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]
Mick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
I took a walk around Gurranabraher the Saturday before last and took the opportunity to give out some leaflets. When I was walking down the road, three young fellas were standing around a car. One of them said, "Good morning, Deputy". I kicked myself for not having given him a leaflet. I should of course have done that. I gave a leaflet to him and to his friends as well. One of them then told me that I had picked the right issue in housing. I asked them if they were affected personally. They laughed. They were all living at home. I asked them how old they were. They told me they were, respectively, 30 years old, 28 years old and 28 years old. The third fella, though, told me he had a plan to get a house. I asked him how he was going to manage it. He said it had taken him a few weeks to put his plan together and it was very detailed at that stage, but he was going to murder his parents. His friends laughed. The same chap then said to me, "Mick, with this bloody Government, that is the only way that I am going to get a house."
A big question for Irish society and for this Government concerns whether those young people are going to go out on the streets. Are their generation going to go out on the streets because of the housing issue? We saw massive public support for the occupation of Apollo House that began in December 2016, and then we saw the Take Back the City occupations in September 2018, sizeable Raise the Roof demonstrations in the spring of 2019 and then this issue hit like a thunderbolt in the general election of February 2020, as young voters flocked to the polls. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were hit hard, recording a historically low vote.
That process has been cut across by the pandemic, which has dominated everything for more than a year now. We are not out of the woods on that front yet but, hopefully, it is now beginning to recede. We are seeing the beginnings of the re-emergence of the housing issue. It has dominated Leaders' Questions here for the last few weeks. I think it is only a matter of time before the issue causes people to return to the streets. I am not the only person who thinks that. Una Mullally, a columnist in The Irish Times, wrote recently that "When people can gather safely, a movement akin to the anti-water charges protests will begin". She continued that:
A new housing movement will be the dominant force in Irish politics and culture. It will define the next stage of Ireland’s social revolution, which is ongoing, and rooted in the demands and standards of a population miles ahead of the panicking inept Coalition and regressive mentalities of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which created both the property crash and the contemporary housing crisis.
I think the housing issue will re-emerge onto the streets. The only question is to what degree that will happen. The Government does not have four years to deal with this issue, because it is not a situation that is going to wait until the general election. It is an issue very much in the pipeline now.
What ideas can such a movement be built around? The ESRI stated this morning that the State needs to double investment to tackle the housing crisis, and that is at a minimum. It is a real sign of the scale of this crisis that an establishment organ like the ESRI is now agreeing with the views which have been put forward by the socialist left in recent years. It is, of course, important where increased expenditure should go. It should not go into the pockets of the landlords, like the €1 billion that this Government gives to the landlords every year now in housing assistance payment, HAP, and similar supports. Such expenditure should also not go towards the privatisation of housing.
The Land Development Agency, LDA, is the biggest privatisation operation in the history of this State. It is a giveaway of public land to private developers. The Government states it is necessary to create housing, but what kind of housing? It has been suggested that €450,000 is affordable for Dublin and €400,000 for Cork. That is a joke. That is housing for profit and not housing for people.
We need affordable housing at cost price. We can build houses in this country for approximately €200,000 and that is the kind of social and affordable housing we need. If the Government does not deliver, and I have no faith it will, we must have a mass movement to force change like we did on the water charges.