Author Archives: Rory Hearne

From top: The Dublin Tenants Association; Dr Rory Hearne

Private renters have been amongst Ireland’s forgotten and ignored households. But politicians can no longer downplay their importance and the difficult situation many live in the sector.

Over 800,000 people in this country now live in the private rented sector – that’s almost 20%, or a fifth of all households. This is double the number of households in the sector over a decade ago. And in the cities and towns it is even higher.

In Dublin, it is estimated a quarter, one in four households, are in the private rental sector. However, up to this point the voice of the private tenant has been largely absent within debates on the housing crisis, with the voices of landlords and other interests much more dominant.

We also know that the new global investor landlords like Kennedy Wilson and Real Estate Investment Trusts have the ear of the government.

So how can private renters make their voice heard in the public and political debate?

Tonight there is an important public meeting taking place in Dublin City Centre  (details here) to try and do just that. If you are a tenant in the private rental sector you should try and get there.

It is being organised by the Dublin Tenants Association (DTA). DTA is a “private rented sector tenant-led support group, who believe that decent affordable and secure housing is a right for everyone” and that tenants are “primary stakeholders in the private rented sector” and, therefore, should be an important concern for housing policy.

The meeting tonight is discussing the issue of tenant security – how poor it is in Ireland, where tenants cannot get long-term leases and can be evicted relatively easily by landlords.

There will also be advice for tenants on their existing entitlements and discussion on improvements to security of tenure that could ensure tenants are not forced to go from short-lease to another short-lease and so they can actually get long term security, create a home in a community, and do not live in fear of eviction.

Charities and NGOs like Threshold, Focus, Simon and Inner City Helping Homeless, have been doing a really important job raising issues of rising homelessness resulting from unaffordable rents and evictions and poor conditions in the private rental sector.

However, they are not explicitly set up to represent and mobilise tenants in the private rental sector as a group.

There is a need, therefore, along with these important services and charities, for the growth of strong private sector tenant’s organisations, such as Dublin Tenants Association, that can organise and represent private tenants, just like trade unions do for workers or the IFA does for farmers.

Given that households renting in the private rental sector are now such a large and growing proportion of the population, and many of these households are families with children they require greater political attention and a voice of their own.

Particularly as they often face living in substandard conditions, unaffordable rents, and the lack of security of home and, therefore, an inability to set down roots and be part of a community –which is a major problem for families with children who need a secure base. They are constantly facing possibility of being moved.

Part of the reason why private tenants have been treated like second class citizens in housing and politics is that it has been reviewed as a temporary or transitory form of housing, with home ownership seen as the ideal or where people are going to. But that is no longer the case.

A majority of households aged 35 and under are now renting their home. Back in 1991, a majority of households over the age of 26 were renting their home. So now we have added a decade of renting to people’s lives.

This is ‘generation rent’. But given the lack of affordable housing many in ‘generation rent’ could be in rental accommodation for their life. Policy has to recognise this and change to reflect this new reality. It has to improve tenant’s rights to ensure they have a secure and affordable home.

The other reason why private tenants have been ignored is because they are viewed as a profit-making investment for people with money and wealth. Government and banks have promoted the private rental sector as a key investment – for people’s pensions, for the wealthy, and for global property investors like Kennedy Wilson. The buy-to-let sector has been a key area for investment.

But we have seen the failure of this approach with a high level of buy-to-lets in mortgage arrears. These are a significant proportion of the mortgages in arrears being sold off by PTSB and other banks which means the tenants in these properties are facing losing their homes also.

The government has done little because they have viewed rising rents as a key way to attract in investors and vulture funds to buy up these ‘non-performing loans’ off the banks and get them back to profitability, irrespective of the impact on those living in these properties as their home.

Government took the view that introducing greater tenants’ protections and rights would lessen their investment attractiveness and therefore refused to intervene and allowed rents rise – and homelessness rise- and left tenants be evicted.

Of course it is no coincidence either that one in five TDs and Ministers are landlords. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have the highest number of landlords amongst their TDs, with key government Ministers such as former Minister for Environment and Housing and now Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, Junior Ministers Paul Kehoe and John Paul Phelan and Dublin Bay South Fine Gael TD Kate O Connell all landlords and owners of investment properties.

This has to be a major issue of conflict of interest. It is landlords making decisions to benefit landlords. The elite in Ireland protecting the investments of the elite.

The Fine-Gael Labour Government introduced the tax break for big global investors in rental property –through the Real Estate Investment Trust tax incentive in 2013. This, added to many other tax loop-holes available for investors in Ireland, has seen investors now buying more homes than first-time buyers.

For example, just recently global property investors just bought Ireland’s tallest residential tower – the Elysian in Cork City Centre according to the Examiner. The Elysian has 211 apartments and a rent roll close to €5 million per annum. Kennedy Wilson now owns 2100 residential units in Ireland, and aims to expand to 5,000 units over the coming years.

In 2010 First-Time buyers bought 12,000, or 42% of homes for sale, while investors (named in the graph below as Household Buyer-non-occupier and Non-Household Buyer) bought half that number, just 6,254, or 21% of homes for sale.

But by 2017, the proportion of First time buyers had fallen substantially as they bought just 21% of all homes for sale, while investors now bought almost twice the amount of first time buyers and increased their proportion – now buying a third of all homes (33%, 20,000 properties) for sale.

Currently private tenants are not seen as a political force in Ireland and politicians pay little attention to their concerns. But this is likely to change as private rental tenants are stuck and are increasingly frustrated and angered by an inability to buy affordable housing and unable to make a home in private rental housing.

It will also change if private tenants raise their voice – get organised and take public action – like these public meetings, the actions against landlord evictions being taken by Dublin Central Housing Action, and get involved in wider housing crisis protests such as that being held on April 7th by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition.

They need to increase their media profile and mobilise tenants to define and highlight their key policy ‘asks’ or ‘demands’. There are real political opportunities coming up in the next 18 months between local elections next year and a likely general election. These are key points where private tenants could intervene – by engaging in a voter registration drive among tenants, producing a set of policy demands and highlighting which parties support (or not) these.

The political reality is that we are in a volatile time – no political party can take for granted voter support or allegiance as was the case in the past. And none of the big parties are likely to get an overall majority in the coming election so they are reliant on others for support, and this makes governments politically weaker and more open to public opinion at times. Voters are also much more influenced by a variety of factors and are increasingly making their decisions during elections.

This means groups such as Dublin Tenants Association and other civil society and campaigning groups can have an influence, in influencing policy of government but also in the run up to and during elections if they are organised to highlight their issues at this time.

Particularly in places like Dublin, Galway, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, if private renters got organised and took action they could be a substantial political force.

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


From top: Emergency Beds for homeless people set up in St Catherine’s Community Sports Centre, Dublin 8 by the Peter McVerry Trust yesterday; Dr Rory Hearne

Homelessness continues to rise and tens of thousands more face potential homelessness from vulture fund take-over of mortgages in arrears.

Despite all the policy documents and plans – the housing and homelessness crisis continues to worsen. And this is five years into an economic ‘recovery’ and the fastest growth rates in Europe.

Despite all the claims of ‘complexity’ the reason we are in this crisis is relatively straightforward, as are the solutions.

The cause lies in the fact that successive governments for almost thirty years have withdrawn from the state directly building and supporting the provision of social and affordable housing.

The years of austerity (2008-2015) saw that policy brought to its ultimate conclusion – the effective cessation of building of social and affordable housing.

The other cause is the prioritisation of the interests of Irish banks, financial institutions and property investors (landlords, developers, vulture funds, Real Estate Investment Funds etc) over the housing needs of people.

Finally, the problem is housing policy is driven by financial and economic goals rather than fulfilling the housing needs and right to housing of our population.

The result – we now rely principally on the private market to supply housing in Ireland.

The problem – the private housing market is made up of multiple competing interests and is inherently dysfunctional, uncoordinated, inefficient and fails to provide ‘affordable’ housing – as its goal is to maximise profits and, therefore, prices and rents.

The result – unacceptable levels of homelessness. Which continue to rise year after year. The latest homelessness figures show another indictment of the continued failure of government policy to deal with crisis.

In the two years since Jan 2016 there are additional 1,437 children homeless – a 78% increase in that two years. That means over two children were made newly homeless every day in this two years.

The figures also show the expanding geographical reach of the homelessness crisis as homelessness increased in 22 out of 26 counties including Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow, Laois, Westmeath, Limerick, Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal (where it increased by 37%), Waterford (15%), Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford, Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

In the two years since January 2016 there an additional 633 families became homeless and entered emergency accommodation – a 71% increase in just two years.

The majority of people are disgusted and ashamed of this – that our fellow human beings are treated with such indignity – and that this wealthy state is so unequal that it does not ensure all its people have access to the basic need and right of an affordable, secure, home.

And that is why the government and it’s cheerleaders in various policy and academic circles are trying to ‘normalise’ homelessness and to try blame those in mortgage arrears as trying to ‘get a house for free’. They want us all to blame the victims of the housing crisis, austerity and economic crash.

It is all to try divide society – between those who ‘get up early’ and work hard to pay their mortgage and those who are ‘sponging’ to get a ‘free’ house.

This is an unethical and wrong approach.

There are very very few who get a house ‘for free’ in this country – everyone in social housing pays a rent, everyone in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment pays a rent, those in mortgage arrears have a debt and paid at some point and will pay again when their income and housing situation becomes sustainable.

The lie and the myth at the heart of this argument is that somehow the middle class home-owners will lose out if the government builds more social and affordable housing and delivers on the right to housing for people like increasing tenant protections.

The fact is that our housing system is more expensive than countries which have more social and affordable housing.

Our housing crisis now affects families who are working and can’t afford to buy a home, it affects students unable to find affordable housing, it affects companies unable to source workers, or people who can’t move and get a job in the cities.

Rising rents and house prices is ‘lost’ money’ from the real economy – the main beneficiaries are a minority wealthy landlord and financial elite.

The reality needs to dawn on the generation seeking to buy housing – for most of them the only possibility of accessing affordable housing will be if the government builds it.

And that’s why your concern with rising homelessness should rightly be one of an ethical and moral disgust with the treatment of your fellow human beings.

And the solutions are common – for the government to engage the entire machinery of the state to undertake a massive social and affordable house building programme.

There is no doubt that the biggest fear of the government and wider state and property establishment is the emergence of a citizen’s movement on housing similar to the water movement.

Access to affordable and secure housing, and particularly an opposition to evictions, is strongly embedded in our national psyche. Nothing stirs our passions more than home – unfortunately that has been turned into an obsession with rising property prices and housing speculation.

But as more and more people are excluded from our broken housing system this could be changing. There is increasing demand for a change in direction – for housing to be provided as a home primarily rather than a speculative asset for investors.

Just look at the increasing citizen and political action being taken to try respond to the housing crisis. From protests (see Uplift’s on-line petition here) against the sell-off of  loans to Vulture Funds and proposals for legislation to set up a Housing Co-op to buy the loans.

To the Dublin Tenants Form on tenant security taking place on March 13 (see here:), to the national protest march for Housing is a Human Right on April 7 (see here) organised by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, to the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Charter for Housing Rights.

Such a growing wave of citizen action has the potential to change the direction of this sinking ship.

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


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




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


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