Housing for All?
An ongoing catastrophe
For decades housing has been a crisis point in Irish society. It has been so in its own right and it has also stood as a placeholder for a whole range of failures, shortages and lacks in the Irish economy affecting all areas of public services. The publication of a new strategy, Housing for All, by the coalition government is an indication that the crisis will continue and grow deeper. The muted response by the trade unions and opposition parties shows that an alternative has yet to be built.
The focus of the housing question changes over time. At one point it was the deaths of homeless rough sleepers. At another point it was the extreme hardship of families in emergency accommodation. More recently it has become evident that the housing shortage affects the majority of the population, with young people frozen out of a housing market dominated by asset speculators and trapped in an inflated rental market with few tenant rights.
The major parties have seen their support decline. They have sharply increased investment in the area, but each plan fails.
In part their failure is one of ideology. They argue that the problem is one of supply and demand and that as more houses are built prices will fall. They argue this all the more firmly as they themselves are landlords and property speculators and are anxious to encourage an inward flow of transnational capital through the vulture funds.
We argue that it is the private ownership and control of land and housing and the treatment of housing as a commodity that is at the root of the crisis. The demands that should be advanced are for a programme of mass public housing, for tenant rights and for rents set at a small proportion of income.
And yet, although many support these demands, there is no mass campaign to assert housing rights. The trade union leaders remain in partnership with the government. Many believe that Sinn Féin is a left party and, once in coalition government, advance housing rights.
We believe that this is the road to catastrophe. Leaving aside their role in administration in the North, Sinn Fein is a capitalist party. They will not meet expectations on housing as they are linked to exactly the same financial interests who dominate in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Putting our faith in this broken reed can only lead to demoralisation.
As we go to press the results of the German elections are being announced. Yet again a broad left grouping, focused on parliamentary reform, the strategy backed by most Irish socialist groups, has seen its support decline. At the same time as the poor election results Berlin has seen a mass mobilisation around a referendum to demand the expulsion of the private sector from social housing has received overwhelming support.
We must take the same road in Ireland. We must stop waiting for partnership procedures and manoeuvres in the Dáil to save us and mobilise the working class around an action programme for mass public housing.
There really is no alternative.