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]
Bríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
There are critics in this House who will argue that this Bill will not build a single house and we all know who they are. It is a tiresome response from those who have presided over the State for the past ten years as the housing crisis has become the catastrophe it is today and a generation has been scarred from the failure of the State to provide a basic necessity to its people.
Normal ordinary people have a desire for secure and permanent shelter. The only way they think they can do it in this country is to own their own home because there is no long-term rental security, even after all the days and fights of the Land League in the 1800s. It is not deep in the psyche of ordinary people to own their own property - it is deep in the psyche of the wealthy elite in this country to profit from property. The nexus of estate agents, financiers, consultants, stockbrokers, builders, developers and the legal apparatchiks around them all make sure that housing policy is made for them and our laws and legislation are made for them, from Planning and Development Acts to tax laws and law-and-order Acts.
There is always a housing crisis for the poorest in society but it is not a crisis that is a mistake. It is a crisis that indicates how the system works and is meant to work on behalf of the cohort of the wealthy. We commodify housing on behalf of the elite. We create a scarcity of public housing on their behalf. We watch for decades as homeless numbers rise and rents rocket. Now we watch as vultures and cuckoos snatch available homes with the promise that the State will pay exorbitant leases for them for 25 years and then hand back the homes to them in good condition 25 years later.
We have scrapped rules and regulations on sizes, on aspects of property, on the height of property and on the standards we expect them to be built to. We treat builders and developers as if they had some need for profit that was a natural occurrence of God and needed to be accommodated. We do this even as the crisis worsens before our eyes. We have a range of justifications and reasons for doing this, but we do it mostly because it suits the cohort I speak about.
The State and past governments have a deep resistance to the rights of citizens. It has failed to legislate for the rights of children with disabilities such as autism, the educational rights of people or even something as basic as housing. For years, we have talked reverentially about the our constitutional respect for private property rights. We have never accepted that constitutional priority for private rights over the common good. It does not explain all the failures of the State but others seem to think that defending this lack of action will allow the State off the hook on the basis that we cannot do anything because of private property rights.
Let us change that priority now. Let us push the balance in the other direction and give people the right to housing and decent accommodation. We should not accept the excuse that the Constitution stands in their way because it will be used in the future repeatedly to stop us really improving housing policy in this country. We have to start now to defend people's basic right and their basic human need over the right of someone else to profit from their misery.
We also have to start looking at what we are doing to our cities and towns in the terrible planning decisions that are being made without any democratic oversight by locally elected councillors. That has to end. If it does not end, we will see, as has been said by other Deputies, a mass angry movement on the streets like this House has never seen before.