Editorial: Platitudes won’t put roofs over heads of old people

Leo Varadkar has argued against restoring the eviction ban to prevent homelessness. Photo: Brian Lawless© Brian Lawless


Old age, they tell us, is an excellent time for outrage, but even the most temperate would be hard-pressed not to blow a fuse in the current housing climate. Leo Varadkar has had to respond to questions about a 78-year-old woman and her sick husband who are in danger of becoming homeless in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Her landlord wants to sell the property she rents, but with the scarcity of homes there is nowhere for her to go.

The matter was brought up in the Dáil by Labour leader Ivana Bacik, who said “unfortunately” they were not the only elderly people facing eviction.

She said it was “unconscionable” that 175 people aged over 65 were represented in the current homelessness figure of 12,000.

In response to news that the couple might lose their home, the Taoiseach said the situation was “a very sad case and I think all of our sympathies are with her and her family, and a solution needs to be found”.

But our patience with this “someone must do something” or a “solution must be found” schtick is fraying, if indeed it were ever acceptable from the leader of a government that takes itself seriously. There is despair at the chronic housing shortage and the hardship it is causing.

Mr Varadkar has argued – convincingly, many would agree – that restoring the eviction ban is not the answer. However, before it was lifted, serious consideration should have been given to where the thousands of people who could be put on the streets might now be accommodated. It was not for the lack of warning.

It was reported this week that Alone, the older persons’ group, is to tell the Oireachtas Housing Committee next week that more than a fifth of people it supports have housing issues.

The stark message is that unless the current private rental model is reformed, we will see a “dramatic increase” in the number of older homeless people.

Bad as things are, without an urgent and effective response the situation will get far worse.

Department of Housing figures show the number of people over 65 will reach 1.4 million by 2040, or about 23pc of the population.

Little wonder, then, that last month, when addressing the joint Oireachtas sub-committee on mental health, Alone chief executive Seán Moynihan said that in the final three months of last year, 29pc of the 1,926 older people the charity assessed had identified they had issues relating to their mental health. Sadly, more than half had not attended a GP for support.

Journalist Ruth Crowley, who used the pen-name Ann Landers for Chicago’s Sun-Times, once wrote: “At age 20, we’d worry about what others thought of us. At 40, we didn’t care what they thought of us. At 60, we discovered they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”

She may well have been right. It is universally accepted that growing old can be one of the most difficult chapters in life, but it need not be made even more so by a complete lack of consideration.