Tuesday 22 October 2019

Editorial: 'Government ignores the housing crisis at its peril'

'The desire to be safe and to have a place to call one’s own is primal' Stock photo
'The desire to be safe and to have a place to call one’s own is primal' Stock photo


In the slugfest that makes for political interaction, there is seldom room for serious discussion on social responsibility. With all sides swinging, voters can feel left out of the picture. Such short-sightedness has left many a government blind-sided come election time.

Thus Fianna Fáil, traditionally the party that builds houses, may not need to steal the next election. The Government is leaving its back door open through its inexplicable failure to face up to the housing crisis.

And Micheál Martin knows how to deliver a sucker-punch. The Fianna Fáil leader accused the Government of conducting a social experiment to turn Ireland away from a nation of home-owners to a nation of renters. He told RTÉ: "People want to live in houses that are affordable. This has been a distinctive feature of Irish life and it's something we shouldn't throw away."

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The damning failure to build enough houses in a context where there are 10,305 people homeless is a scandal. And pressure builds on the Government each week as we learn of vulture funds buying blocks of apartments and streets of houses, with a view to renting them at prices only the wealthy can afford. Middle and lower earners are wondering how it has come to pass they could be so left behind. Now an entire generation may not entertain the notion of owning a home.

The creation of the working poor is a recent phenomenon. But they are not invisible and will not be ignored, nor forgotten.

Too many share an anxiety that a force which cannot be confronted may suddenly loom up and deliver a crushing blow, rendering them homeless. But when too many discover having a job is no guarantee one can keep a roof over one's head, the Government also has a serious problem.

Focus Ireland's Mike Allen has warned how single people who rent are now a growing cohort among the homeless.

Yesterday on RTÉ, Minister of State for Housing Damien English said: "The [homeless] figures look as if they are really high."

They don't just "look" it; they are at an all-time record; nor are they "figures" but human beings.

Mr English added there was "no magic solution". Nobody outside of Government is deluded enough to be waiting on a Dumbledore to wave a wand to make all this suffering go away.

The Government is not just missing its own "targets", it is missing the point: lives are being ruined.

If fear is all that is rendering the Government impotent, it should remember retribution from scorned voters could take a terrible toll on seats.

The desire to be safe and have somewhere to call one's own is primal. The commodification of housing by our Government was called out by the UN. One should not need to be homeless to appreciate the notion of the emptiness and desolation of being left out in the cold.

Those with the power to do something about it and who choose not to can scarcely complain should they also find themselves brushed aside at the polls.

Irish Independent

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