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Waking up to the housing crisis March 30, 2023

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Pat Leahy continues a run of hard-headed analysis in The Irish Times where the scale of the evictions ban lifting and the broader housing crisis appears to have come home to him. 

One has the unpleasant feeling that (as was put to me by someone years ago when the housing crisis was gathering steam) ‘it’s affecting the middle-classes’ and therefore it somehow coalesces into an immediate and real threat and problem in a way that when those who are working class or marginal can be essentially ignored. 

But still, no greater joy in heaven, etc, etc.

This week demonstrated that the housing issue will continue to dog the Government for the remainder of its term of office. The chronic shortage of housing – even if it is partially eased in the coming two years, and there’s no certainty of that – will make it hard for the Coalition parties to compete for votes among the under 40s, a rather hefty chunk of the electorate to be writing off. Nobody realises this better than Sinn Féin.

If the opposition is right and there is a “tsunami” of evictions in the coming months, then the politics of this will become immediately more difficult, and possibly unmanageably so. The ending of the ban will be blamed for evictions; there is a strong chance that the Government is blundering into something it might not be able to control.

But he goes further:

There are two things to consider here. The first is the specific hames that the Government has made of ending the eviction ban; the second is the longer-term failure to get to grips with the housing crisis. Both raise questions of basic competence.

The Government has now been struggling to shore up its position since the ending of the eviction ban was suddenly – and unexpectedly – announced. There has been a mad scramble to come up with measures to mitigate the ending of the ban, culminating in basically allowing the Independents to write much of the Government’s countermotion to the Sinn Féin motion on which the Dáil voted on Wednesday. The failure to prepare all this in advance I find inexplicable.

You and me too, brother.

This marks the utter failure of public policy making that this represents. We’ve seen echoes of this in other areas – related areas too. A lack of even a cosmetic consultation with residents of complexes that refugee centres are placed in. I can completely understand the pressures that necessitate such actions. But not to sit down and talk through what this means with those who live there is an abdication of responsibility. All this suggests a miserable and self-defeating detachment on the part of the government from communities, the electorate and even those it purports to represent. This

Leahy notes:

Several insiders have spoken of a peculiar disconnect, a sort of fatalism, around Government on the issue. If that persists, then there are dangerous times indeed ahead for the Coalition.

And Leahy is right on the political side too:

Sure, the Government won the vote, and its working majority remains substantial. But the whole mess has resulted in a significant loss of authority for the Coalition. When you have to go cap in hand to the Independents to save your majority, that’s a not a sight that either the Independents or the voters will quickly forget.

He points to Sinn Féin’s effort to table legislation extending the ban on evictions as more politically clever than Labour’s no confidence motion as it places the spotlight firmly on the Independents who supported the government. Just on that, he describes that Labour motion as ‘clumsy’. I wonder is this a function of Labour finding itself not just in opposition but also having now to oppose. Those are two quite different states to be in. 

Leahy has broader thoughts on the housing crisis, which he notes was always going to be the ‘defining policy problem’ for the government. He argues that it hasn’t managed to dominate the issue. Indeed, his conclusion is that at the best ‘the very best [all] that you can say is that the jury is out’. Sheesh! If Pat Leahy thinks that then the government is in really deep trouble. 

In fairness he points to the Ukrainian crisis – 70,000 refugees, and so on. But he doesn’t linger too long on that, noting that there was a failure of ‘perception, planning, capacity and will’ by the government. 

He doesn’t think this is ideological. 

I don’t think this is because – as some of their opponents insist – the Coalition parties are wedded to any particular ideology. The idea that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael don’t want to build social housing because they are allergic to the State’s involvement in the sector is fervently believed by many of their opponents but is contradicted by the Coalition’s willingness to massively expand the State’s influence in all sorts of areas and by its own desire to build public housing.

I think that is too kind an analysis. For a start, expanding State influence is not the same as expanding the State. And most distinctly not the same as putting the resources of the state behind a state led building programme for housing. 

Surely this is born of an ideological approach (one all too familiar to us across the last twenty or thirty years) where the very idea of state endeavour, at whatever level, is anathema. Only the market can decide is the way it goes. This is also self-defeating and profoundly dangerous in a society. Indeed one could argue that this crew can’t even appreciate the idea of what a mixed economy means. That mention of fatalism he notes above is of a piece with this. Even with the levers of power and state they cannot comprehend how to do this. 

He asks: do you think if the Government believed it could solve the housing crisis by spending a few billion euros on public housing a few years ago, it would have demurred because it thought the plan was a bit socialist? The Government is desperately trying to build public housing; it has just not been very good at it.

But if at every point you believe that only the private sector can deliver outcomes then you are hobbled from the get-go. As hobbled as someone who argues there’s no scope in a mixed economy for private enterprise to build housing. It’s not either or. It’s not even relevant. Private enterprise cannot deliver, has not delivered and will not deliver public housing on the scale needed. There’s no one else who will step in to do so. At this point in this society the need for the state to put its shoulder behind public housing is key. A government that cannot, will not do so, is a government that is failing and Leahy acknowledges this. 

Government retains the ultimate political tool: the power of executive action. It has been unable to use this to overcome the barriers to delivery. And it is by that yardstick – delivery – that the Coalition will ultimately be judged.


1. irishelectionliterature - March 30, 2023

It’s not just high rents now it’s the lack of availability. The total trust in the private sector is beyond belief. I actually thought that FF might do something with housing but it’s all reactive rather than proactive stuff.
What’s coming down the line is going to be grim. What they don’t get is it’s not just going to be reading about it in the papers or hearing about evicted families on the news. It will be people you know. People in your community. People who are working…..

Liked by 3 people

WorldbyStorm - March 30, 2023

Yeah, completely agree, it’s going to be drip drip drip, and that’s a great way to put it re the total trust in the private sector. It’s credulous in the extreme.

Liked by 1 person

2. irishfabian+ - March 30, 2023

Labour were right to put down that motion.


3. Sarah - March 30, 2023

There was something so hollow about Bacik’s motion. With her prior espousal or water charges and HAP it’s hard to believe she has any principled political core. Surprized Labour haven’t dumped her yet.


irishfabian+ - March 30, 2023

I don’t talk about internal matters but shouldn’t we focus on housing crisis? That to me is more important.


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