Friday 18 October 2019

Editorial: 'Google's housing proposals deserve a decent hearing'

In common with many other parts of the world, the region around Google’s world headquarters has a major housing crisis (stock photo)
In common with many other parts of the world, the region around Google’s world headquarters has a major housing crisis (stock photo)
Editorial

Editorial

We have been here before - but in very different times. In the latter end of the 19th Century, the Guinness family donated vast sums of money for slum clearance and the building of artisan homes in Dublin and London.

Edward Cecil Guinness is remembered for donating large sums towards providing homes for working people in Dublin, as well as funding the foundation of what is now the Coombe Maternity Hospital. As part-recognition for such good works, he became Baron Iveagh in 1891 and the First Earl of Iveagh in 1919.

The distinctive red brick of the houses and apartment buildings are still a major feature of the capital's built heritage. The question is, will future generations of visitors to, and inhabitants of, Dublin look on a "Google legacy" in the same way?

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But that question does more than a little jump the gun right now. Let's return to the interesting news today that the boss of the tech giant Google has expressed an interest in building homes in Dublin as part of expanding its involvement in community and social projects.

The remarks of Sundar Pichai are of great interest. He reflects that the firm has already invested $1bn (€900m) in housing in San Francisco and is heavily involved in other social projects in that part of the US in which Google has its headquarters.

We already hear you say that, just as the Guinness family's foray into noblesse oblige in the 19th century was of another era, so does the Google idea of building homes belong to another political and social culture in the US. In these parts, we more usually look to the State to provide from taxpayers' money. That will be the gist of a common response.

Well, perhaps there is merit in such a response. But let's not, in a time of housing shortage and a homelessness crisis, be too dismissive here.

Somebody as well fixed as the boss of a world business giant talking about building houses is entitled to a very full and fair hearing. We must keep a simple fact in view: we badly and urgently need more houses. In common with many other parts of the world, the region around Google's world headquarters has a major housing crisis. There is a shortage of affordable homes, and there is a big homelessness crisis.

When we state that these problems are common to many parts of the world, we are not in any way trying to excuse the Irish authorities for their very slow progress in tackling the nation's greatest challenge. But we must all try to see the bigger picture and we must never exclude ideas which could contribute to solutions.

The arrival of operations such as Google and Facebook have brought immense benefits through good, well-paid jobs and many spin-offs, which have contributed to this country's economic prosperity. But this has also added to housing pressures at a difficult time.

Thus, Mr Pichai's idea is worthy of very serious consideration. It may fit among a basket of housing solutions.

Irish Independent

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