Martin Luther King would have helped Irish homeless, says McVerry

Campaigner says housing is a ‘human right’ at commemoration of slain civil rights leader

A commemoration march in Dublin on Wednesday evening to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King was attended by Lord Mayor Mícheál Mac Donncha and Fr Peter McVerry. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Martin Luther King would have supported the fight against Ireland’s homeless crisis if he were alive today, an event marking the commemoration of his death has heard.

Dr King was shot dead on April 4th, 1968 by James Earl Ray as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

He had gone to the city to support striking sanitation workers in their struggle to gain better wages and working conditions.

His death shook the United States and led to nationwide protests in a year that would also bring race riots, violent anti-war demonstrations and the assassination of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.


Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said the State has failed to provide Irish people with the right to a home.

February figures show record levels of homelessness, with 9,807 individuals, including 3,755 children, now homeless.

“I have no doubt that if Martin Luther were alive and in Dublin today, he would lead the housing and homeless march in Dublin this Saturday in protest at a housing system which benefits the wealthy but not the poor,” he said.

Fr McVerry was speaking at an event in Dublin on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Racial inequality

“Racial prejudice and racial inequality still persist. The high concentration of black prisoners in US jails cannot be explained by the crime rates. Often too poor to raise bail, many black people languish in jail,” he said.

“In Ireland many homeless people languish in jail because they do not have the money to pay bail. When visiting Irish jails, people often tell me there is a €100 bail on them but they have no way of raising that bail and their families can’t afford it,” he said.

“Our political leaders refuse to refer to housing as a fundamental human right. Instead they refer to housing as a human requirement. The difference is not semantic– rights are enforceable in law,” said Fr McVerry.

Fr McVerry said Dr King’s dream “has not yet been realised”.

“Racial segregation is still alive and well in many US cities, with black communities living in one part of the city while wealthier white lives in another. Economic segregation is alive and well in US and Irish cities, with Dublin 4 just a few kilometres from this north inner city area. An invisible wall separates them. Much higher and more impassable than any wall Donald Trump could build,” he said.

Right to housing

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha also criticised the Government’s handling of the homeless crisis and called for the right to housing.

“If Martin Luther King were here with us this week, he would be joining us at the national march for housing this Saturday,” he said.

“Martin Luther King described the choice between exploitation and social justice as the choice between chaos and community. We are still faced with that choice today,” he said.

“Here in Ireland we face the choice, for example, between the chaos of housing policy, abandoned to the unbridled market, leaving tens of thousands of people without homes, or the community of the nation being served as it should be by a government policy that puts people’s rights before the profits of landlords and property speculators,” he said.

A minute’s silence was held at 6pm, the very time Dr King was shot.