Two subjects have dominated these columns for a number of years and will for some to come. Climate collapse is one. Because we cannot have a decisive global role in averting climate change, that crisis can seem remote, almost beyond our capacity to resolve.
In one of those strange symmetries that colour our world, the opposite is true of the second subject. Resolving it is utterly within our reach. We do not need to rely on anyone else, any external force or EU funding. We do not need to, transparently, appeal to our diaspora.
We cannot blame anyone else for our shameful housing and homelessness crisis. We, ourselves alone, are to blame for the fact that more than 10,000 people are homeless and that that number continues to grow despite Government’s finger-in-the-dyke measures. The homeless, especially those dying on our streets in ever-greater numbers, are the tip of the iceberg.
Tens of thousands more are trapped as tenants epitomising how we have broken the social contract that enriched the West since the Second Word War. Tens of thousands more, if they are not numbered among those who lost homes in the tracker mortgages scandal, must dedicate a disproportionate slice of their lives to repaying a preposterous mortgage.
Campaigner Peter McVerry spoke at a UCC yesterday, and encouraged graduates to use their skills for the benefit of society and not simply a path to a good career and a good salary. Ironically, some of his audience may have their emigration flights booked because they cannot replicate their parents’ lives when housing is almost beyond reach.
Fr McVerry reminded us there are solutions, but that we have a conservative Government that doesn’t like radical solutions and that they are on the side of the banks, the landlords and investment funds. They, he continued, are not of the side of struggling tenants or struggling mortgage holders. He stated the obvious: Government has to decide which side it is on.
Fr McVerry and many others have made these points many times but it does seem significant that UCC, a bastion of establishment Ireland, offered a platform to someone who would challenge conservative, inhuman values so forcibly. Let us hope his speech is a catalyst rather than a gesture.
One of the mysteries at the heart of this crisis is the reluctance of local authorities to use complusory purchase orders to secure building land. This reticence benefits everyone in the equation except those victims trying to buy a home. This process would make land available at a cost that would bea game changer.
Why is this the case? It time to legislate to oblige every local authority to use CPOs — time and time again — until its housing list is just 10% of its ten-year average. No ifs, no buts, no dodges — just do it especially as this is about much more than housing. What an indictment of us it is that we have a better chance of averting climate collapse.