Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy (left) and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe discuss house building initiatives yesterday; Donal O’Shea
In the weeks since the Irish people decided, by an overwhelming majority, to entrust women with control over their own bodies, there has been a tangible sense of optimism about the future for which our country is now heading.
The referendum illustrated that the Irish electorate, despite what we have been told about ourselves, possesses both the compassion and the intellectual wherewithal to engage with issues of great complexity, and come to conclusions not based on fear and manipulation.
It is important that we capitalise on the momentum created by the repeal movement, and continue to work towards change in how our society operates.
What do the repeal, marriage equality, and water charges movements have in common? Each had its roots in citizen-led, grassroots organization; often, years before they became issues of national import.
These campaigns showed that when the Irish people come together in solidarity we can break ties with our regressive past. They should be used as points of reference in the next social and political struggle facing the Irish population; the fight for a right to housing.
It seems clear that if there is to be any change in how we as a people interact with housing, it will need to come from outside the realm of party politics.
A second housing crisis, just 10 years after the first, has seemingly done nothing to dispel the view among our political class of housing as a commodity first and foremost. The needs of the Irish people remain a distant second to the needs of foreign vulture funds, and will continue to do so it seems.
If you were to look briefly at the current government’s oddly passive handling of the housing crisis thus far, you could be forgiven for interpreting their various missteps as just that; missteps.
But after further examination, it becomes apparent that their housing policy fits in with their overall ideological self-image; shepherds for the market, with little or no duty of care to their own electorate.
Their reluctance in regulating a private rental market out of control, for fear that they may disrupt the phantom supply that it has been providing, has seen rents approaching an average of €2000 in Dublin. Indeed, their pursuit of Rent Supplement as a primary solution has only served to create an artificial floor in many areas.
When contrasted with their bullish responses to the EU’s GDPR and the European Commission’s Apple tax ruling, it becomes evident that Irish legislature are only averse to imaginative, decisive policy solutions when the outcomes favour citizens over capital.
One of the most heartening developments of the entire repeal campaign was the success of the Citizens’ Assembly. The Assembly, a collection of citizens drawn from a range of locations, ages, genders, and social backgrounds, came together and heard expert witnesses, held Q&A sessions, and participated in roundtable discussions and debates.
This participatory forum, along with the campaign that followed, showed the way forward for Irish democracy. Citizens were allowed to influence and engage with their own futures in a way that wasn’t limited to a vote every few years.
Although there is no imminent prospect of a similar forum on the issue of housing, there does seem to be an increasing appetite among the public for a change from the traditional paradigm.
People want to live in a society, not a marketplace. Suggestions such as cost rental models and local cooperative housing, with a focus on local investment to suit local needs, are beginning to gain traction in the public consciousness.
The Irish political establishment are still a long way from legislating for the type of change required to make a meaningful impact on our broken housing system, but a groundswell of public protest and support would go a long way in encouraging them.
One needs only to revisit Leo Varadkar’s previous statements regarding marriage equality and the 8th amendment, not to mention Micheál Martin‘s shaky history with water charges, to see that our politicians have a propensity for evolutions in thinking depending on which way the electoral winds are blowing.
Donal O’Shea is an Irish freelance writer, currently living in Chicago.