Government defends housing record as over 10,000 take to streets in protest

Government defends housing record as over 10,000 take to streets in protest
People stage a sit down protest outside the Department of An Taoiseach. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Latest: Government TDs have been defending their record on housing, saying it is not as simple as throwing a box of Lego at a site and expecting a house to be built.

A joint opposition motion calling for rent controls, an end to evictions and for the housing crisis to be declared an emergency has been debated in the Dáil.

More than 10,000 people protested outside Leinster House this afternoon over the housing crisis.

Chair of the Oireachtas Housing Committee Maria Bailey said it is not as easy as just throwing money at the problem.

"It's easy to throw away extra money when it's someone else's money," said Ms Bailey.

"This is tax payers money that we have a duty to spend in a transparent manner.

"It is not as simple as throwing a box of Lego at a site and houses appearing.

"Housing developments needs roads, water, public transport, schools, shops and other services.

"We are trying to build communities here, not isolated islands or ghost estates like the past."

People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett says the government is not doing nearly enough.

"The vast majority of Irish society are losing out because of this housing crisis but a small cohort of people are watching the profits pile in because of the human misery caused by this crisis," said Mr Boyd Barrett.

A huge demonstration in Dublin drew crowds of over 10,000 people, almost the same number of homeless people in Ireland.

Politicians from eight political parties stood outside Leinster House in support of the rally while the Dáil debated a motion on homelessness and housing.

Simon Haslam, who has been homeless since 1997, slammed the system as a "disgrace".

"I've be spending six months in one hostel then another six months somewhere else," he said.

When you go into a hostel you get a key worker for six months then you get shipped on to somewhere else. I've three kids who I can't raise myself because I don't have a house for them and can't spend weekends with them and do the things that fathers should do.

"The Government need to hear our voice and recognise that we are not going to go away."

Aisling Hedderman, a housing activist who has been struggling to get secure accommodation for the last 15 years, is also a leading member of campaign group, Take Back The City.

She spent 15 years renting in the private sector before she was made redundant from her job in 2007.

In a bid to find work, she went back into education and gained qualifications, however was still not able to secure a job.

"Everyday I feared homelessness and this created depression and my mental health became low," she said.

"As I tried to access services I soon found there were no services that reflected the help I needed.

"We are here today to support a motion put forward to the Dáil because of persistence of privatisation of housing stock.

"Everyday we talk to people who are affected and it's clear it is not just the minority groups who are effected, but all of us."

Fr Peter McVerry with his dog Tiny. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Fr Peter McVerry with his dog Tiny. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry took to the stage with his dog, Tiny, to speak out against the escalating problem.

He said: "This protest is not just about homelessness, this protest is about housing.

"I guesstimate there at least half a million people in this country whose housing situation is causing them serious distress.

"We have a housing policy that is effecting a huge number of families from all social groups, except the very wealthy.

"The housing policy isn't working.

"When Rebuilding Ireland was produced over two years ago, every single day since then we have seen record numbers of homeless people and record rents and price of housing increasing."

Earlier: Thousands protest outside Dáil as Government debate motion to declare housing crisis an emergency

The government is set to lose an opposition motion calling for the housing crisis to be declared a national emergency.

Fianna Fáil is set to back the proposals, which also call for measures to end evictions, when the debate gets underway in the Dáil this afternoon.

Political parties backing the motion also include Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, People Before Profit, Solidarity, the Green Party, Social Democrats and Independents4Change.

Leo Varadkar admits the crisis is frustrating: "I know the issue of housing is one of huge concern for people across the country and many people expressed their concern by attending the protest today.

"I know that a lot of people are frustrated by the pace of delivery and I'm frustrated by it too as is everyone in government and we can all understand why.

"We share those concerns and share those frustrations and share the desire to get results more quickly.

"This is something that the government is investing huge resources in and huge amounts of government time."

Over 10,000 people spilled onto the streets in Dublin for the Raise The Roof rally to highlight the lack of affordable housing.

Among the speakers was Sheila Nunan, President of the Irish Congress of Trades Union.

She told the crowd: "It is an emergency when students cannot afford to go to college or families cannot afford their rent.

"It is an emergency when rent is no longer payable and too many people are disposed and homeless.

"Ten thousand homeless people is too many and it is a scandal when thousands of children are living in hotels, hostels and Bed and Breakfast.

"Housing is a basic human right. Too many of our citizens are affected."

Those taking part included representatives from the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, Siptu, Irish Coalition to End Youth Homeless, Dublin West Housing Association, National Union of Journalists, Mandate trade union, Forsa, Union of Students in Ireland and Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Orla O'Connor, director of National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), who was also a leading figure in the Repeal the Eighth amendment, described the rally as "an important day" adding that there is an "appalling housing and homeless crisis".

"It's the most serious equality challenge facing our society today," she said.

"Everyday women and children are being driven out of their homes as rents increase and they find themselves in an impossible cycle.

"We have one of the highest rates in Europe of women's homelessness.

"Official figures do not represent the full extent of the problem as women are more likely to be in more invisible forms of homeless."

Keith Troy, a founding member of the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, said the housing crisis is a problem effecting everyone.

The construction worker, who is on a zero-hours contract, called for further action and more people to take the street in protest over the government's housing policy.

"It's a problem effecting everybody, even people who have been paying mortgages for years because now the government has introduced a policy where vulture funds can come in and buy up healthy mortgages," he added.

Siona Cahill, president of Union of Students Ireland (USI), said that over 6,000 students were on the streets on Wednesday.

She described some of the living conditions students in Ireland face.

"Spiralling costs, rogue landlords, little to no deposit protection, damp, run-down and over-crowded conditions. Box rooms with two or three beds, sleeping on friend's couches, staying overnight in cars outside college," she said.

"There has been a 2% increase in student numbers every year for the past decade and this is expected to continue, the Government failed to plan accordingly.

"We have not built enough student accommodation for this increase never mind the shortage that currently exists."

Video: Annie Hoey

Another speaker described how members of the Traveller community are "the most marginalised and excluded groups" in Irish society.

Bernard Joyce from Irish Traveller Movement told the crowd that members of the Travelling community are forced to hide their true identity as they are 20 times more likely to be discriminated against by landlords.

"Travellers are 11 times more likely to become homeless than the settled population," he said.

"Our children live in sub-standard and subhuman conditions that no one else would be expected to live in.

"Our voice matters, it matters here, it matters in society and it matters tomorrow."

Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Following the rally, Gardai were forced to step in and separate activists from the Labour Party and some members of homeless organisation A Lending Hand after the two clashed.

Keira Gill from A Lending Hand said: "We do not support Labour and we never will.

"They are a party on the way out and the working class will never support them."

Damien Dempsey performs outside Leinster House in Dublin during a Raise the Roof housing rights protest. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Damien Dempsey performs outside Leinster House in Dublin during a Raise the Roof housing rights protest. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Earlier: Thousands protest at Raise the Roof rally as Taoiseach defends housing policy in Dáil

Thousands of people from across the country are taking part in the Raise the Roof housing protest outside the Dail this afternoon.

Crowds outside Leinster House during a Raise the Roof housing rights protest. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Crowds outside Leinster House during a Raise the Roof housing rights protest. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

The rally includes around 6,000 students demonstrating at how the crisis is impacting on them, and the Union of Students in Ireland is calling for more purpose-built affordable accommodation.

It comes less than a week after the Housing Minister recategorised more than 1,600 people out of homelessness.

Trade unions, homeless charities as well as civil society groups have also come together for the unprecedented event.

Meanwhile, inside Government buildings, the homelessness issue dominated questions to the Taoiseach as crowds gathered for the massive demonstration outside.

Leo Varadkar said millions of euro were spent this year providing emergency accommodation and that his Government was accelerating the building of all types of housing.

He also accused Sinn Fein of playing politics with the issue after Mary Lou McDonald said the Government has sat on the sidelines during the housing crisis.

She urged Mr Varadkar to double capital investment in building properties and introduce a rent freeze to help around 10,000 people who are homeless.

Ms McDonald said: "You have been timid, you have been a lackey to private landlords.

"You have sat on the sidelines in the vain hope that the market will sort it all out, even though all of the evidence tells you that the market is not sorting this out, that the state has to do the heavy lifting and that any government worthy of the name needs to intervene in an emergency fashion.

"That means doubling your capital investment, it means being bold, it means having ambition, it means ditching your pathetic excuse for dealing with rent control and introducing a rent freeze.

"It is ensuring that you stop the despicable practice of landlords turfing families out to get vacant possession of properties that the state insisted these people buy."

The Taoiseach said emergency powers have been brought in to "fast-track" planning and that declaring a housing emergency did not build any more houses.

"In many ways that sums up the Sinn Fein policy around housing, it is to make declarations and to make speeches and to play politics but not put forward solutions that are workable, or in many cases affordable.

Sinn Fein really has no credibility when it comes to housing.

According to the Simon Community, 200,000 people are homeless in Northern Ireland, he noted.

"Of course, we see Sinn Fein councillors all over the country voting down social housing proposals and affordable housing proposals, in city council and in South Dublin.

"So in Northern Ireland, where there is a housing crisis, they walk out of office over a renewable heat initiative and they won't go back in.

"The truth is, Sinn Fein does not want to solve this problem, they want it to get worse, because they believe they can benefit from it politically, and that is a real shame."

Earlier: Raise the Roof rally to call for housing policy changes

Radical changes to the Government's housing policies will be called for at a protest in Dublin today.

The Raise the Roof rally will look to highlight the growing homeless crisis as well as issues within the private rental market.

Government defends housing record as over 10,000 take to streets in protest

The protest was called in support of an opposition party motion on housing that is scheduled to be debated in the Dáil today.

The motion is supported by Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, the Labour Party, Solidarity, the Social Democrats and the Green Party and Independents4Change.

The event will be held outside the Dáil from 12.30pm-2pm, with a coalition of groups and parties involved, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Sinn Fein and The Union of Students in Ireland.

Organisers are urging people to come along and show their support for the rally which will feature a number of keynote speakers, including: Sheila Nunan (ICTU); Síona Cahill (USI); Orla O’Connor (NWCI); Peter McVerry; Keith Troy (Homeless & Housing Coalition) and Aisling Hederman and others.

Singers Damien Dempsey and Frances Black will also perform.

Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry says people are fed up with the lack of progress in tackling issues around housing.

"The Government have admitted that the problem is just going to get worse for the foreseeable future," he said.

"So it's, first of all, a protest and a way of trying to say it to the Government, look, policies are not working, clearly they're not working, and we need you to revisit those policies and produce policies that will work."

Inner City Helping Homeless, who will attend the rally today, say they want to "show the Government that we can’t accept their indifference to resolving the crisis".

Speaking this morning about the rally, ICHH CEO Anthony Flynn said: “It’s highly important that the government listen today as the motion put forward carries cross-party support alongside up to 80 organisations from the Trade Union, NGO and grassroots sectors.

"Government have for far too long relied on the private market to fix a social crisis.

The housing crisis is now affecting all walks of life from students to teachers to working professionals and the new face of homelessness, children. Now is the time to change that.

"A major shift in policy is required and today is about informing the government of that. Housing is a national crisis and its needs to be treated that way,” he said.

Independent TD for Dublin Bay North Tommy Broughan it was about time "we had a huge movement of all those representing everyone affected by the housing and homeless crisis".

"The emergency has now permeated all sectors of our society and it spans all generations from homeless children, to students unable to find appropriate rental accommodation, young professionals forced to live at home for longer due to unaffordable rents, to people unable to save for deposits for mortgages, to families whose mortgages are being sold to vulture funds or struggling with arrears or repossession threats, to older people dependent on Rent Supplement alongside their pensions.

"I commend the unions, ICTU, USI and others who have mobilised for today’s rally. I believe we need a dynamic Housing Executive for all of Dublin and perhaps the whole mid-Leinster region. I also believe that we need a directly elected Mayor of Dublin to hold those Local Authorities to account," he said.

Thousands of Students will march from the Garden of Remembrance today, with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) leading the protest.

Speaking in advance of the march, USI President Síona Cahill said: “On the night of the census in 2016, there were 429 students homeless in Ireland - making up 8% of the total homeless numbers. There are students effectively being locked out of college because they cannot find or afford suitable accommodation while they study - it’s not good enough, and it’s affecting access to education”

Students are couch-surfing, staying in hostels while they try to find a place, and increasingly the victims of rental scams. Hundreds of students have had to defer college places altogether.

“We will not accept that homelessness is ‘normal’ in Irish society with communities and families continuing to suffer. There has been a failure of essential planning by government in tangibly addressing shortages in provisions for homeless people, and slow progress in the development of much needed social housing," she said.

Digital Desk

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