A visit to the Channel Islands last week provided an unlikely insight into a double conundrum that besets the times we live in.
The first is the housing shortage – an intractable problem, not only in Ireland but in many other countries.
One would have thought the Channel Islands (total population 177,000, with strict immigration and residency laws) would have few worries in terms of an accommodation crisis. Yet in St Helier, the main urban centre on the island of Jersey, there is an acute housing and accommodation shortage.
The cost of renting is often higher than in Dublin, on a pro-rata basis.
A few days ago Jersey’s new housing minister took matters into his own hands. He was seen putting up posters outside empty properties. He wants the owners to discuss offering these buildings for sale. Alternatively, he would like them to be be made available for rent.
“I am exploring ways we can tackle one of the biggest challenges our island is facing,” said David Warr.
As is the case in Ireland, Jersey’s spiralling housing costs are making it impossible for many young people to get on the property ladder.
A typical house on the island now sells for around €700,000.
“The housing crisis may well be the biggest single threat to Jersey’s continued prosperity,” according to a government official.
“We are hearing that businesses are struggling to find accommodation for staff – and young people are leaving the island because they cannot afford to live here,” warned a leading politician.
The Nazis imposed a brutal caste system on their slaves. And bottom of the pile were the Russians and Ukrainians
In the coffee shops and bars of St Helier, there is growing unease that the cost-of-living crisis will hit the affluent Channel Islands.
As is also the case in Ireland, there is much speculation as to how an economic downturn will affect the property market. Some economists insist the shortage of supply, coupled with a hike in the cost of building materials, will ensure house prices hold their value.
But such talk about the ongoing travails of the housing market aside, a visitor to the Channel Islands cannot but be reminded of the past, especially the Nazi occupation during World War II.
Compared to the blood and mayhem elsewhere in Europe, the German presence on the islands was for many locals was relatively mild. A kind of normality was maintained until the last year of the war, when food shortages and other deprivations became acute.
But it was a different story in the huge underground tunnel, built by the Nazis, burrowed deep into the rock a few miles from St Helier.
It was designed to be a safe haven from possible Allied bombing, and its facilities included a hospital for wounded German soldiers. It is now open as a tourist attraction.
However its eerie pockets of silence keep their own secrets. They reveal nothing of the sufferings of those who were taken from their homelands and brought to these islands to labour as Nazi slaves, forced to hack their way through the unforgiving rock.
The Germans imposed a brutal caste system on their slaves. Bottom of the pile in Jersey were those designated as ‘Slavs’ – mostly Russians and Ukrainians.
Records show these prisoners of war, transported from the Eastern Front, were seen by the Nazis as sub-human – and treated accordingly. Many were worked to death.
For the Ukrainians who died in Jersey alongside their Russian compatriots, far from their homeland, it was another example of a complicated relationship with a powerful neighbour.
Deep underground in the Jersey tunnel, you might imagine whispers from these two peoples and their shared suffering, victims of a then common enemy.