Thursday, 3 June 2021
An Bille um an Naoú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Ceart chun Tithíochta) 2020: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]
Paul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
The Government, for years, has hidden behind the Constitution. It has hidden its class interest, the class interest of those it represents, behind the Constitution or has attempted to do so. It has avoided taking action that would resolve the housing crisis but hurt the profits of those who benefit from the housing crisis because it represents those who benefit - the developers, the speculators, the cuckoo funds, the corporate landlords, etc. Instead of coming out and saying that this is the class that it represents and it will not implement measures that will hurt them, the Government has repeatedly said that it would like to do what needs to be done but it cannot because of the Constitution. It suggests that when it comes to rent controls, an eviction ban and a rent freeze, the Constitution says "No". I do not believe it.
It is some coincidence and convenient for the Government that the limits of the Constitution always seem to be just as far as it is willing to go and no further. When it came under massive pressure with Covid, the Government found a way. All of a sudden it was constitutional, because of Covid, to have an eviction ban and a rent freeze. Now that Covid is hopefully coming towards an end and we are heading back to normality, all of these things are simply unconstitutional again. As I said, I do not believe it. I think it is class interest that is at play here. That class interest is reflected in the kind of Constitution that we have but the Government hides behind it.
There is no hiding anymore. If the Government is actually in favour of taking measures to ensure that renters are able to rent at an affordable rate and if it is actually interested in tackling homelessness, it would not only allow this Bill to pass Second Stage but it would allow a referendum to happen and allow people to vote overwhelmingly to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution and to mean there can be no such perceived, imagined or invented obstacle to doing what is necessary in the future. We understand that the Government is saying it will allow the Bill to pass Second Stage. We do not consider that a victory yet and we would say that to people outside who are watching. We think it is a manoeuvre by the Government to avoid openly opposing it in order instead to bring it into committee and drag it out. At that stage, presumably - we might get a hint of this from the Minister of State's speech today - it will replace it with a watered-down wording that will not make a difference for people. I would send a warning to the Government not to try to kill this Bill and this referendum in that way and not to try to water this down. If it does, it will face very significant movements of protest. One can see housing already emerging as the key political issue and people will mobilise in their thousands and tens of thousands on this issue in the autumn.
Clearly, the Government is under massive pressure in relation to housing. It is reflected in the fact that they will allow this proposal to pass Second Stage now when they did not in 2017. They did not even know that the issue of the 8% rent increases for many renters existed because they are out of touch with renters. This week, under pressure, they moved to say they would deal with it. We need to see the details of how they will deal with it to ensure there will be no such rent increases of more than 4%. We will be campaigning for rent controls to bring them down. Even in terms of dealing with this situation, we want to make sure nobody is left out of those protections. We need to see the details.
The far right in this country has been trying to capitalise on the fears of people around Covid. They will try to build on that in the aftermath of Covid and they will try to take up the issue of housing. They will try to point the blame for the issue of housing particularly at immigrants and say they are the people to blame rather than the capitalist free market system within housing. I point out to people that elements of the far right have shown their true colours. They are campaigning against this Bill because they say wrongly that it will mean the Government will be able to take ordinary people's homes. Obviously, it does no such thing. However, it reveals their true colours. Ultimately, they are not on the side of the working-class people they claim to represent because they are not willing to challenge the free market system. They defend that system and they defend those who benefit from it.