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Una Mullally: I have never seen the kind of destitution in Dublin that exists today

Actions speak louder than words and this Government just doesn’t care

We are in uncharted territory now. The eviction ban is gone. The safety net has been pulled. The Government’s version of short term pain – sure what’s a few more hundred or thousand homeless people – and their mythical, intangible long-term gain, is in motion. The die has been cast.

For the people I know who are being evicted this month, all that exists is stress, uncertainty, and the frantic calls to friends and across social media to see who has a room, and whether anyone knows of anywhere to rent. Nobody I know even bothers with rental sites any more. The private rental system is broken. Word of mouth is the only way. People try to band together to support each other.

Right now, there are countless people trying to help their friends find a place to live. What many people feel is that the Government just doesn’t care. How could they feel anything else? Where is the sense of care and empathy from Government if you’re couch surfing? On the street? Shoved into a hostel somewhere? In emergency accommodation? Looking for emergency accommodation? Raising your child in a hotel room, and trying to shield them from the grim reality you’ve found yourself in through no fault of your own? Sleeping in your car? On an air mattress in your friend’s home? Having to move back in with your parents when you yourself are in middle age? Commuting for hours to and from college? Spending 50 per cent, 60 per cent, more, of your wages on rent? Leaving your family, friends and your community for barely cheaper rent elsewhere in the country? Having to start again because of the cost of rent? Being in your 40s or 50s and sharing a house or a room as though you’re a broke student? Stacked in the bunk bed tenements of Dublin?

Where is the care when you’ve just moved to this country, seeking opportunities, and find yourself fleeced? Sleeping in a garden shed or in a van? In an abusive relationship you can’t leave because it’s happening in the only shelter available to you? Emigrating to find a room to live somewhere in London or Berlin or Lisbon?


Where is the sense of care? Surely if Government did care, they wouldn’t have lifted the eviction ban. If they did care, there would be serious, well planned, practical, comprehensive protections in place for you well before lifting the ban. If they did care, they’d treat this as the emergency it is. If they did care, they’d enforce the rules on short-term lets. If they did care, they’d enact legislation to cut and freeze rents. The proof is in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words.

This Government is in denial about the state of the housing crisis, and is existing in a delirium of magical thinking

Darragh O’Brien’s “protections” and “initiatives” for tenants are, in my opinion, a complete joke. What person renting in an Irish city, seeing their wages drained every month into their landlord’s pockets, can magic up a deposit to buy the place if the landlord is selling? That is a ludicrous and fantastical scenario. Does O’Brien really believe that giving a little speech of encouragement to local authorities will suddenly see them spring into action and buy up flats and houses for people who are facing homelessness? On what planet is that going to happen at the same pace as people are being evicted? And what houses and flats? Where are they? Ask the investment funds, I suppose. They seem to have plenty, and are gazumping buyers left, right, and centre.

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The discourse around private landlords selling up ignores the blatant reality that many people bought investment properties and second properties during the Celtic Tiger, and now that many of them are out of negative equity and can get a good price for the property, are selling up. Most of these people never intended on being long-term landlords. It’s not their primary job, nor is it their role. They bought places to flip, and then the property market crashed. They’re not waiting around to be landlords forever, they’ve just been waiting to sell.

So where do we go from here? Frankly, I have no idea. In my lifetime, I have never seen the kind of destitution in the capital that exists today. On Thursday evening, I was walking past the GPO on O’Connell Street, and there were dozens of people desperately grabbing bags of food from the soup kitchen and food bank and eating on the street. You’d swear it was the set of a Ken Loach film. It doesn’t matter to these people that once upon a time Dublin was much more impoverished. What is the point in talking about the bad old days of 40 years ago when people are experiencing food poverty and housing insecurity right now?

As I waited for the bus at the top of O’Connell Street, within a few minutes I was approached by three different young men asking for change. All of them were desperate, all of them were polite, all of them were shivering and unprotected from the rain. On Friday evening, a few hours after the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) occupied the Department of Housing, the queue for that evening’s GPO soup kitchen, run by the Muslim Sisters of Eire, stretched around on to Henry Street.

This is bad. Really bad. The landlords in Government will never really fall on hard times. And if they do, they’ll have networks of well-connected friends to give them the support they need. This Government is in denial about the state of the housing crisis, and is existing in a delirium of magical thinking. People, when evicted, will not be able to find somewhere to live. So, as Fr Peter McVerry said: on this Government’s own head be it.