There’s a reason you’re confused about what happened in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, this week. And it’s not because you’re stupid.
The reason you can’t really figure out what happened with the eviction situation up there, and the reason you aren’t too sure “who to blame”, is because the Government employed the oldest trick in the book: Divide and distract.
It’s what politicians do when they’re up that faeces-laden creek without a paddle. They start slinging the mud, hoping it will stick in various places, distracting you, the citizen, from the real issue at hand.
As you scrolled on your phone, queuing patiently to pay for your Christmas shopping, you may have read about a dog getting shot. Driving home from work in that heavy traffic, you could have heard about the evicted farmer, who had been informed about the repossession of his property seven times — thanks to unusually generous leaks to the media. And you also could have heard words such as “dissidents” and “thugs”.
And then there was the almighty row in the Dáil between the boys in blue on the right, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar flanked by Health Minister Simon Harris, and the boy in green on the left, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty.
Mr Varadkar’s now famous line to Mr Doherty, “it doesn’t take very long for your balaclava to slip”, was akin to striking a match to an oil field. It was all you could see, hear, and talk about, commanding metres in column inches and gigahertz in radio waves.
Division complete. Distraction on course. Job pretty much done.
Except it’s far, far from done.
Here are some facts — courtesy of the Central Bank of Ireland.
There are 29,000 homes in arrears in Ireland. We are not talking a missed payment here and there. We are talking 29,000 residential mortgages that have “accumulated at least two years worth of missed payments”.
OK, so 29,000 homeowners not paying their mortgage, no big deal?
Well, let’s ignore the spin and the headlines again, and once more rely on the Central Bank of Ireland for some clarity here.
It is estimated that half of those 29,000 will be repossessed. So all that furore up in Roscommon, all the moving parts of that story, the schoolboy debating in the Dáil, the row over who and who isn’t explicitly condemning violence, is, you could say, perhaps a distraction from the real issue here.
This isn’t just about one eviction in Roscommon, this is about another 15,000 evictions coming down the line.
The alarm bells have been ringing on this for some time.
“Over half of the cases progressing to long-term arrears [those 29,000 homes] are classified as involving the potential for loss of ownership outcomes,” said the Central Bank in its quarterly bulletin on April 10, 2018.
“It is important to understand that loss of ownership may take place in two main ways for PDH [(private dwelling homes] accounts: Voluntary or enforcement.”
So far in Ireland, over two-thirds of “loss of ownership” have come about voluntarily, and one-third through repossessions, as we saw in Roscommon last week.
Some more facts: 17% of all long-term mortgage arrears are held by unregulated loan owners, those so-called vulture funds. And God only knows how they will go about getting men, women, and children out from under their roofs.
If these soon-to-be-repossessed 15,000 homes go down the Roscommon route of forced eviction, who is and who isn’t condemning violence will be the least of our country’s worries.
There are already 10,000 people in homelessness in Ireland. If at least two people live in each of those 15,000 soon-to-be-repossessed properties, does that mean we will see another 30,000 of our citizens being declared as homeless?
It is estimated by some that there may even be three people in each of those homes — not to be alarmist but does that mean another 45,000 people out on the streets or in hubs?
If we already have 10,000 homeless and, worst-case scenario, we add 45,000 others to that, we are looking at being a modern democratic English-speaking first-world country with a homeless population of 55,000 people.
How did we ever end up here?
Eviction, as a solution, does not work. We were telling the English this 160 years ago and now we can’t even tell it to ourselves in 2018.
Repossessions lead to homelessness. Homelessness leads to people relying on the State for help. We are the State. What can we do?
We absolutely must make social and affordable housing our country’s most important priority, not just in 2019, but for years to come. Our politicians must stop relying on private and accidental landlords to solve the housing crisis.
We must look at long-term tenancies in the form of public housing as a way to live in this State.
We are a most caring nation. But we are a caring nation that has become jaundiced into action-less apathy after years and years of increasing homelessness.
No citizen on this land is comfortable walking past a homeless person on the street.
But underneath that apathy is anger, and that can be turned into action. There are solutions. Approximately three in five people in Austria’s capital of Vienna, rich and poor, live in public housing provided and managed entirely by the city.
The solutions are there. We don’t need spin and we don’t need politicians to be point-scoring in the Dáil.
We need creative thinking, mature politicians, political will, and a return to our country’s core values, where no one gets left behind.