From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s inaction on the housing crisis has allowed the far right a foothold, argues Bryan Wall
On Wednesday last, Solidarity-People Before Profit debated their anti-eviction bill for the second time. Tabling it during the private member’s session, the bill’s intention is to offer greater protection to tenants and put more legal restraints on those renting out properties.
We have all become accustomed to the tactic of landlords informing tenants that due to needed upgrades and renovations on their accommodation, they have to find other housing.
Oftentimes it is discovered that the accommodation has not undergone any renovations and that this was instead simply an excuse to get rid of tenants who were not paying an apparently appropriate amount of rent.
Personal situations obviously vary, but this tactic has become commonplace. One aspect of the housing and homelessness crisis that could be tackled relatively quickly then is this very issue. Hence the bill put forward by Solidarity-People Before Profit.
According to them, the bill would bar landlords and property companies from evicting tenants because of their intention to sell the property or on the basis of renovations to the property in question.
The bill would also “ensure that if a landlord tried to move a family member in that they must compensate the tenant”. The term landlord would also be redefined in order to take into account the fact that many properties are owned and rented by vulture funds and banks.
Now there would be legal responsibilities placed upon them which up until now they have managed to avoid due to legal loopholes and at the same time afford greater protections to their tenants. All things considered, this would be a step in the right direction in terms of securing a right, of some kind, to housing.
Tenants would now be able to feel secure knowing that they could not be evicted due to the ever-increasing greed of some for even more profit.
During the second stage debate last week, Ruth Coppinger pointed out that “There has been a 75 per cent increase in landlords” in Ireland in the last ten years.
Furthermore, as Paul Murphy pointed out during Leaders’ Questions, “one in four deputies” are themselves landlords. A report earlier this year put the figure at a slightly lower level at one in five, but it is nonetheless higher than the national average, which stands at one in twenty-eight.
In response to the proposed bill, Leo Varadkar claimed the bill “is designed more for publicity than policy”. The bill, he said, is “extreme” and could presumably be therefore dismissed out of hand. Nonetheless, the bill managed to pass the second stage on Thursday by 46 votes to 39.
Outside of his polished public relations-filtered appearances and statements, Varadkar’s neo-liberal ideology is plain to see in his statements during the Leaders’ Questions. For the Taoiseach and his acolytes, public relations is just one half of the economic policies they prefer; the ideological window dressing for the despoliation of the working class.
In the Dáil, however, the unfiltered truth can on occasion make an appearance. In the Taoiseach’s case, anything which would protect those renting is seen as extreme. The landlord class must be protected.
Any government concerned with the rights of those in rented accommodation would have welcomed or at the very least insisted on an open debate surrounding the anti-eviction bill.
Instead it was to be shot down as being too extreme given that it might put a scintilla of pressure on landlords and their pursuit of profits.
Is it any surprise then that people are angry and latch on to any group that gives them answers or hope? Far Right politics has always been an aspect of Irish political life but it has been relatively latent in comparison to continental Europe.
Now, however, we have seen the emergence and rising popularity of numerous Far Right talking heads. An Irish Far Right variant of the Yellow Vest movement has also emerged. In fact, two Yellow Vest movements have made themselves known online. One, Yellow Vest Ireland appears to be a front for the Far Right, either having been hijacked by them or having been set up as a front from the start.
This has been evidenced by the support they have engendered from well-known members of the Far Right in Ireland. A second Yellow Vest group, Yellow Vests Ireland – A United Movement for Social Change, appears to be more in line with the original French Gilets Jaunes.
Ben Gilroy, for example, made an appearance at a protest organised by the former group in Dublin on Saturday where he gave a speech, even though the Yellow Vest Ireland Facebook page has claimed no politicians would be welcome in their organisation.
Mr Gilroy, who is long known for his “freeman on the land” arguments has stated previously that he has “limitless time” for Nigel Farage.
He is also the former leader of the now essentially defunct Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) party, a right-wing ultra pro-capitalist party who were supported by the right-wing Christian Solidarity Party.
It is not known if Mr Gilroy is the leader of this Far Right deviation of the Yellow Vest movement, but his presence there on Saturday is indicative of the political leanings of the group.
Of course, the Left is partially to blame for the rise of the Far Right. A lack of coherent arguments and moral consistency is a like a plague in some parts of the Left.
An understanding of the economic pain that people have endured for the last ten years has also not been appreciated to the degree it should.
That parties of the Left have not capitalised on the effects of austerity and neo-liberalism is a monumental failure. And now, we are reaping the consequences of that failure.
This is not to say that the Left has not been active in terms of housing and economic injustice. Take Back the City, for example, goes from strength to strength in its highlighting of the housing crisis.
But many people, are nonetheless, attracted to those who claim to have the answers and a solution. At the moment, elements of the Far Right are offering that to people.
Whether the Left wants to admit it or not, the Labour Party was seen as the Left-wing party of Ireland. They were mainstream, well-known, and represented the average person. When they went in to government and betrayed their constituency, it opened up a political gap that the smaller parties of the Left, such as People Before Profit, have utterly failed to take advantage of.
Instead, the Right has entered the fray and offered hope to those who have none and who abhor the current political mainstream.
What this means is difficult to predict.
The anti-eviction bill is likely to not go much further all the while people continue to be evicted violently from their homes by banks, landlords, and vulture funds. Leo Varadkar and his supporters will continue with their current policies of supporting landowners and property speculators.
With the public not being blind to this, the Far Right could very rapidly make even more substantial gains. Suppositions and feeble predictions aside, we continue to lack justice. And injustice, especially when it breeds contempt, is a breeding ground for the Far Right.