There is currently much justified political commentary about our current, and growing, pension crisis. I say ‘political commentary’ because, while the matter is political in every respect, the discussion avoids the political ‘hot potato’ issues that underpin the crisis in the same way that Irish political commentary generally ignores most inconvenient truths. The inconvenient truth this time?
The labour and housing markets are both deliberately designed and constructed in a manner that can only perpetuate and grow a pension crisis.
The easy elements that make up the crisis are routinely discussed in a circular fashion that takes the issue nowhere. For example, many people quite rationally expect their state pension at age 65 and righteously oppose the age increases that have taken place. Moreover, the full pension (which not everyone gets) of €12,912 may be ‘generous’ by international standards, but it’s not that much over half of what a full time worker gets on the minimum wage (€20,685). How comfortable are the lives of our massive band of minimum-waged workers? Not very.
Brian McLoughlin: In March 2017, then housing minister Simon Coveney officially opened the first family hub in Dublin for families experiencing homelessness. He said this was a response to the negative experiences of homeless families being accommodated in commercial hotels. Coveney then confidently stated that the use of commercial hotels to accommodate homeless families would end in July 2017.
In Inner City Helping Homeless, we knew this was yet another empty promise that couldn’t possibly be delivered, but Coveney persisted with the publicity tour. When asked by The Journal if he really thought the goal of no longer using hotels for homeless families was achievable, he stuck to his guns that it was possible and that people were working hard to make it happen.
Fast forward four years, and the use of commercial hotels and B&Bs for homeless families continues as more and more hotels pop up around the city. A recent DRHE report stated that in April 2021 there were 113 families still being accommodated in commercial hotels. Families cramped in to one room with their children, their children’s toys, school books – all at a huge cost to the state. While we were all told to stay at home during Covid-19, these families had to spend day after day sharing one room, putting huge mental health pressure on both the children and their parents. It is well documented that living in emergency accommodation impacts a child’s development, creating physical and mental health issues for children in primary school. Homelessness is creating a trauma for a generation of children, and we will be seeing the fallout of this for years to come.
“There’s nothing nice about how I feel” – Charlie, aged 6
In 2019, the Ombudsman for Children brought out a report called No Place Like Home. For the report, they spoke to children living in emergency accommodation, from small children right up to teenagers. They asked them to explain what life for them was like in their own words, and some of the answers would break a heart made of stone. Children feeling like they were prisoners and were being punished when all they are guilty of is becoming homeless in a country that would rather pay huge money to hotels, B&Bs and family hubs than develop a proper public housing building plan to give these children homes. When asked what they liked about where they live, the answers spoke for themselves:
“I like nothing about living here, I have none of my friends here, I can’t do a sleep over … [it] makes me feel sad. There’s nothing nice about how I feel”. (Charlie, aged 6)
“It’s like a prison …. It’s just horrible” – Rebecca, aged 10
“The rules are very strict. The worst is that you are not allowed to have friends in your room. They just expect you to sit on your own. And not being allowed to be anywhere without your mam, you’re not even allowed to sit in the room for ten minutes by yourself. I know it has safety issues but nothing is going to happen … If we break the rules we will get kicked out. It’s like a prison … it’s just horrible”. (Rebecca, aged 10)
“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up” – Rachel, aged 10
“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up because I didn’t want to face this day … I am tired in school. Some days I would just sit there and not even smile”. (Rachel, aged 10)
When there are ten-year-old children having suicidal thoughts we as a society are failing these children. Many speak of not being allowed to have visitors or sleep-overs – even prisoners are allowed to have visitors. Why are we allowing this?
“Children … were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room”
In 2018, Temple Street Children’s Hospital experienced a big spike in children being released to ‘No Fixed Abode’ and wrote a report on the impact of homelessness on children. The report stated that homeless children are most likely to get sick from their cramped accommodation. The main reasons children presented to Temple Street were burns (kettles in hotel rooms), scabies from dodgy mattresses, injuries from falls, and respiratory issues. Even more shocking is the fact that homeless children were not developing quickly enough: they were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room and even the development of their swallow was effected due to the food they were having to eat as their parents had no available cooking facilities. Research shows that homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life, from conception to young adulthood, and that the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural development of children.
“As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years”
These children are this country’s future generations, and they are being let down over and over again by an incompetent government who lack empathy, compassion and vision. A government which continues to outsource state responsibilities to private developers, vulture funds, commercial hotels, B&Bs and privately-operated hostels. Not only do we have a government who lack empathy and compassion, but they are also economically incompetent. Report after report has highlighted what we are doing to children’s development by keeping them in emergency accommodation. As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years.
And what does family emergency accommodation cost? What is the price the taxpayer pays to put children into these environments that cause so much pain?
Fact: it costs more to accommodate a family in emergency accommodation than in a luxury apartment
The figure for accommodating a family of four in emergency accommodation for a year is a staggering €69,000-€80,000. To put a family in one room, to put a huge strain on the mental and physical health of both the children and their parents. For context, American real estate fund Kennedy Wilson are renting out units in Dublin’s Capitol Dock Development, originally marketed as Dublin’s Most Desirable Address. On-site amenities include a concierge service, gym, fitness studio, business lounge, residents’ lounge, chef’s kitchen and a cinema room. Nearly half of these apartments are vacant today, potential homes sitting empty as families struggle through life in emergency accommodation. And the cost of renting one of these apartments is considerably less than what the taxpayer is paying per family for emergency accommodation. The biggest unit in the Capitol Dock building is a three-bed and the monthly cost is €4,017-€4,410. This is between €20,000 and €30,000 cheaper annually than putting a homeless family into a hotel or B&B for the year. Is this acceptable to people?
We owe it to these children to fight for them, to tell the government that we will no longer accept their hyperbole and broken promises. These children deserve a safe and secure home, something stated in the original constitution, and we have gotten further and further away from that in the last ten years. We all need to work together to get a referendum on the Right to Housing, and as Covid restrictions lift we need to see feet on the street for water-charges-level protests to shame the government into immediate action.
As the Manic Street Preachers song says, If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next.
Brian McLoughlin is Head of Communications for Inner City Helping Homeless and one of the four contributors to Unite’s Take Four group blog, along with Conor McCabe, Ber Grogan and Laura Broxson.
Brendan Ogle: There was a fascist demonstration outside the Dáil last Saturday in pursuance of building an Irish Nazi Party. Yes, in the era of Trump the virus has international tentacles which have reached here. For the first time since O’Duffy’s Blueshirts, fascists are on Irish streets.
About 200 turned up. The pretext was protesting because a gay Government Minister was photographed years ago with some English lad with questionable views on the age of sexual consent.
This is enough for the gay Minister to be called a paedophile by fascists using the decades-old trope that gay people abuse children. Funny, where this actually happened (actual child abuse) for decades in the Catholic Church, the fascists not only didn’t notice it but they applaud the Church and its extreme conservative lobby groups. They even write for them and invite them on their fascist protests and everything,
But don’t expect consistency. These are fascists, arch advocates of ‘the end justifies the means’. They wave Irish flags too, and declare themselves patriots, yet their organisers have links with loyalist paramilitaries, UKIP and the English Defence League. International fascism. A century and a decade ago, Connolly would have dealt with them. Dublin then had the forebears of this rabble, they were always among us, but there weren’t any of them in the Irish Citizen Army. No, they were the ones throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at them in 1916 and siding with the oppressor.
You can see the lines of argument though. Agree with our fascism or you aren’t a patriot. Agree with us or you support paedophilia. They’ve already used the ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘anti-corruption’ tropes. It’s classic Germany of the 1920s, if any of them had ever read a book. But it appears only the ringleaders have, and they are following the supremacists’ ‘to do list’ assiduously.
Predictably, the event was full of angry men roaring and spouting hate into microphones, threatening people. In case anybody is unsure of their hateful intent, they usefully produced banners with nooses on them. A small number of people (10) turned up to counter protest, and were violently attacked. It looked like a KKK rally; all it was missing were hoods and a burning cross.
But here’s the point. They are disappointed at the numbers and I have seen them frustratingly asking “why did so many people turn up for anti-water-charges protests but not for us”?
This puts me in mind of this photo. This is the Garda Public Order Unit at an anti-water-charges march on 10 December 2014. I’m wondering why did these guys turn up for the Right2Water march, but not on Saturday?
The march back then had 70,000 attendees and ended with a five hour rally. There was no hate speech, no incitement, no fascism, no defamation, no violence. But the Government of the day was threatened, and ultimately defeated, on the issue. And because they were threatened, they sent this.
But it would appear they aren’t threatened by Saturday’s mob of hate. They are probably right. Certainly the numbers attending and the pathetic election results would suggest they are right. But it’s fascism. It’s violent and it’s inciting violence and hatred. The public deserve to be protected from such menace.
Brendan Ogle: When I joined the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers’ Union (now Unite) over 20 years ago the Union was affiliated to the Labour Party (this remained the case until Unite rightly disaffiliated in 2013) but had a policy in place called ‘The Third Way’. This policy was passed, produced in booklet form, and pushed both within the Union and the Labour Party.
The policy, which I agreed with, was very simple. It argued that the Labour Party should have a rule forbidding entering coalition with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael because, if it did so, the result could only be that both of those parties would have to come together to form a Government. While negative in itself this, however, would then open up a political space on the left and Ireland would have a right/left political system rather than the old ‘my Grandad was a great Dev/Collins man’ baloney that passed for ‘politics’ in this state for far too long.
Of course the Labour Party rejected such a notion of principle and strategy, and instead decided to continue to offer itself up as a mudguard to both Fianna Fail (FF) and Fine Gael (FG) as and when demanded by them and the conservative media consensus. This approach reached its inevitable low point with the despised FG/Labour Government from 2011-2016, when the Labour Party made an enemy of its own voter base in order to protect Fine Gael’s. It resulted in the loss of 80% of its seats along with any respect or moral authority, and the party has been borderline irrelevant ever since. As Civil War politics ends at last, the Labour Party can ponder from their small number of seats in opposition just what might have been had they recognised this day coming and brought it about much earlier.
In 2016 Noel Dempsey, former Deputy Leader of Fianna Fail and serial Minister, let the cat out of the bag when discussing that year’s election impasse. As FF and FG continued to slide in overall popularity, Dempsey was asked whether it was time both parties finally came together as, on policy, they were practically the same anyway. Dempsey put it bluntly by admitting that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael existing separately had prevented a left developing in Ireland. And he was right, on that anyway.
“Almost a century after independence we have still never had a progressive Government”
Almost a century after independence we have still never had a progressive Government. We have never had a Government fundamentally committed to a re-distribution of wealth downwards. We have never had a Government that wasn’t led by either FF or FG. We have never had a Government that didn’t put the demands of the property and landlord class, the elites, the gombeens, over the needs of the people. We have never had a Government that put the good of the many above the greed of the few.
Obviously we have had people and parties who do not support this right wing hegemony but conservatism, both social and political, was so strong that they were always confined to the fringes. This has changed. The right to divorce has been followed by marriage equality, sexual freedom, improved gender rights and Repeal of the Eighth Amendment as people power pushed clerical and political conservatism aside on social issues. These seismic changes, however, stand in stark contract to economic policy. Ireland is a tax haven riddled with inequality, we have socialised tens of billions of Euro of private speculators’ debts, we have a health system built on ensuring private profit over public health, there is a housing emergency created and sustained to enrich landlords and vulture funds, and we have the worst workers’ and Trade Union rights in our peer group of nations within the EU. I could go on.
But we have never had an electable ‘left’. In a political landscape heretofore dominated by conservatism, it is not surprising that all we have seen to date is the development of a range of small principled but doctrinaire parties and individuals, none of which have ever gotten even 10% of the number of seats or votes necessary to come to power. It may not be surprising, but it can no longer be good enough. Some, on principle, don’t even want to come to power within a capitalist system and describe progressives who seek an alternative Government to FF and FG as mere ‘reformers’.
“The opportunity for reform has never been greater, nor the need more acute”
But the opportunity for reform has never been greater, nor the need more acute. The current programme for Government is a neoliberal charter of political expediency, a treaty entered into by those desperate for power for power’s sake. Sinn Fein (SF) will now lead an opposition as the largest party in the state. It is telling that the largest party in the state has less than half the seats necessary to form a majority Government, but SF are nevertheless entitled to highlight the hypocrisy of refusals to engage with them on entering Government by those who so loudly demanded they do exactly that in the North.
I have no doubt however that both SF, and any ambition for Ireland’s first non Fianna Fail or Fine Gael Government, would have been significantly damaged had SF entered Government with either of Ireland’s two Tory parties. SF have some of the policies and personnel to lead a very effective opposition. But if we are to finally see the Irish electorate push both of those parties out of office in the next election, the rest of the left needs to coalesce and move beyond the politics of protest and eternal opposition.
There is much to be learned from the mass protests and organisation that led to the social changes outlined above, and the anti-water charges movement too. But progressive policy principles in the areas of Health, Housing, Workers’ Rights and the Environment, including water, can now potentially form an electable political platform to put before the electorate next time round. There is a chance for various shades of opposition to now begin to work together with, for the first time, the achievable ambition of our first progressive Government.
On the weekend that the electorate finally forced Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to come together, rather than be downhearted let us look at this as a long necessary and overdue evolution. An opportunity.
“Irish politics has at last moved past the Civil War and is reaching adulthood”
Irish politics has at last moved past the Civil War and is reaching adulthood. The future is there for a better, fairer Ireland. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael coming together (and the Greens throwing themselves under a bus) creates the space to build for Ireland’s first progressive Government at last. Such a Government is a necessary ambition to drive greed and inequality out of office for once and for all.