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Larissa Nolan: 'We are being wilfully blind to our society's biggest crisis'


Demands: Margaret Cash was sneered at when she and her children slept in a Garda station

Demands: Margaret Cash was sneered at when she and her children slept in a Garda station

Demands: Margaret Cash was sneered at when she and her children slept in a Garda station

My friend lives with her son in a cramped bedsit that costs €1,000 a month. He sleeps on the pull-out two-seater couch. She sleeps on the ground, her head hitting off the tiles of the kitchen area. When it's his bedtime, it's hers too. They have shelter, but not a home.

They've been there since he was in pre-school. He's nine now. He has developed an early gallows humour. One of his skits is to feign compassion with a pat on the shoulder, before saying: "Nobody gives a s***."

That's Ireland's policy on the housing crisis.

Nobody cares he's growing up in poverty due to extortionate rents, one of a generation of kids who will have never had a bedroom. He is existing, not living, in over-crowding that just foments family tensions and trauma and then instils worthlessness and insecurity.

His mother is a full-time working single parent who "gets up early in the morning" yet has nothing to show for it. There's a collective national shame at our appalling treatment of women in the past, yet it's mothers and children mostly suffering this, right now. The State's wilful inertia is child neglect.

A few short years ago, a young family in deprivation was shocking. Now, with 10,000 homeless - 4,000 of them children - this is the new normal.

We've grown callous. So what? Isn't she lucky she's not in a hotel? All big cities are like that these days. But Dublin is no New York, or Geneva; yet both now have cheaper accommodation.

In time, 2018 will be regarded as the year we decided to avert our eyes to the biggest social crisis of the time, telling ourselves: "It's all their own doing." The year we reverted to Victorian classifying of the deserving and undeserving poor.

It was the year that began with a housing agency chief revealing establishment attitudes to the crisis, talking of how families were "gaming the system" and declaring themselves homeless to jump the social housing queue.

If they were that desperate to go to such extreme lengths to house their families, it turns out they were right. By the end of the year, there was no chance of getting a house, homeless or not.

It continued towards an abortion referendum in the height of a time veteran campaigner Nell McCafferty called "the highest rate of homelessness known since the Famine", adding, "There is no room at the inn for nurturing the fruits of our wombs."

Margaret Cash, a Traveller and mother of seven, was sneered at and derided when she had to spend a night with her children in a Garda station.

Trinity scholar, international musician and politician's son David Kitt was mocked when he told how he was being forced to leave Dublin due to impossible rents killing the arts.

It's easier to point the finger at both their cultures, backgrounds and life choices than to blame who is responsible, the Government that engineered this crisis, seemingly hellbent on the swift eradication of the benefits class.

But it was the everyday working person who bore the brunt. It pushed those awaiting social housing into a rental market already overspilling with people who want to buy, but can't, because the prohibitively expensive rent they're paying means they can't afford to save for a mortgage deposit.

There isn't a landlord in the country upset that rents have doubled and tripled since the beginning of the decade. The State benefits too, as half of it comes back in tax. The pressure zone caps weren't introduced until rates were sky high.

The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme - ludicrously described as a form of social housing - meant the taxpayer would pay for inflated rents when people could no longer afford them. HAP is currently costing €300m a year, with another €47m spent on putting families in hotels.

There have been admirable protests, and a legitimate public backlash against the sight of gardaí in balaclavas protecting a security firm sent in to evict young protesters who had occupied a vacant property. Similarly, there was plenty of ground support for the family at the centre of the Falsk eviction.

But why aren't we taking this to the streets, demanding change, forcing political policy, as we have been on other issues of social concern? Maybe it's because the Government has shown itself to be deft at deflecting our attentions over there, when the real problems are over here.

Look this way instead, at gay marriages and Repeal the Eighth - both of which citizens wanted anyway and cost nothing. Keep the attention off the real societal ill, the one that is having far more effect on personal progress and civil liberties than any other issue today.

A century ago, Countess Markievicz hoped an Irish republic would mean an end to slums and a home for every family. In 2019, if we truly are a compassionate nation, we will not - in her words - shirk that fight.

Irish Independent