President says Government must ‘face up’ to homelessness

Michael D Higgins calls for establishment of an ‘enterprise agency’ for housing


The Government needs to “face up to the challenge” of the housing crisis and intervene more assertively in the market, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Calling for consideration for the establishment of an ‘enterprise agency’ for housing, which would “play a role in the market [and] the same IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland, ” he said the Constitutional position, which protects both property rights and the common good, had to be addressed.

“There is today...a fixed supply of residential building land – fixed by tenure but defined by the planning laws of the State and good planning with the provision of housing is a necessary part of social cohesion.

“How are we to balance the responsibility of a just social usage with the absolutist claims of inviolable private titled and usage?”

Speaking at a conference in Dublin to mark the 30th anniversary of the policy think-tank Social Justice Ireland, President Higgins said the “interventionist role of the State” in land and housing provision “was accepted” earlier in the State’s history.

“The interventionist role of the State has to be adequate for circumstances that change, circumstances that affect the cohesion of society at home and in the European Union. ” The market was being allowed to dominate in areas it should not, he said.

“You can have a sickness industry or you can have a health policy. You can have a homeless response or you can have a housing policy. All of this requires a discussion on what is the role of the market and what is the role of the State.

“There is a contradiction between designated building land and the fact it’s not coming to market.

“You must face up the challenge. The challenge is there are protections in the Constitutions but there are protections for social aspiration too. In the end we are in a time where we are going to be debating more and more how we balance the rights of communities versus the extreme versions of the right to leave a site unused, neglected, forever.”

There was “one thing” that was in no doubt.

“The next 10 years will be about the return of the State to provision [of services and infrastructure] and the debate will be about how the State can best meet the needs of the [people].

“If this does not happen then you can look forward to a situation where... you are going to have ever, ever more wealthy people living behind gated communities and the people on the street getting ever more discontented and made available to be the prey of people who will revive them in xenophobic hatred, racism.”

Warning against the apparent demonisation in mainstream politics and media, of those protesting against the political establishment, as “populist”, he said.

“To dismiss the excluded simply as negative carriers of populism is wrong. There have been after all popular movements that initiated change in the form of achieving or deepening democracy towards universal health provision, housing and social protection.”