The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) says it is hopeful a recommendation before the end of the year by the Housing Commission that a referendum be held on the issue will provide the basis for “a very positive and very wide debate around housing”.
Congress’s campaign manager Macdara Doyle said an such an announcement would provide the basis for the “next big phase” of a campaign on what he described as “an absolutely central issue for the trade union movement”.
His comments came on Saturday after a Raise the Roof protest in Dublin organised by an alliance that includes Ictu, its member unions, various opposition political parties and a number of organisations who work in the sector. After a march from Parnell Square to Merrion Square, an estimated 3,000 people stayed to hear speeches deeply critical of current Government policies and see musicians including Lisa O’Neill, Laura Quirke and Donal Lunny perform.
There were a number of calls during the event for a referendum on the issue. The matter has been considered for a number of months by a sub-committee of the Housing Commission, which ran a public consultation on the matter. The Department of Housing has said a recommendation will be issued before the end of the year. Almost 11,000 people were recorded as being homeless in the latest official figures, and campaigners say that number is an underestimation.
Ictu vice-president Phil Ni Sheaghdha told the crowd on Saturday the country would not be able to retain the workforce it needed to deliver essential services if it did not give people the basic assistance they required 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, 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,” she said.