Thousands of people who marched in Dublin on Saturday afternoon to protest the lack of affordable housing in the capital and around the country heard calls from union leaders and representatives of community groups and NGOs for the Government to use public land for the construction of major social housing projects.
The event was organised by the Raise the Roof campaign, an alliance between Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), its member unions, opposition parties and groups various organisations working in the sector.
All of the opposition parties participated, with Sinn Féin and People Before Profit particularly prominent.
Ictu vice-president Phil Ni Sheaghdha told the crowd the country would not be able to retain the workforce it needs to deliver essential services if it did not give people the basic assistance they require to live in secure accommodation.
“We know that rents in this city and in other parts of our country have now gone beyond the salaries of many reasonably paid workers,” she said. “We have members working in this city… nurses, midwives, teachers, guards and all other professionals that are very necessary to keep our society going, who now are paying over 50 per cent of their wages for rent. That’s simply not affordable, they will not stay.
“The aim of this campaign is fairly straightforward, we believe that State lands should be used to build housing , to build the affordable housing we need to keep the people in this country that we need to provide the services we need.
“Policy must change now to allow people, from cradle to grave, to meet the very modest aspiration of having a roof over your head.”
Focus Ireland’s Louise Bayliss told the crowd that homelessness, or the threat of it, was no longer something that was confined to the poorest in society. She said that her organisation receives a growing number of inquiries from people in employment who can afford to pay substantial rents but still find themselves struggling to get accommodation if they are forced to leave their existing homes for any reason.
“The private rental market is shrinking so much that anybody who gets a notice of termination at the moment can find themselves in difficulty. Because they’re renting, they are at risk of homelessness, because there just aren’t the properties,” she said.
“It’s not just even about affordability, it’s about supply and we’re getting people who are coming to us all the time who are looking for support around their rights around when they get the notice of termination, and it is worrying that we are seeing the changing face of homelessness.”
Residents of the East Wall area of Dublin, where protests against the housing of refugees in a former ESB office block in the area are ongoing, were among the thousands that participated in the event. Gardaí said they could not provide an estimate of the crowd numbers.
East Wall community activist Joe Mooney addressing the gathering on Merrion Square acknowledged the anger in an area where, he said, the housing policies of the 1930s and 40s had delivered good homes and, with them, a strong community. There had been a consistent failure in more recent times to provide additional social housing in the area and he particularly criticised the way the docklands had been redeveloped in the boom.
“This goes back a long time and the anger has built but… it doesn’t matter whether you’re a refugee, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an economic immigrant, it doesn’t matter if you can trace your family roots in a community back six or seven generations,” he said.
“Everybody deserves to be accommodated. Everybody deserves a roof over their head. The Government are failing, the political parties are failing. They failed everybody, and everybody who has been failed needs to stand together. And demand proper housing for all.”