Housing crisis is a ‘shaming thing’, Roddy Doyle tells Citizens’ Assembly

Group asked to consider and report to Oireachtas on new local government structures for Dublin

The housing crisis is a "shaming thing", the writer Roddy Doyle said at the opening session of the Dublin Citizens' Assembly in Malahide, Co Dublin.

“During the lockdown the country saw how things happened that were meant to be impossible, he told the assembly, which is to consider the establishment of new local government structures for the capital city.

“So much was suddenly possible. I can’t see why that can’t be possible with the housing problem,” he said.

The problem could not be solved overnight “but it is ideological, I think. It is a willingness to solve it”.


“It is a shaming thing. We are living in a great country, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but we don’t seem to be able or willing to sort this problem out.”

The assembly is a body of 80 members, chaired by the former manager of the Dublin GAA football team, Jim Gavin, that has been asked to consider and report to the Oireachtas on new local government structures for Dublin, including a directly-elected Lord Mayor.

In his address to the opening session, Mr Doyle said that, for him, Dublin was really about words.

“Dublin is not a place. Dublin is a sound. Dublin is the sound of people talking. Dublin city is the sound of people who love talking, who love words, who love taking words and playing with them.”

He said he knew he was being sentimental at a time when the cost of buying a home or renting one was impossibly high, and when we had been through a “rough, rough time and we seem to be heading into a different, even rougher time”.

“Dublin people can’t afford to live in Dublin… but the people of Dublin will always own their words and Dublin will thrive because Dublin is a city that never shuts up.”

‘Primate city’

Dublin City University (DCU) geographer, Dr Ruth McManus, said housing had always been an issue for Dublin, which was a “primate city” or a city that was disproportionately prominent relative to the rest of the country, as are London and Paris.

Dr Bríd Quinn from the University of Limerick said the role of the local public representative had become so complex that many might think they did not have the capacity to do the job well. This was a negative, she said, as was the staff turnover in local authorities, which could lead to loss of institutional history.

Members of the Dáil who don’t get involved in local constituency issues won’t get re-elected, and this often leads to them “trampling” over matters that were the proper concern of councillors, said Dr Aodh Quinlivan from University College Cork.

Prof Deiric Ó Broin from DCU said the tax base of local authorities had been narrowing over recent decades and this was an important matter when it came to planning and investment.

Mr Gavin said that one of the issues the assembly would have to consider was whether a directly-elected mayor would have a mandate in relation to housing.

The assembly is to hear from academics, councillors and others in the political system, as well as local authority staff and the people of Dublin, before outlining “what has to change for us to deliver on our dream for a new or different Dublin”, Mr Gavin said.

On Sunday morning, the assembly will hear from the chief executives of the four Dublin local authorities.

Submissions to the assembly can be made be made online atcitizensassembly.ie.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent