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Kathy Sheridan: Truth the first casualty in a housing crisis

Hammy theatricals, performative anger and ranty soundbites designed for the main news bulletins are no substitute

Housing: the ideal vehicle for the caring, compassionate left to distinguish itself from the greedy lumps of landlords and vultures on the right.

The degree of passion in your quibble with either label will depend on a few things. Your grasp of multiple national housing plans from different government parties, your familiarity with the landing points of the billions being pumped into the housing sector, and your theories on why the number of homeless people is growing instead of abating.

It may also depend on whether you believe the Government reached its house-building target last year or brazenly lies about it. It depends on how much you think you know and how you know it.

Can you say whether more apartments than houses were built last year? How many in total and how many are in the pipeline? What are the current housing targets and how, why and how fast are those targets changing? Where do you stand on current building standards, planning conditions and general nimby-ism? Do you know what changes to any of these are afoot? Do you know how long it takes to obtain planning permission, the procedures for appeal, the fast-track systems in place, how they work and for whom? Do you support the Bill that will restrict the bringing of judicial reviews against proposed developments? Do you know how often groups and political representatives object to developments? How many schemes are delayed or stopped and the reasons why (warning: answers may include dead people’s signatures on opponents’ petitions)? How should construction industry inflation be tamed? How would you go about bumping up housing supply? Where would you find sufficiently large numbers of construction workers and to what extent would you be prepared to incentivise and accommodate them? What is the difference between the Government’s Help to Buy and First Home schemes and do they work?


That’s before we even get to the rental sector. Should the eviction ban end? Why and when would be the optimum time? What can be done about the evictions to come? Would a three-year rent freeze help or hinder the situation? Do you know the difference between the HAP and the RAS schemes, who may avail of them, and what difference they make? Do you know what an RPZ is? Can you understand how rents nationally could rise by nearly 14 per cent – as reported by – while RPZs are obliged to maintain a cap of 2 per cent? Do you know what percentage of all rental residential property is owned by institutions aka vulture funds? How do you define a vulture fund? Are all small landlords gombeen men? Should they be punished severely or incentivised to stay in the market or offered a chunky cut in capital gains tax if they agree to sell up with a sitting tenant? What is the actual percentage of TDs/senior party apparatchiks who are also landlords?

This is just a surface run over common terms, questions and accusations. If none of this is your speciality but you have nonetheless done extensive research and you know all the answers, congratulations. Your prize should be a regular segment on the evening news shows.

But if, like the vast majority, your head almost explodes at every uncontextualised headline, then do not rely on Dáil “debates” for anything that might promote public understanding. Housing, we are told all day every day, is in crisis. But everybody knows this now. Everybody is acutely aware of the horrendous burden on blameless tenants anticipating a notice to quit and the stunted lifestyles of children confined to hotel rooms. We know about the near impossibility of renting or buying a home in Dublin where a third of the national population seems bent on buying.

We remember 20 years ago when banks guilt-tripped parents into selling equity in their homes to get their children on the “ladder” in a disastrous housing bubble fuelled by banks and tax incentives.

We know that untold numbers of today’s parents are digging deep into savings and pension funds to help their adult children, with equally unpredictable outcomes.

We know about the rural generations (this writer included) that moved through successions of bedsits and flat shares in decrepit old houses around Dublin 6 with a single communal shower, when cash was king and security rested on the kindness of landlords.

Expectations are radically different now, as they bloody well should be. Despite the political rhetoric fomenting generational division while offering no solutions, every generation has had good reason to “get” it.

Politicians get it too, if only because their political survival depends on it.

What we are missing are facts. A housing and homelessness emergency – with all the fear, despair and suffering that implies – is no vehicle for hammy theatricals, performative anger and ranty soundbites designed for the main news bulletins.

Where is the regular, accessible Government-led information on the great housing plan and its progress? Where are the clear explanations for obstacles, slowdowns and non-starters?

Where are the crisis press conferences?

Let’s reinstate that podium outside government buildings. Let’s hear it all, weekly, from the Taoiseach himself.