From top: A sit-in on O’Connell Bridge in Dublin city during the Take Back The City national day of action on Saturday; RTÉ’s Audrey Carville; Paddy Cosgrave
On RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.
Audrey Carville spoke to co-founder of the Web Summit Paddy Cosgrave in light of the Take Back The City protests which took place across Ireland on Saturday.
Mr Cosgrave was critical of Fine Gael for castigating the protesters as “criminals” while seemingly never speaking out about Irish farmers who’ve occupied farms to prevent them from being compulsorily purchased to provide factories or offices for foreign companies.
He was also critical of RTÉ’s coverage of the matter.
Audrey Carville: “Large crowds of people protested across the country on Saturday over the housing crisis. It was organised by the Take Back The City group as part of a national day of action over the shortage of housing. Rallies were also held in Sligo, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Derry, Belfast, Drogheda, Maynooth, Bray and in Wexford.
“Speeches called for an end to evictions, increased provision of social housing and affordable rents. Well with us in studio this morning, one man who was at the Dublin city protest on Saturday, entrepreneur, co-founder and chief executive of the Web Summit Paddy Cosgrave. You’re welcome and good morning.”
“Will you tell us why you were there?”
Paddy Cosgrave: “I think one of the motivating factors was captured by the lead story on the front page of the Sunday Business Post yesterday which is this crisis is not just one affecting society, it’s having a very negative impact on the economy at large. And it’s impacting small businesses, that’s very obvious but perhaps what’s not so obvious is that multi-nationals are also being impacted and dramatically so, to the point that they’re prepared to raise this issue consistently over the last year with ministers of this country.
“On the march, I met, I walked with somebody who worked with Google, others from Indeed, Facebook, LinkedIn, and I think that Fine Gael may have underestimated what type, the nature of this crisis.”
Carville: “The Government has said protests don’t build houses and they question their impact. They’ve also said previously that homelessness here is no worse than anywhere else.”
Cosgrave: “Well I grew up on a farm. And when my next-door neighbour occupied a building that was in use in Dublin last summer for seven full days with the IFA [Irish Farmers’ Association] grain committee – that was the Department of Agriculture. It wasn’t stormed by heavy police officers, dressed in riot gear. They were left, peacefully there, to protest for seven days. Fine Gael never came out and spoke out against members of the IFA, farmers in this country as “criminals”, as “disgraceful”, words used by ministers over the last week. And I think that should tell you something about Fine Gael.
“Fine Gael have essentially decided that they think the protesters in the city are of working class background, that they’re from poor, disadvantaged areas and, as a consequence, they’ll kind of castigate them as criminals. But when farmers do it, when farmers occupy farms – all over this country, which they’ve been doing for years now – there’s not a word out of Fine Gael.”
“And I think that should tell you something about the operating basis of Fine Gael as a party in modern Ireland.”
Carville: “In relation to Fine Gael, they’re the main party in Government, it’s their job to put together a policy which will deliver housing for people here and they say they’re doing that, they tell us about the figures of house completions, they tell us about the money being invested. They’ve announced this Land Development Agency which they believe will be a big factor in solving this. You’re not convinced?”
Cosgrave: “Well I think if you want to understand Fine Gael’s priorities, you should look at the first act of business of this year, 2018. Heather Humphreys proposed a bill, called the Industrial Development Bill that, you know, there are people that desperately need places to live but the Government decided that the number one priority was to grant extraordinary powers to the IDA to compulsorily purchase farms around this country that foreign companies had identified as areas that they would like to build – factories or offices. That’s contained in the Industrial Development bill 2018, that was the first act of Fine Gael.
“And they prioritised that legislation in the interest of foreign companies to compulsory purchase farmers’ land in this country. It had to do with the case of Thomas Reid – a farmer, very close to the Leixlip plant, or Intel’s Leixlip plant. And I think, again, that’s very, very revealing. There’s land all over this country that can be compulsorily purchased for houses but that hasn’t been a priority for this Government.”
Carville: “But have you raised this with Leo Varadkar. He was a speaker at your MoneyConf conference this year.”
Cosgrave: “Have I raised it? I think thousands, tens of thousands of people have been raising it, the Central Bank has…”
Carville: “No, but have you raised it?”
Cosgrave: “…been raising it. The European Commission has been raising it…”
Carville: “Yeah but you’re here…”
Cosgrave: “The Economist…”
Carville: “Have you raised it?”
Cosgrave: “…has been raising it. Have I raised it? Yes, I took part in a protest on Saturday.”
Carville: “I know that. But you had personal access to Leo Varadkar – he was one of your keynote speakers at your MoneyConf event this year. Did you have a meeting with him…”
Cosgrave: “Absolutely. Have I tweeted about it? Have I tweeted him directly, yeah…”
Carville: “No that’s not what I’m asking…”
Carville: “…and you know. Have you had a face-to-face meeting. At that opportunity to raise it with the most senior politician in the country?”
Cosgrave: “I find this reprehensible. Have RTE covered the fact that this government has never said so much as a word about farmers in this country who’ve occupied farm after farm after farm – halting the for sale of those farms for years now.”
Carville: “Hmmm. But have you…”
Cosgrave: “Have you pointed out the hypocrisy of that? That a group of people from west, believed to be from west Dublin, are castigated as criminals and disgraceful. Why? Because Fine Gael knows they don’t vote for them.”
Carville: “But I’m asking you a simple question Paddy Cosgrave. No, no…”
Cosgrave: “…when farmers occupy properties illegally by the way, illegally, illegally…”
Carville: “I’m asking you a question, you’re in here this morning, making these points, raising your concerns on the back of what has been taking place over the past number of weeks. I’m asking you – as someone in your position, with direct access to the Taoiseach, at an event that you organised this year. Did you talk to him about this…face-to-face?”
Cosgrave: “Oh sure for years, for more than a year, I’ve been raising, for more than two years, I’ve been raising these issues directly with government, with special advisors to a number of ministers…”
Carville: “But not to Leo Varadkar.”
Cosgrave: “I’ve met in my house with the Minister for Housing – because these issues are not just mauling society, they’re affecting the entire economy, they’re shuttering small businesses, they’re forcing multi-nationals, for the first time, in almost the history of this state, to publicly and openly criticise a sitting government. That’s unprecedented.”
Carville: “And yet…”
Cosgrave: “Are there other examples of that? Can you cite another example of a multi-national in this country, publicly criticising a sitting Government?”
Carville: “And yet, I’m reading a report from yesterday’s Sunday Times where figures compiled by property group Green Reit, and a number of commercial property agents, show that eight tech companies, including some of those you mentioned – Amazon, Facebook, Google – who are here and well established here. And they’re looking to create space for an additional 20,000 workers and they’re well aware of the housing crisis.”
Cosgrave: “Sure and the…”
Carville: “So the impact on them is not questionable…”
Cosgrave: “You cite Amazon, this is essentially propaganda. Amazon themselves have, at a ministerial level, raised this issue. The question is, you know, 200,000 jobs. How many jobs is the country losing? How many jobs is the country losing? How many offices are Google and Amazon opening up across Europe – and they’re doing it and I know well that they’re doing it because of the difficulties in finding accommodation.”
Carville: “So how would you solve it? Have you any solutions?”
Cosgrave: “Absolutely, I think there are huge numbers of solutions. There’s nothing radical that’s needed. I think there are perfect examples, all across Europe, that have followed all sorts of policies for years – but those policies aren’t even discussed, they’re not even discussed in the national media, they’re not even discussed by this broadcaster.”
Carville: “Name one.”
Cosgrave: “I think that’s incredibly worrying. Let’s take Germany just as an example, just take tenants’ rights as an example, indefinite lifespan for tenancy contracts, what about the immediate ban of Airbnb? That’s being done in cities across Europe. Three years ago at this point, five years ago, Berlin initiated and indicated that they would start to regulate Airbnb and three years ago they instigated bans and heavy restrictions on Airbnb. That hasn’t happened here. It’s very easy to implement those.”
Carville: “Ok. Well thank you very much for coming in to talk to us this morning…”
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