This is Ireland in 2016. An incredible contrast of social status. Ireland has managed to pull itself out of the quicksand that was the crash in 2008 and subsequent recession that followed and our economy has gone from strength to strength but at what cost?
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) have released figures showing an increase in job creation of 56,200 in the second phase of 2016 bringing the total to just over 2 million people in employment. Impressive enough and the same figures have also shown that four in five jobs are full-time with most of the sectors having shown employment growth. Unemployment fell by 23,400 in the 12 months to the end of June 2016 and Ireland has even seen an increase of 3,100 immigrants till April 2016 as compared to over 11000 migrating in the previous year.
However, Ireland still has a massive cloud hanging over its head in the form of homelessness.
Disturbing figures of homelessness in Ireland include over 2000 children with no home as recorded at the end of June 2016. These are not long term homeless. These are people who have been forced out of their homes through atrocious rise in rents, inability to arrange a deal with unplayable loans from their banks and an inexcusable shortage of social housing and renting properties.
While the government has implemented a recent Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, groups working with the homeless have concerns regarding the timeline and implantation of the plan. Many NGO’s like the Dublin Simon Community and Focus Ireland are frustrated that there is no ‘right now’ part of the plan which can prevent families from losing their homes and thus adding to the enormous housing lists across the regions. They call for longer term rent freezes (current agreement is 2 years), compulsory purchase of derelict houses not being used by landlords and changing of laws to make it easier for units above commercial premises to be used as dwellings along with many other proposals.
There is also the lingering bank evictions that are still causing families to end up on the streets of Ireland’s major cities. Despite the vast amount of them being in full employment, many of these families cannot find suitable accommodation due to high rent prices and the sharp drop in available lettings which has seen in some periods over the year, an average of only 3000 properties for rent being available in the entire state. The result is that tonight, families are trying to live normal lives while being accommodated in hotels, sometimes in just one room, with no access to laundry facilities, situated many kilometres away from their local schools and employment and facing a future of little prospect of getting a stable living environment for themselves and their children. The plan of using hotel rooms is to continue for the foreseeable future despite the enormous costs of this method incurred by the social welfare system. All this is happening in conjunction with social hosing lists that are in some cases, years long.
The crisis is expanding and now students, trying to find suitable accommodation are also feeling the effects of the housing problem. The lack of student accommodation across the major cites of Ireland is appalling and recently introduced laws during 2014 for bedsits have not helped. The result was that vast stretches of dwellings which are now no longer compliant have been removed from the market with the remaining ones being swallowed up by professional tenants. These are our future tax payers but they are already being pushed out of the system and forced to seek universities abroad in order to have a complete plan for their education. Our universities may be up there with the best but they are totally useless if the students cannot live in the cities that their choice of education resides in.
So while they celebrate the economy, Ireland cannot forget that it has been and continues to be a success story at the expense of the middle class; now working but facing the fear of being without a home. Ireland has never had a long term renting culture and many landlords see renting as a part time income generator. The resulting problem is that properties have no legal requirement to have long term letting agreements with tenants who are almost living in fear of being evicted with a months notice. Many call for the German system to be implemented and Ireland needs to start thinking beyond the home ownership culture. A future Ireland in the European Union needs to focus on social housing and providing new communities with facilities and services that positively integrate families. Ireland cannot boast to Europe about how good our economy is while stalling when it comes to helping those who have been hit the hardest by the recession and are now paying the biggest price for the recovery. Ireland also expects their immigrants to come home to get these new jobs but there is no place for them to live.
And what of a future federal Europe? The federal system also needs to be a pro-social housing union. It must have checks and balances to ensure that mass inter federal migration doesn’t occur as a result of a lack of housing in certain areas. There needs to be a cross state initiative with an even requirement for social housing and facilities based on the local population requirement. Ireland can be a great example of how not to do it. It’s shameful that it is showing itself up in this way and the present government needs to be reminded on a constant basis of this issue.
Thankfully there are those out there working with the homeless who are committed to exposing this scandal.