From top: Carrying wood from Sackville Street, Dublin after the 1916 Rising Dr Rory Hearne
What right do we have to commemorate when the very men and women who took part in the Rising would abhor what is going on in Ireland today?
Dr Rory Hearne writes:
The 1916 rising commemoration on Sunday will start with a reading of the Proclamation at the GPO.
I wonder what will go through the minds of the dignitaries, politicians, the thousands lining the streets and those watching on TV when they hear these lines read from the Proclamation:
“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”
Will they think of the 138,000 children in poverty across this country? Will they think of the 8000 children who went to the Capuchin day centre last year in order to get a hot meal? Or the 3 year old girl who was fed from a soup kitchen on O Connell Street last week?
Will they think of the 1,570 children living in emergency homeless accommodation in our capital city?
Will they think of the 90,000 on housing waiting lists? Or the 46,000 people living in homes owned by vulture funds? Or the 37,000 homeowners in long-term mortgage arears?
They should. I will be. I have thought a lot about the commemorations and I am disturbed by the hypocrisy and contradictions in them.
I cannot stop thinking about the shameful disgrace of thousands of children hungry and homeless in this country while we commemorate the Rising and Proclamation of this Republic.
A Republic which was founded on the very principles of ensuring such children would be cherished equally.
How can we genuinely commemorate the Rising and Proclamation without feeling an intense sense of guilt and shame at the current housing crisis?
What right do we have to commemorate when the very men and women who fought in the Rising would abhor what is going on in Ireland today?
The right thing to have done would have been to cancel the commemorations and in their place to hold a national crisis summit on the housing and homeless emergency.
Vulture funds and landlords are evicting families as you read this and just last week it emerged that Dublin rental prices are now higher than their peak. Rents are completely unaffordable for low income earners.
For example, the average monthly rent for a house in Dublin is almost 85% of the monthly minimum wage of €1546.3 (while the average national rent is 60% of the monthly earnings for someone on a full time minimum wage income).
It is troubling to see how the history we are commemorating is repeating itself. For many involved in the rising, particularly socialists like James Connolly, the terrible housing conditions that existed in the tenements in Dublin at that time was a strong motivating factor.
The bitter irony is that 100 years on housing conditions are again a major human catastrophe in this country.
There is also an eerie parallel with today’s housing crisis and our history as a colonised country. 100 years on we are again being colonised by external forces – this time its the foreign vulture funds who are taking over our housing, land and mortgage loans. In 1916 as with today, this colonisation is being facilitated by our own political and business (property industry) establishment.
But some things are very different. We now have control over our own destinies and so there can be no excuses for not solving the housing crisis. We can’t blame a foreign empire (although Europe did have a role in forcing the bailout and austerity – but it was our own political choices to cut social housing funding).
The biggest difference between 1916 and today is that we are now one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.
Therefore there are no excuses for children being without a home or going hungry. Did you know that €45 million is being spent on the various commemoration events this year? Wouldn’t this be better spent on addressing the housing crisis?
We know the solutions to the housing crisis.
Focus Ireland outlined this week a five Point Plan that it is calling on a new government to implement including a ‘cast iron commitment to ending the family homeless crisis, setting a firm deadline to achieve this, building at least 40,000 social houses over the next five years and holding a referendum on the ‘right to a home’.
The Dublin Tenants Association has also made a very logical call for the banks to be stopped from selling mortgages to third-parties (vulture funds), for a removal of the ‘sale of property’ as grounds for the termination of a tenancy and for NAMA to stop selling housing or debt secured by housing to vulture funds and other bodies.
It’s not as if we don’t have the land and finance to build much needed housing. There is a huge amount of state owned land held by local authorities while NAMA has enough land and finance to build 50,000 affordable and social houses.
There is also 2,233 hectares of undeveloped zoned land in the wider Dublin region which could provide 102,500 new housing units but developers and speculators are sitting on it waiting for prices to rise further. An emergency tax should be introduced to force building on this.
The problem is we just do not have the political and institutional will to do what is necessary.
Vested interests of the property industry, developers, vulture funds, landlords, estate agents, banks, and financiers are ensuring that the status quo does not change and thus the housing crisis continues to worsen week by week.
It is time to raise the public pressure to counter these vested interests and demand a housing system that is primarily based on meeting people’s need for a home and not based on relying on the private market – which is the property industry and speculators – which has failed over and over to provide affordable and secure housing.
I want to commemorate 1916 and I am proud of this history. But I am ashamed of our present. We have no right to commemorate 1916 in any way – other than to use it to reflect back to us our failure to deliver the basic right to housing to citizens of this Republic.
There is a very genuine commemoration of the Easter Rising and the Proclamation taking place on Easter Sunday and it is a Protest for the Homeless. It is being organised by Erica Flemming, who, along with her daughter is homeless. She explains that she feels she has to take to the streets and she is organising the protest in order to:
“stare at power in the eye and hold it to account for the experiences of poverty that are facing my child daily. Her playground is a hotel corridor: I rarely get to provide her with a home cooked meal. As I tuck her in at night, I can’t even afford her the dignity of leaving the room. This isn’t the Republic that people died for and I feel duty bound to demand that my daughter be cherished equally in the eyes of this State”.
Erica is organising a friendly, family orientated event on Dublin’s North Earl Street on Sunday at 1pm to “highlight that our children matter and that a home is the minimum we should be affording our children on this anniversary of an event associated with such strong themes of equality and what it truely means to live in a Republic”.
We can only truly commemorate 1916 when the housing crisis is dealt with and there are no children and their family like Erica’s who are homeless or suffering poverty.
For information on the Homeless Protest on Easter Sunday see here:
Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic & social justice campaigner. His column appears here every Wednesday. Rory is an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne