The housing crisis never went away and it is high time we saw real action

Our View

'Pre-Covid the housing crisis often received little more than lip service from Governments, one can only wonder if this will change.' Stock image

New Ross Standard

As the country, and the world, has grappled with the Covid pandemic, it is understandable that many important issues were allowed to fall by the wayside as the Government's focus switched, almost entirely, to dealing with the virus crisis.

While the enormous deficiencies in Ireland's health service have been cruelly exposed by the virus, issues like homelessness, unemployment and the fall-out from Brexit - which had dominated news coverage before the arrival of Covid - had, to a large extent, faded from the public consciousness.

In the last week, however, one issue, that of housing, has come roaring back to the forefront of politics, the media and public debate.

Perhaps it is a sign that, in the wake of the vaccine and the gradual reopening of society, people's attention is beginning to turn back to some of the problems that have defined and plagued Ireland for decades.

Whatever the reason, the debate on housing - or rather the lack of it - is back and it looks set to dominate much of the non-Covid business in the Dáil for some time to come.

Of course, while the housing debate has returned, the issue of housing and Ireland's remarkably uneven and unfair property market has never gone away.

Right through the Covid crisis there have been just as many families trapped in the hell of hotel living while many thousands more struggle to afford even the most basic of housing for their families.

Indeed, the Covid pandemic has led to new problems when it comes to addressing the housing crisis. While some, minimal, progress was being made in improving housing supply pre pandemic, the shut-down of much of the construction industry has set this effort back enormously.

The change to home and remote working has also seen thousands of people abandon the cities - and their vastly overpriced properties - in favour of towns and villages across rural Ireland.

This may have helped ease the pressure in the cities to a slight degree but it has greatly exacerbated the problem in many towns where the increased demand, coupled with an already limited supply of houses, has seen prices in these areas begin to spiral out of control.

All of this comes amid a surge in activity by, so called, cuckoo funds - or Real Estate Investment funds as these insidious organisations prefer to be known - who are snapping up swathes of property across the county, leaving private and especially first time buyers out in the cold.

Some moves are already underway to tackle the activity of these funds - in a particularly clever political move the Labour Party is to re-table one of Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien's past motions to curtail the funds' methods - but it remains to be seen what political appetite there is to actually deal with the situation.

Pre-Covid the housing crisis often received little more than lip service from Governments, one can only wonder if this will change.

At least the crisis is back on the agenda, where it belongs.