The recent (December 2016) rent control measures introduced by the Fine Gael government in Ireland illustrate once again the reluctance of Government in Ireland to take responsibility for the welfare needs of the people. The measures, aimed, supposedly, at responding to ongoing rent increases by private landlords in two cities in the South of Ireland – Dublin and Cork – are extremely modest, and in the view of many, are simply an attempt to divert attention away from the Government’s inaction over the issue of increasing homelessness.
In essence the measures are aimed, not at reducing private sector rents or building new homes, but simply limit rent increases to 4% a year in the short term. They do not provide security of tenure for those in private rental accommodation, and indeed include a range of loophole which private landlords may utilise for their own interests (1). Indeed the measures amount to too little too late and only affect two cities in the state.. The real problem, which has been the lack of serious regulation of the private rented sector over many years – leading to massive rent increases and poor overcrowded and unfit accommodation – has not been addressed. This coupled with the grinding to a halt of new house building in the South of Ireland and the lack of government interest in providing any social housing – with only 75 social housing units being built in the whole of Ireland in 2015 by local councils(2) – has led to a massive shortage of housing and increasing homelessness.
Social housing waiting lists have risen considerable over the past 10 years. The most recent assessment of social housing waiting lists in May 2013 suggested there were some 90,000 on the waiting lists (3).
Homelessness has also increased with relatively new phenomenon of thousands of families made homeless due to inability to pay rents or mortgages and nearly 2,500 children in emergency homeless accommodation, usually (hostels or hotels) (4).
The main reason for the housing and homelessness problem in Ireland has been successive governments wedded to a neoliberalist ideology (i.e. promotion of the private market to deal with the welfare of the people rather than taking societal responsibility).
An added problem may be that many Government ministers are themselves private landlords with private interests in maintaining a vibrant profit making private rental market (5). Government policy, whether deliberately crafted to suit the private interests of Cabinet members de facto appears to benefit them.
More recently, some members of the public, supported by some celebrities, have attempted to highlight the lack of government action on relieving the housing crisis by occupying an empty government building in Dublin and attempting to open it up to those sleeping rough on the streets of the capital (6).
Such actions, though highlighting the lack of action by government cannot of course adequately deal with the multiple problems of those who are homeless or the massive problem of lack of adequate, suitable and fit accommodation for people’s housing needs in Ireland. The state cannot simply wash its hands of such problems and appeal to the market to deal with the need. It needs to take responsibility itself. It is primarily due to the neoliberalist deregulation policies of successive Irish governments supported by the EU Central Bank and the EU Commission that Banks failed and can no longer lend, that austerity policies were implemented and made the poor poorer and that private builders are no longer building houses. It’s the same approach to policy which has meant that successive Irish governments have stood idly by and refused to intervene to provide proper regulation of the private rented sector and take responsibility themselves for the new build necessary to cater for the growing housing need.