In the wake of protests in East Wall against asylum seekers who have been accommodated in an old ESB building there, Stewart Smyth lays out the case that problem is not with refugees, but with government policies that have created a housing crisis.
To start, this article is not about support for the government’s housing policy. In fact, this article is necessary because of the utter failure of the government’s Housing For All policy. Despite all the hot air from Minister Darragh O’Brien and other government politicians they have done nothing to solve the housing crisis.
This failure is generating increasing anger and frustration among ordinary people, and especially in working class communities across the country. Over the weekend the small extreme right in Ireland sought to exploit this anger over housing in the working class community of East Wall in Dublin.
RTE reported that hundreds protested outside an old ESB building which has been converted into an accommodation centre for refugees. The Irish fascists peddled slogans like “Ireland is Full” and “House Our Own First”.
Landlords and Developers Hoarding
When examined, each of these claims does not have a shred of substance to them. Is Ireland full? According to the last census there are 166,000 vacant homes in the state (and that does not include holiday homes). In Dublin, there are acres of vacant/derelict land that could have public housing built on it and there are nearly 1,500 entire apartments/houses on Airbnb (as this graphic shows).
The issue is not a shortage of accommodation in Dublin or the rest of the country. The problem is the developers and landlords (including vulture funds) are hoarding it.
This is what happens in a capitalist market where you can get what you want if you have the money. However, if you need something (like a roof over your head) to survive but don’t have enough money, the market says you go without.
Who Causes Homelessness?
Despite what the fascists would have us believe, refugees and immigrants are not causing the housing crisis. We can see this in the case of Tathony House across the other side of Dublin. Over 100 tenants in 35 flats are facing a mass eviction by a faceless corporate landlord, Tathony Holdings Ltd.
Among those being evicted are families, couples, single parents and pensioners. Some of the residents in Tathony House were born here, some were born elsewhere in the world but they are all being evicted.
If you are poor, you suffer
Immigrants often experience the worst aspects of the Irish housing crisis. A 2018 ESRI report stated that:
“Non-EU nationals are found to be at greater risk of overcrowding compared to others on the same income and with the same characteristics … African migrants are also over-represented among the homeless. Concerning housing discrimination … we find that Black people and people of other ethnic groups are more likely to report discrimination.”
Refugees also face appalling treatment at the hands of the government from the horrors of the Direct Provision system to threats of being moved across the country, with no consultation and little notice. For example, the Ukrainian women and children settled in Killarney since March have been uprooted to Mayo.
Unscrupulous, greedy landlords and their bidders in the Dáil do not care what the colour of your skin is or where you were born – if you have the money you can rent an apartment in Dublin’s Capital Dock 190 tower development for €306 per night.
If you don’t have the money, tough – sleep in tents, get moved around the country, face eviction, sleep on a friend’s sofa. This is the housing system the government and the landlords wants.
So who is to blame?
The housing crisis is not a result of a broken system, but of the system working the way it is designed by politicians, developers and financiers. They are the people who we must focus our anger on. Combinations of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in power now for over a decade – it is their failed policies that we must change.
Targeting refugees and immigrants, scapegoating them for the housing crisis places the blame in the wrong direction. It lets Minister Darragh O’Brien and the government off the hook – it lets corporate landlords continue with mass evictions – it lets private multinational companies make huge profits from direct provision centres.
Raise the Roof Protest
We need to protest against those who have caused this housing crisis and we need to join with other campaigners to fight against this rotten government. We need to build public housing on public land, we need to take vacant homes into public ownership, we need to end mass evictions.
In short, we need a housing system that is based on need, not ability to pay – a housing system for all.
Join the Raise the Roof protest – 1pm, Saturday 26th November, Parnell Square
Stop the Far right in Ireland – join United Against Racism.