The failure of the opposition
Earlier chapters argue that Irish capitalism is unable to rule in the old way and resolve the housing crisis. Current evidence of opposition policy does not demonstrate the converse. Most critics seem happy to remain within the tent of social partnership, dependent on polite negotiation to arrive at consensus.
The 2018 Raise the Roof demonstration at the Dáil was organised by the Irish trade union leadership and supported by Sinn Fein and most of the minor parties.
The 2018 campaign organised around a demonstration at the entrance to the Dáil and a parliamentary resolution inside. The weakness of this largely electoral approach was illustrated by an earlier spat. SIPTU insisted on the inclusion of the Labour party in the housing demonstrations, even though they had led the attack on worker's rights in the previous coalition government. The SIPTU decision was accepted by the socialist groups in the face of quite sustained protests from activists who had been persecuted by Labour in the earlier Water Charges campaign. As a matter of course the Green party were included in the protest, presumably because their role in austerity government was further in the past. They are now excluded because they are a component part of the current government and in support of the official housing policy summarised in Housing for All.
The demands were:
Declaration of a housing and homeless emergency;
A dramatic increase in the
capital spending on housing to €2.3 billion in Budget 2019.
End evictions into homelessness.
More aggressive measures
to bring empty properties and unused building land into use for housing.
Real rent controls to achieve affordable rent.
Increase the proportion of public and affordable housing in private development.
A similar coalition of forces set out the basis of a new Raise the Roof demonstration in October 2021.
The programme was:
To understand this shift we must understand the demobilisation of 2018 and the remobilisation of 2021. Briefly, the union leaders got a deal in 2018. Large mobilisations ended and the campaign concentrated on internal policy briefings, with action fragmenting into local initiatives. The government agreed to a massive investment in public and affordable homes in a programme of private development. The utter failure of this programme is a failure for the government and also a failure of the union bureaucracy and their supporters who quietly accepted this policy. The scramble now is for a convincing housing policy that blurs over earlier collaboration.
The shift is around a demand that public land be retained in public ownership and is not available for speculation and is based on earlier proposals by the left of the union leaderships and on some elements of Sinn Fein housing policy. Just how serious the union leaderships are about implementing the new policy can be seen in ICTU’s muted response to Housing for All.
Raise the Roof now provide an analysis of the failed 2018 policy:
In 1975 local authorities built 8,794 new homes, when resources were scarce. Less than 1000 homes were built in 2019, during the biggest housing crisis in our history. This is because the Government has outsourced housing to private developers, who seek high prices and profits.
The Government wastes money on subsidies to private landlords and expensive leasing deals with global investment funds.
Over €1 billion - a third of the 2021/2 housing budget - will be squandered on these subsidies, instead of building the affordable homes people need. Official figures show the State and local authorities can deliver affordable homes for almost half the cost of private developers and that we have enough public land to build over 100,000 new homes.
This analysis is not fully coherent. For example, if housing is a human right, then the housing market collapses. Who would pay the majority of their income for housing if it were guaranteed by the state?
There is a deeper contradiction in the constant shift between public and affordable. It's not clear what affordable is, but it is clear that it rests on a market mechanism where public housing is to some extent folded inside a private model.
Overall, the government position is seen as ideological. They have failed at housing because of bad ideas. Yet the whole of the Irish economy rests on the inflow of transnational capital and the local capitalist’s function to support this and siphon off a share of profit for themselves. Material interest tie them to current policy.
It is not necessary for Raise the Roof to clarify these issues because it remains, as in the past, a moderate campaign directed towards the Dáil. It has moved its own campaign to the left, towards the proposals of Sinn Fein and the left unions and hopes in turn to shift the government to the left. If it fails it will focus on a future left government (Sinn Féin?) willing to implement the new housing programme.
Yet a closer examination of the economic contradictions of the Irish economy will give a clearer indication of the viability of current proposals and provide an outline of the sort of movement we need. All the current public housing proposals tend to involve a painless loan agreement with the ECB. In real life their main role of this body is to constrain government spending. At home the government is expected to pass laws that will protect tenants and suppress hording of property despite their history of landlordism.
No. A housing policy that meets human need will require a sharp confrontation with local capitalists, with imperialism and with the state. We will need a completely new movement if we are to face down the speculators, the landlords and their friends.