced 100 candidates to enter a voting transfer pact (including Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and independent candidates) in the 2016 general election. They got 19% of first preference votes and 36 out of 158 seats in the Dáil.

The establishment parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour) received their lowest combined support in the history of the state.

But what has happened to the momentum for change since that election? The establishment politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backed each other up to ‘shore up the centre’ (ie. protect the status quo) and form a new government of the centre-right.

The various left parties (including Sinn Féin, Social Democrats, People Before Profit etc) and independents, while each have done great work on various issues, they have not worked on developing a common vision, co-ordination or manifesto for a forthcoming election.

And while, despite the housing emergency and wide-scale housing crisis affecting a broad range of people, a citizen’s housing movement has yet to appear although it is growing and could yet emerge from Apollo House, local grassroots housing actions and national housing coalitions. Worth noting that this Taoiseach and the government are building their politics on a PR-image and veneer of addressing issues.

This makes them very vulnerable to anything that shatters that shiny image. Therefore, a large protest campaign uniting private renters, the homeless, those in mortgage arrears and those waiting for social housing together highlighting the devastation caused by the housing crisis would present a formidable challenge to that image and thus the government).

However, with the apparent lack of a broad united left political and citizens movement alternative the most recent opinion polls have shown the centre-right alliance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil recovering in public support.

But all this can change utterly in an instant as our election (where Fine Gael did much worse than expected) and the recent UK and US elections have shown. Citizen’s movements and new politics that offer hope and a positive vision for a future based on equality can dramatically change the political landscape.

That is why I will be speaking at the ‘Another Ireland is Possible’ Right2Change conference this coming Saturday in the Mansion House in Dublin. I believe, and I know many others do too, that we need a citizen’s movement for hope in Ireland that can transform our country into a Republic of Equality for all.

I will be talking about the housing crisis, solutions that could provide affordable housing and the role of people, citizen action and the need for a genuinely new citizen-led politics to bring about this change. The conference is open to the public and organisers are “encouraging everyone who shares a vision for a fairer, more equal Ireland to join us on Saturday, 4th November 2017 to discuss a pathway towards achieving a truly egalitarian Republic”.

Wealth has the power. But citizen’s movements create a counter power that can challenge all others. It is the power of ordinary people to take away the legitimacy of the government –to withdraw the consent of the people. If enough people protest the government has to listen. The water movement showed that.

But movements and politics must unite in order to create this power. They must bring together all the groups excluded – from the middle and working classes, public and private sector workers, unemployed, lone parents, the youth, disabled, migrants – into a power that government cannot ignore. All those groups working on their own can effect some change but it cannot radically transform societies and economies.

And that is what we need now- not tinkering around at the edges of a system that is producing such extreme inequality and human misery. We need transformation to bring about a caring and flourishing society that the economy serves and not, as we have it now, an economy that dictates and destroys society.

The sad reality is we should be living in an age of extreme hope and not despair. With digital technology and the massive wealth that exists globally (and in Ireland) we should have a world without poverty, without homelessness.

Here in Ireland there is no reason why we can’t have a Republic of equality for all (not just the Taoiseach’s ‘Republic of Opportunity’ for the privileged few) where we guarantee decent housing, health care, education, quality employment, liveable communities, and sufficient caring support to the young, old and disabled- to everyone. Countries like Sweden and Denmark can do it.

Poverty and inequality are not inevitable –they result from societal and political priorities and choices. We need a new politics, and citizen’s led movements to change the current priorities – and to turn fear into hope.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

You can register for the November Right2Change conference here (speakers from the ‘People for Bernie’ Campaign, Spanish 15 M Movement, Union of Students in Ireland, Right2Water, Housing/Homeless and Decency for Dunnes workers campaigns)

From top: Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy at press briefing in Government Buildings in relation to Budget 2018; Dr Rory Hearne

Last Tuesday I was left shaking my head in disappointment again. I know many others across the country felt the same.

The annual Budget might be a bit of a charade but it does provide a once a year focus on the direction of our economy and society, providing the overriding vision, policies and essential public spending and tax decisions that indicate our priorities as a country.

So the Budget was an ideal opportunity for the government to address the nation, declare the housing crisis an emergency and outline a series of radical and bold initiatives that would finally address the crisis. But instead we got another budget that will benefit the private developers, landlords and wealthy financial vulture investors.

Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Finance, backed up by his Fine Gael, Independent and Fianna Fail TD colleagues in government, provided more of the same policies that will be inadequate to address the crisis and will continue to make it worse.

In order to get a full picture of the Budget announcements on housing you have to wade through a fair amount of spin, half-truths and misleading figures in order to see the reality – that there was in fact no major increase in the provision of affordable or social housing by the Fine-Gael/Fianna Fail Government in Budget 2018.

Budget 2018 was another opportunity lost. Another budget that will make the housing crisis even worse as it continues the policies that have caused the housing crisis (in particular the low level of building of social and affordable housing by the state).

The building of affordable housing, for rent and sale, by local authorities and housing associations is the one thing the government can actually guarantee will happen, unlike relying on the private sector.

The government just has to increase direct funding to these state bodies or support them to borrow and they can build.

But the increase in funding for direct state building of affordable housing was nothing short of disgraceful. An additional €160 million per year providing 3,000 extra social homes by 2021. That increase won’t even house the additional families who become homeless in the next three years.

They claim that they will build 3,800 social housing units next year, but again we know this is just not true. On the basis of the figures for the first quarter of this year – where the state built just 235 social housing units it suggests the state will build around 1000 units this year which is just a third of the Rebuilding Ireland target.

What is even more misleading is the headline claim that the government will provide a total of 25,500 new “social housing” next year. The overwhelming majority, 19,600, is to come in the form of Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) for low-income tenants in the private rented sector. Another 1,200 are to come from Part V – where the state buys 10% of private developments.

So we can see why we are in such a crisis. The government has essentially privatised the delivery of social housing onto a private housing market that is in complete crisis.

So when the government states it is spending €1.9 billion next year on providing social housing – that is a completely misleading figure. Just over a quarter of it –around €500million will be on direct building housing by the state, the largest chunk (around €800million) will be going to private landlords.

One of the main measures of ‘success’ in the Budget is the increase in private sector housing provision. Again we have misleading figures here (Mel Reynolds and Lorcan Sirr have done excellent research on this showing the actual number of builds are much lower than headline figures).

The Minister for Finance stated, in the Budget:

“Our actions to support the sector, though, are bearing fruit. Commencement notices for new housing are up by 47%. Planning permissions are up by 49%.”

But these figures tell us nothing of when they will actually be built, and even more importantly at what price they will be sold. The only private building going on is for houses that are going for sale at well above actually affordable prices.

So what is the government doing to provide affordable housing?

Their first announcement on affordable housing was an extra €60 million for the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) which “provides enabling infrastructure on key sites to open up lands for early development”, this pays for the roads, drainage etc for private developers to encourage them to start building.

But there is no clear mechanism for how this funding will ensure the building of affordable housing on these sites. Cherrywood, for example, has received €15 million from LIHAF, yet the state looks like it will be paying €350,000 for social housing there and an ‘affordable’ 2 bed room apartment could be in the region of €400,000.

There is a major issue here over what is defined as affordable housing. The government defines it as in the region of €320,000.

Yet if we take the Central Bank definition of affordable housing as 3½ times your gross income, and two thirds of households have a gross income less than €60,000. This means an affordable house for two-thirds of households should be in the region of €210,000, a long way from €320,000 or €400,000.

And these figures show up the major flaw in the government’s big affordable housing announcement of the budget – the setting up of the Home Building Finance Ireland fund, with €750 million (coming from the former Pension Reserve Fund – state funding in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF) available “for commercial investment in housing finance”.

Developers claim they can’t build a house for less than €320,000 in Dublin, so the only housing that will be built by developers financed from this fund will be well in excess of that price i.e. will not be affordable for most people.

The interest rate being charged by this fund to developers will be 8%, significantly higher than the 1 per cent rate the government can borrow and fund building at. This is another expense that house buyers will have to pay for. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that builders will take up the fund – it relies on their profitability assessments and land prices etc.

They could also use it for buying land and thus inflating land prices further – like where ISIF already funded the private developer Cairn to pay the inflated price for the recent RTE land sale.

It is worth contrasting this €750 million fund for private developer provided unaffordable housing with the miserly €12 million being made available “to unlock Local Authority owned land specifically to deliver affordable housing on those sites using models like co-operative housing”.

This is despite the Cooperative housing approaches like O Cualann Cooperative in Ballymun building housing for sale at €170,000 on which the housing Minister has said “have already proven to be successful but are now needed at scale”. So why not actually fund affordable housing construction?

The other strategy is the ‘increase’ in the vacant site levy from 3% to 7%. Again the devil is in the detail. The increased rate of 7% will only apply in 2020. Is this a joke? No seriously, any owner of a vacant site who does not develop their land pays a 3% levy in 2019 and then, if they continue to hoard their land in 2019, they will not pay the 7% rate until 2020.

Given the major problem of land hoarding that is taking place. Nama for example has stated that it has sold land sites with the capacity to deliver 50,000 housing units but the majority of it is being hoarded as to date only 3,700 units had been built or were under construction.

Why is the levy not being put in place from January 1, 2018? This is an emergency. And, for every 10 per cent increase in house prices it is estimated that land values increase by 35 per cent. So the vacant site levy should, if it was to incentivise land sales and building, should be put at least at the annual increase in land value i.e. in the range of 35%.

While I am on the subject of NAMA, there was more nonsense during the week from the Finance Minister, claiming NAMA had done a great job. NAMA sold half of its land to vultures and international investors who are now hoarding that land and playing a major factor in the house price increases and lack of supply.

Furthermore NAMA claimed it was going to build 20,000 affordable homes by 2020. But just 2000 are under construction. NAMA has 1000 hectares in Dublin that could build 25,000 homes. So NAMA could be doing a lot more to address the crisis if the government wanted it to do so.

But instead it wants to show the global investors and the IMF and Europe – NAMA is being wound up and will have a cash surplus – a great ‘success’ for Ireland Inc. even if it is playing a major role in worsening our housing crisis. And the new House Building Finance Ireland that is providing the loans to developers will be staffed with personnel from NAMA. I guess we won’t see much affordable housing be financed there then.

Back to the lost opportunity of this budget. The government could have made bold, imaginative and radical proposals and actioned policies that would address the crisis – such as forgoing the tax cuts it gave out (what most people gained from them was miserly anyway so why not put it all together and do something significant and meaningful with the money?).

Instead it could have used the hundreds of millions given away in tax cuts and the €1.3bn allocated to a ‘rainy day’ fund (again – WTF is with this– there is a f***ing flood going on right now in housing. People are drowning in unaffordable rents and house prices, mortgage arrears and homelessness).

It could have used this funding and invested it in local authorities to build affordable homes that people need badly. And instead of allocating the €750 million to finance private developers it should have used it to seed fund the setting up a of new semi-state affordable homes building company that would actually build affordable homes.

The state through local authorities, and state agencies and NAMA has significant land banks that it could build affordable housing on now – and not be waiting for the private sector to build ( what will be unaffordable) housing in a year, or two years or ten years time when it sees it can make sufficient profit worth its while to build housing.

Of course, the longer the lack of supply goes on the higher the prices for the vulture land hoarders, the higher the rents for the Real Estate Investment Trusts, the more state subsidies to private landlords – so its suits the private developers and landowners to sit back and wait – as the crisis worsens their profits rise.

The government knows this. They know the private speculative building sector will never build ‘affordable housing’. So be very clear about in who’s interests government housing policy is working. And if they don’t realise it that is because they are blinded by their ideological faith in the private market. As it is only the state, and not-for-profit housing companies that will build affordable housing on a sufficient scale to meet housing need.

In announcing a radical housing plan the government could have asked for the solidarity and support of the Irish people in embarking on such a historic effort to address the humanitarian and economic disaster that is our housing crisis.

I believe people would have supported that if it was put in the context of a new national housing plan to provide affordable housing – to provide the human right of an affordable and secure home – for all those excluded from the housing market – from people looking to buy an affordable home, renters looking for security of tenure and affordable rents, those on social housing waiting lists needing a public house and the homeless who most urgently need a secure home.

I spoke to a homeless mother in one of the Family Hubs (which are supposed to be an improvement on hotels for homeless families but in reality are a political strategy to effectively hide the homeless crisis) the other day and she told me that her son, who has suffered major anxiety since they became homeless and went into a hub, is “asking Santa for a house for Christmas”.

This is what the housing disaster is doing to our citizens. Where a child’s dream is replaced by a living nightmare.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe (centre) at Liam Cosgrave’s funeral last Saturday, Dr Rory Hearne

Tomorrow, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will deliver Budget 2018.

Further to this…

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

In tomorrow’s Budget you will hear talk about ‘what the budget means for you’ and ‘how much will you get back in your pocket’.

You might hear or see the news headlines about how various groups are getting a few euro ‘back’.

You will also hear the big tax accountancy firms (who make massive incomes from advising the rich and corporations on our current tax system) like PricewaterhouseCoopers, provide the Budget analysis and they will state that the Government was confined in what it could do and had little room for manoeuvre given the EU fiscal rules.

But you won’t hear that in fact you would be much better off if the State didn’t cut tax and used it to invest in essential public services like affordable housing and childcare.

You won’t hear that the tax cuts will benefit the higher incomes the most and that there are many other options available to the Government that would provide a more equal society and sustainable economy that they chose to ignore.

You won’t hear much about how the Government’s Budget will actually do nothing (or more likely) worsen our deeply unequal society where we have one of the highest levels of low pay and poverty in Europe and is still struggling to overcome the impacts of austerity and a lost decade of investment in key public services like health and housing.

The presentation of the Budget will focus on Ireland’s growing economy and how we can’t do anything radical that might jeopardise that growth.

But the truth is that, without radical changes, this economy will crash again and inequality is going to continue at its current unacceptable levels.

This society is deeply unequal.

For example, the top 20% in Ireland get five times the income of the bottom 20%. The bottom 20% of our society gets just 8% of income – the top 20% gets 40% of income. The top half get 70% of income – the bottom 50% get just 30%.

We have a huge divide between those reliant on the public health system, waiting for months and years for urgent treatment and assessment, left on A & E trolleys and dying as a result, and those who are wealthy and privileged that can afford to access private treatment.

We have the divide between those who live in wealthy neighbourhoods, the majority of whom live longer and go to university, and those who live with substandard housing, broken playgrounds, the threat of anti-social behaviour, and a minority of whom get to go to third level and die younger.

Our economy and society is deeply divided. And this budget will not address that. We have a generation of people in their twenties and thirties (and many older too) in precarious, short-term and low-paid work and forced to live in expensive and precarious private rental accommodation.

Outward emigration of Irish nationals continued last year – 30,800 Irish nationals emigrated last year – most in employment.

They are leaving a country that has failed to provide them secure and affordable housing and prospects of a decent life, particularly in Dublin.

The Irish economic model has broken for younger generations and those on lower incomes and the poor. Home-ownership dropped from 80% in 1991 to 67% today.

Affordable home ownership is unavailable to a new generation.

A quarter of the population suffer from some form of deprivation – which is over double the 11% rate in 2007. Which shows the lasting impact of the crash and the failure of the recovery to reach many households.

Some of the most social excluded households have been hit hardest. Lone parent households for example have the highest deprivation rate at 57.9%. While those who were not at work due to illness or disability have an extremely high deprivation rate of over 50%.

Women, children, those with a disability or illness, those living in poor disadvantaged communities, Travellers, migrants – these are the most vulnerable groups in society and the ones who suffer the most – yet our system ignores them and deems it acceptable that their rate of poverty and deprivation is significantly worse than the rest of society.

This is a fundamental breach of the human right of these people who have the right to a live with human dignity just as anyone else does.

The truth is our economy is unequal and built on the fragile foundations of Government-supported tax avoidance by corporations.

We are a low taxation and, as a result, a low public spending economy, compared to other European countries.

The state has one of the lowest taxation levels – particularly for corporations, business and the wealthy – in Europe, as a proportion of GDP, and we also have one of the lowest levels of public expenditure as a proportion of GDP in Europe.

Our low tax intake means we have much less than countries such as Denmark and Sweden to spend on public services and support that addresses key issues such as supporting those in poverty (a fifth of our workforce are low paid – one of the highest in Europe – a quarter of our entire population suffer economic deprivation and a third of our children are in deprivation).

With less tax available, we also have less to spend on key areas of social and economic infrastructure such as affordable housing, healthcare, education, transport and childcare. Proposed tax cuts will make this situation worse.

In other countries they have much more public affordable services – such as childcare, healthcare, housing provided by the state or not-for-profit organisations (paid through state support, higher levels of taxation and state regulation of the private market).

But here we have followed much closer to the US, neoliberal, free-market approach to basic necessities – that is we leave it to the private market, the ‘for-profit’ commercial sector to provide much of these public services.

But as they seek to maximise profits it makes them more expensive and less universally available.

We face a major problem in regard to changing things. This is the ‘cosy-consensus’ insider culture in our permanent state (amongst the higher levels of civil service bureaucracy) and successive governments, who have been lead by either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, who protect themselves and their ‘class’ of the privileged.

They are not prepared to undertake radical measures that would really benefit those who are excluded and suffering.

For example, in housing – the obvious thing to do is to declare a housing emergency, increase by €1bn the funding going to local authorities so they can build 10,000 social houses per year, set up a State company that can build 20,000 affordable rental and ownership homes, and provide private tenants long term security of tenure.

It wouldn’t require raising taxes on ordinary people to do this – it could be financed by State borrowing, taking some of the Apple 13bn tax, using NAMA land and cash reserves, a high vacant site land tax, from the pension fund, a wealth tax, using the AIB and credit union funding, getting flexibility from the EU fiscal rules – clearly a lot of areas of potential funding.

But they won’t do it because it would lead to reduced rent and house prices – affecting the profits of the ‘property-financial’ industry complex – the vulture funds, the real estate investors, the landlords, the developers and land hoarders.

People on the ‘inside’.

So we won’t see major change until those in power are forced to change – by citizen’s action and by an alternative government that is actually prepared to do something radical – like implement a right to housing and health for all.

Why would the Government politicians change things?

They didn’t (and don’t) feel the pain of austerity, the stress of waiting for hospital treatment nor the trauma of being homeless or the constant anxiety of wondering how you will pay next month’s childcare, child’s birthday party, doctor, rent, mortgage or food bill?

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Leah Farrell/Rollingnews

Tracy McGinnis with her son Brendan and (top) conditions at their current rented home

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Tracy McGinnis and her two boys, Declan aged 9 and Brendan aged 13 (who is severely disabled), face the threat of becoming homeless.

Their story provides another stark example of why the government must take real action to solve the housing crisis and declare it a national emergency.

The experience of the McGinnis family shows the extra challenges and suffering faced by carers and the disabled in trying to find suitable and affordable accommodation in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis.

I met Tracy, Declan and Brendan last week and spoke to her about her housing conditions, the impact on her children, how difficult it to ‘speak out’, and public attitudes towards the vulnerable and the housing crisis.

Brendan, who has just turned thirteen, was born with Congenital CMV, which means he can’t walk or talk, has severe epilepsy, cerebral palsy and scoliosis. He is not expected to live longer than 18. He smiled with his rainbow coloured teddy bear tucked under his arm as he sat in his wheel chair during the interview.

Tracy has a Master’s Degree and worked as a therapist and with NGOs before she had to leave her career behind to become his full time carer when he was three.

She explains that currently they live in a private rented house in Kildare which has major problems:

“the house is so cold and so draughty, the boiler leaks kerosene, there is no light coming into the kitchen, the ceiling is not insulated.

The environmental health officer said it is in violation of various standards. It is half under construction and there are rolls of fibre glass insulation in the attic which is open and the wind sweeps down through to the rest of the house and I am worried about it affecting Declan and Brendan’s lungs.

There is mould growing on the ceiling in the bathroom. I have no lease and the landlord is unregistered”. It is, she says, “unsafe unsuitable, unfit and its putting Brendan’s health at risk, and mine as I try to care for him in a place that’s not suitable and not modified and can’t be modified for Brendan’s needs”.

The photographs of the house shows just how unsuitable it is: a shower chair sitting unbalanced in a bathtub; no safety rails; and she is unable to use a hoist as the doorway is too narrow and the hoist legs cannot go under the tub.

Tracy describes it, as “dangerous, inhumane and risking Brendan’s life as well as my health and safety as his carer as I am forced to carry Brendan in my arms across a wet floor, through doorways, from one room to the other.”

She has been trying to find somewhere else in Kildare to rent, and that would take the state-supported Housing Assistance Payment, which is the government’s main form of social housing support. Under HAP, the local authority pays the landlord the rent and the tenant pays a lower rent to the local authority.

Tracy is eligible for the HAP scheme. However, she has found it impossible to find landlords that will take them.

Landlords, she feels, are discriminating against her, “the landlords were saying they don’t think the house would suit my son’s needs – I heard that a number of times”.

She can’t stay in her current accommodation and so is trying to find rental accommodation that would take the HAP payment and be suitable for Brendan’s needs near Kilkenny City which would be close to Brendan’s school and care supports, and Declan’s old school.

Tracy is terrified of becoming homeless.

She said:

“Brendan can’t go into emergency accommodation – a hotel or B & B. He needs to have his medical bed as it helps with pressure sores and his scoliosis – he needs his oxygen near his bed and this can’t happen in a hotel or B&B”.

Tracy’s situation highlights a major problem with HAP, which I have also found in my research on other families experience of homelessness. It’s extremely difficult for vulnerable families to find suitable and affordable housing in the private rental sector.

Modification grants are only available for local authority housing or for a family that owns their own home. Renting someone else’s home does not allow the family to avail of any home modification grants which means the family cannot modify the home to safely and properly care for the disabled family member.

As Tracy explains:

“if a family with a disabled child is left to the private rental market, they are left at a tremendous risk of homelessness. They could be given notice to vacate after a 12 month lease and be back at the near impossible task of trying to find a suitable rental house again .If they are not made homelessness, they are more than likely forced to settle renting an unsuitable, unsafe house”

As the photographs above demonstrate renting a house does not provide security.

A social house, she says, would be more appropriate as it can be modified to suit Brendan’s complex healthcare needs. “We need a long term house that we can make a home secure for our future and modify for Brendan’s care.”

She wants a permanent home as she doesn’t want to ever have to leave the home where Brendan will spend his last years with her and his brother.

“I want to stay there, in that home – in our home – where he was for his remaining time, which I hope and pray is a good number of years still to come. I don’t want to ever have to leave behind the home where all those final memories will have been created”

She explains also that Declan needs to be settled:

“Every day he mentions the word homeless”. Tracy explains of her 9 year old son. “That’s not an exaggeration. He asks ‘when we become homeless what will happen? I don’t want my friends to know’. Every day there is at least one sentence involving homeless. This is not fair and not right so I’m trying to do everything I can to rectify it.”

Tracy, Brendan and Declan’s story is not unique. There are tens of thousands of families and children facing homelessness or living in housing insecurity in Ireland.

What is important about their story is the way in which it highlights the fundamental need for us all to have a secure, permanent, home and the deep meaning that is attached to home – as a place where a family can carry out its daily routine without fear of disruption and as a place where love is put into practice each day – where the vulnerable can be cared for – where memories of loved ones are created.

And where they can be held on when people go. There is a concept in psychology called ‘ontological security’ which captures the importance of home- it is the idea of a secure base from which normal functioning can take place – without it people can suffer mental illness.

Housing therefore cannot be treated as just another commodity as policy currently does. It needs to be seen in its key role as providing a secure base – and the private rental sector in Ireland does not provide this and thus exposes people to real mental health stress.

The solutions to this crisis are clear: the government must declare the housing crisis a national emergency; the state must build social and affordable homes (for rental and ownership) on a mass scale and not leave it to the profit-seeking and failed private housing market; private tenants need to be given real security of tenure (remove the ease with which landlords can evict), and there should be a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the constitution to guarantee all our citizens a secure affordable home.

It is obvious now that citizen action is needed to get this as the current political and state institutions have shown themselves to be unprepared to enact people-centred housing policies and instead are focused on suiting property industry and vulture investors.

But why is there not more public action and protest taking place around the housing crisis?

Tracy explains that those most affected by the crisis face huge challenges that make It difficult for them to raise their voice, “people are exhausted and depressed and all our energy is devoted to trying not to drown”.

She explains she would not have gone public if it wasn’t for Brendan’s needs and her fear of him, ‘literally dying’, if they had to go into emergency accommodation. Also, she believes that the equal marriage referendum mobilised people because:

it was ‘a happy subject – about a simple idea – an equal right to love’ but “people can’t wrap their minds around disability or homelessness because haven’t been touched by it but they have all been touched by love.”

This is a challenge to those campaigning on the housing crisis – how to connect with the large bulk of the population, increasing numbers of whom are affected by the crisis but do not see a common link with others affected, such as the homeless.

But if you think about it – most people have a home, however unaffordable or temporary – and perhaps this is the missing connection campaigners need to focus on – to get people to think about home, what it is, the importance of it, the impact of its loss, and why everyone should have the right to a secure and affordable home.

Part of the problem is that in terms of housing – too often people who are homeless or on welfare or low incomes are blamed for their problem –just looking for ‘hand-outs’ and ‘everything for free’ and are called ‘scroungers’.

The Taoiseach’s recent comments about ‘welfare cheats’ and standing up for ‘those who get up early in the morning’ doesn’t help this stigma and division.

Of course, part of the intention behind the ‘getting everything for free’ and ‘scrounger’ narrative is about trying to reduce the state’s and politicians responsibilty for supporting vulnerable people. But the vulnerable face homelessness – as Tracy’s case shows – not because of their own fault – but because the system excludes them and doesn’t value all human beings equally and their rights and dignity – because it puts investor’s profits and the ‘market’ first.

There is a lot you – as a citizen – can do to try end this crisis. Call your local TD, get involved in local housing action groups, a political party, get your trade union to raise the issue. This isn’t going to change until the public makes it a political issue and making the system feel the pressure of our abhorrence. It’s up to you, to all of us, to act to change it.

I will leave the last word with Declan who was a little shy when we met but emailed me later:

“I don’t want to be homeless. Brendan would be in danger if he goes into a hotel (emergency accommodation). And where would I go to school? And what about Brendan, how would he get care? I feel worried and scared about being homeless. I’m worried about us”.

How can your heart not be broken reading this? It enrages me to think that the Irish state, because of its failure to provide affordable housing, is doing this to tens of thousands of children every day – removing from them their secure base of a home.

Tracy has an excellent blog where she writes about her experience which you can read here:

She is also speaking at the Inner City Helping Homeless annual homeless awareness campaign ‘Light the Liffey’ Tuesday October 10 at 8pm opposite CHQ building.

Dr Rory Hearne is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Maynooth University, has written and researched extensively on housing, privatisation, and inequality and is a social justice advocate, he has written two reports recently on the housing crisis in Ireland; With Dr Mary Murphy: Investing in the Right to a Home; A Home or a Wealth Generator.

 

13/12/2016. Government- New Rental Strategy - Rebuilding Ireland. Pictured Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney TD speaking to the media on the Government strategy entitled the new rental strategy under rebuilding Ireland in Government Buildings this afternoon. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie
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From top: Housing Minister Simon Coveney at the Rebuilding Ireland launch last December; Dr Rory Hearne

The latest social housing and homeless figures are frightening and show a crisis that will worsen significantly in coming years

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

The latest figures included in the government’s Social Housing Status Report and the January 2017 Homeless Figures are frightening, in terms of the worsening housing crisis and the inadequacy of the government’s response to address it.

Dublin City Council will be building just 560 new social housing units in the coming two to three years based on current plans.

At this rate it will take at least 30 years to house those on the Dublin City housing waiting lists. While only 604 social housing units started on-site in 2016 in Dublin City, just five in South Dublin and there were no local authority housing units started on site in Cork City last year.

While the homeless crisis continues to worsen. There were 7,167 homeless people in January including 4,760 adults and 2,407 children which is the highest number of homelessness on record. Dublin is worst with 3,247 adults and 2,046 children homeless.

According to Focus Ireland 87 families with 151 children became homeless in Dublin in January, which their Director Mike Allen, explained “means that shockingly a child became homeless every five hours in Dublin during the month of January.”

Minister Coveney’s Social Housing Status Report is deeply worrying from a number of perspectives.

Firstly the plan claims that, “a rich construction pipeline is in place, which will see over 8,430 new social houses being built over the coming years”.

Yet 652 houses of this new ‘pipeline’ are already completed, as they were built last year, and should not be included.

But most worrying is the fact that only a fifth (1,829) of this new pipeline are ‘on site’ already. That means that the majority of the new social houses in the plan will not be built until 2019 or 2020 on current building schedules.

What this shows is that there is no way the government will meet its targets for new social housing construction (it claimed it would construct 26,000 by 2021), and so we are likely to see around 1000 new builds in 2017, perhaps reaching 2,000 in 2018 and 2019.

That is no where near sufficient to address the level of housing need. We need at least 10,000 new build social housing units delivered per year.

Unfortunately Rebuilding Ireland and the Department of Housing do not provide aggregate numbers of housing units being delivered by the different organisations and areas.

In order to get a picture of what is happening in reality on the ground in terms of delivery in the key areas of social housing need I have gone through the social housing projects and timelines outlined in the Status Update delivery for the four Dublin Local Authorities and Cork City and created this table below.

table

From this we can see that most worryingly only 604 social housing units have started on-site in 2016 in Dublin City, just five in South Dublin and there were no local authority housing units started on site in Cork City last year.

In total just a third of the new social housing units outlined for these key areas started on site in 2016.

These figures also show that a significant proportion (37% across these areas, and 48% in Dublin City) of new social housing units are not being built by local authorities but by ‘Approved Housing Bodies’- housing associations, like Respond, Tuath, Cluid and so on.

At a national level just 75 local authority housing units were built in 2015 and there were only 161 new local authority houses built by September 2016. This shows the national 652 ‘new build’ figure itself is misleading as it is likely to be mostly AHBs.

The issue here is that it is local authorities are state authority responsible for meeting housing need and that have the capacity to upscale and deliver large numbers of social housing units.

Housing Associations can play an important role in delivery but their capacity is much more limited to provide new units on a large scale. They are not-for-profit (so far) but are private, not state, organisations.

What this table also shows is that in Dublin City, a third of the new build local authority housing units are ‘regeneration’ units. These should not be counted as additional new units as they are replacing existing social housing units in areas such as Dolphin House and O Devaney Gardens where residents are planning to return once building is complete.

Furthermore, we can see from this that while there is a social housing waiting list of almost 20,000 in the capital, Dublin City Council will be building just 560 new social housing units in the coming two to three years based on current plans. Including Voluntary Housing Bodies, this number increases to 1,255.

At that rate it will take at least 30 years to house those on the housing waiting list (that doesn’t include people who become newly homeless, in need of housing etc).

A major reappraisal of financing, delivery mechanisms and time-frame targets are required for social housing delivery if we are to address this crisis.

For example, local authorities should be allocated an additional €500 million to directly build, a new state housing authority should be set up to provide 10,000 mixed income affordable rental housing units per annum, and NAMA should be directed to provide the 20,000 housing units it is planning to build in the coming years for mixed income affordable rental housing.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

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