Homelessness is on the rise and the state is siding with the landlords. Josh Newman reports from Dublin
This week, O’Connell Street in the centre of Dublin was blocked by around a thousand protesters, halting rush-hour traffic on one of the busiest roads in the capital. The protest was called only the day before as a response to the brutal removal and arrest of activists occupying empty housing on North Frederick Street.
This operation occurred in highly suspicious circumstances, with the officers from An Garda Síochána (the Irish police force) in balaclavas appearing to protect private security contractors hired by the landlord of the vacant property to evict the activists peacefully occupying the building. These contractors were also masked and arrived in a van that had no front registration plate or tax disc, but a UK registration at the rear. Six of the occupiers are said to have been arrested and several taken to hospital after the Gardaí, armed with batons and pepper spray, forcefully removed them.
These occupations, organised by the group Take Back the City, reflect the dire housing situation in the Irish capital where some families have been on social housing waiting lists for 18 years. The city’s own council website reports that there are over 19,000 people currently on lists and that an individual or family can expect to wait at least 7 years for accommodation.
Average rents across the Republic of Ireland are at over €1,300 and nearly €2,000 per month in Dublin. As in Britain, homelessness is taking a sharp upward spike. There are estimated to be around 10,000 homeless people in the Republic out of a population of 4.7million and this figure includes an increase of 500 homeless children between January and February of this year. One family becomes homeless in Dublin every day.
Although the housing and accommodation situation in the city is at emergency point there appears to be almost no proactive response from the central or local government. Eoghan Murphy, housing minister for the Fine Gael government, has attracted most of the anger from protesters and city councils but in turn has blamed these local councils for being obstructive in implementing his department’s plans.
The protest on Wednesday was clearly set in this wider context of the centrist hegemony of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil having no answers to the profound crisis. However, the specific catalyst for that particular mobilisation was the forceful eviction of peaceful protestors occupying houses on North Frederick Street with active support from the Gardaí. There was a sense that the police had showed their true colours as the enforcement wing of the state and its ideology, which in this case is the protection of private property rights of landlords over the right of people to have a roof over their heads. This understanding was made completely clear when several fire service vehicles were met with cheers from the whole crowd alongside shouts of ‘shame’ at the Garda presence.
It seems that forceful evictions will continue and Take Back the City have been organising quickly today (Friday the 14th September) to support a young family who were left homeless after their private landlord sold the property they were living in, forcing them to move into a vacant property to avoid sleeping on the streets. The City Council has sought an injunction at the High Court to evict the family from the property and Take Back the City reports that the council are expected to ‘move quickly, via their bailiffs, accompanied by private security, to forcibly remove the family.’
The left in Dublin and across the Republic is building for a housing protest at the Dáil (lower house of parliament) on the 3rd October. It may well be that by involving the Gardaí in these evictions, the state forces have scored a spectacular own goal at a crucial time. If a protest of a thousand people that holds up the city centre for at least 45 minutes at rush hour can be called at a day’s notice, we can expect the mobilisations on the 3rd to be immense and radical.
Over a hundred years ago Irish revolutionary James Connolly warned about the dangers of a Republic where capitalism and landlordism were not abolished. This is ringing true now more than ever and it is increasingly plain that ‘governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.’
The fight against vulture landlordism is heating up in the Republic. It is an issue that lays bare the fundamental incompatibility of neoliberal capitalism with the ability or desire to provide for people’s basic needs. The backlash is growing and taking its power to the streets.