In recent days, up to 10,000 people took part in a protest over the housing outside Leinster House. In a country with 10,000 — and rising — homeless people and tens of thousands more living close to the life of an indentured servant because housing prices are utterly disconnected to incomes, that protest is inevitable. In a country where tens of thousands of workers are condemned to a lifetime of making landlords’ and vulture funds’ investments pay off, those protests can only grow.
Speaking at the rally Fr Peter McVerry warned that there are “at least half a million people... whose housing situation is causing them serious distress”.
Only the most optimistic or delusional might imagine that this week’s justified and overdue protests will not intensify. Only the most optimistic or delusional politicians might hope that homelessness and gross housing exploitation will not be defining issues in the next election.
In the Dáil hours after that protest, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy insisted that Government has no ideological position on housing — despite clinging to the discredited philosophy that caused the crisis like a drowning man clings to a raft. It may be unfair to question his sincerity, but the less-than-adequate response of recent governments suggests unwise faith in a laissez-faire market and a reluctance to introduce transformative, orthodoxy-challenging measures.
Scenting blood and opportunity, Fianna Fáil made two valid contributions. Micheál Martin referred to the 45-year-old Kenny report, which made a proposal about controlling land prices that seems more valid than ever today, even if it would scupper land hoarders’ ambitions. His party colleague Billy Kelleher suggested that Irish citizens be allowed to buy a mortgage across the EU. He offered an example where an Irish person borrowing €250,000 over 30 years can expect to pay €67,855 more than a Dutch or a German home buyer because taxpayer-rescued Irish lenders charge us rates — because they can — far higher than the EU average.
Speaking to the Oireachtas Finance Committee yesterday, Central Bank director Derville Rowland made another disheartening contribution. Showing again how the players in this fleecing are insulated from consequence, she said that the CB is looking at “senior” bankers in the tracker mortgage scandal. The regulator is considering sanctions, we are assured — despite the fact that many of those involved are retired and enjoying the autumn golf in Costa del Out the Gap. We once had asleep-at-the-wheel-regulation. Now it seems we have after-the-horse-has-bolted oversight.
Political parties and cultures die because incumbents become so institutionalised, so certain that they are right, that they become unable to recognise when a moment demanding a response from far outside their comfort zone has arrived. Mr Murphy and his colleagues are at that point. As yet they have not shown that they understand this or, much less, have the capacity to respond properly. Tragically, this has gone far beyond housing. Inept, slow, underwhelming policies further challenge the validity of a social democratic body politic still in thrall to failed, parasitic philosophies.