Up to 10,000 attend rally demanding end to housing crisis
‘At least half a million people...whose housing situation is causing them serious distress’ - Fr Peter McVerry
The housing and homelessness crises are now affecting “everyone” and could become “the new water charges” in terms of mobiling protesters, those at a rally demanding action on the issue said on Wednesday.
Up to 10,000 people, from all age groups, sectors and parts of the country, took part on the #RaiseTheRoof protest outside Leinster House in Dublin.
Organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the National Homelessness and Housing Coalition the rally was supported by all political parties except Fine Gael, the Union of Students in Ireland, Traveller organisations, the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), church groups, grass-roots housing activist groups and organisations working with asylum seekers.
Protestors began gathering at 12.30pm, while student groups – which accounted for about 3,000 of those present - marched from the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square. Many of these could not enter Molesworth Street, which faces Leinster House, as it was full and had to remain on adjoining South Frederick Street.
Students carried placards with such slogans as ‘€255 a week is not a solution’ and ‘We should not pay an arm and a leg to broaden our mind,’ while chanting such slogans as, “When housing rights are under attack, stand up, fight back” and “One, two, three, four, this is class war.”
Scores of senators and TDs were there, including a contingent from the Labour party which was greeted by chants of “Labour, Labour, Labour, out, out, out” from other protestors for several minutes. This was, explained someof those hanting, for Labour’s perceived role in policies precipitating the housing crisis while in government with Fine Gael between 2011 and 2016.
Orla O’Connor, chief executive of the NWCI, said the housing crisis was the “most serious equality challenge” facing society and was disproportionately affecting women.
“Every day women and children are being driven out of their homes due to rent increases. There are now 2,500 women who are homeless.
“Women are more likely to be in invisible forms of homelessness, more likely to stay and move between friends and family and current figures do not represent the women in domestic violence refuges or direct provision centres.”
She said homelessness was “devastating” lone parent families who make up 60 per cent of families in emergency accommodation.
Housing campaigner Fr Peter McVerry, said there were “at least half a million people...whose housing situation is causing them serious distress.
“The reliance on the private sector to resolve our housing crisis has been clearly a failure. We need to let [the Government] know: ‘Change your policy’. We have the same mantra from the Government again and again and again ‘Our homelessness policies are working’. There is no evidence that they are working...There will be an election coming...Let our politicians know: We are going to vote homelessness out.”
Amy Carey was there with six colleagues from the Solas Project, which works with young people in the north inner-city. “We’re all here because we see the impact the crisis is having on young people and children.”
Suzy Kell, from Islandbridge, Dublin, had never been on a protest. “Every single day I walk past homeless people on the street and I cannot offer them anything. It’s getting worse and I feel so frustrated.”
Louise McLarron, (21) from Belfast, studying International Relations at Dublin City University was there with her sister, Katie, (19) also at DCU. “If this crisis is not solved we are facing a cross-border commute daily to go to college. It’s good they are building student accommodation but it’s luxury. It’s €10,000 for ten months. We don’t need gyms and cinemas. We need affordable student accommodation.”
‘Dragging his feet’
Pasty Doolin (64), from Ringsend, was with neighbours who have been campaigning for public and affordable housing for the Irish Glass Bottle factory site.
“We’re nearly three years waiting years for social and affordable housing. The Minister is dragging his feet...Everyone is being hurt by it now, like the water charges. There’s going to have to be nothing short of a rebellion in this country.”
Organisers said they were “overwhelmed” with the numbers that had mobilised “for a lunch time protest in the middle of the week” and said there would be a Saturday afternoon protest in coming weeks to which they hoped many tens of thousands would attend.
Speaking in advance of Wednesday’s protest the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) Sheila Nunan said there will be more protests about the housing crisis and they will be “larger and noisier”.
Ms Nunan told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that it was important to highlight the people’s frustration.
The State needs to dramatically improve its approach to social housing, she said.
“HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) is haemorrhaging money in the wrong direction. The State needs to take a much stronger direction.”
Models such as the O’Cualain affordable housing project in Ballymun indicated that it is possible to provide houses at good prices, she said.
However, there appears to be a resistance in the Government to providing social housing as there has been “appalling slow progress” in local authorities providing housing “while HAP continues to seep out”.
“The evidence speaks for itself. The only way to do this is with a Government-driven social housing policy.”
If the Government gets its housing policy correct then other benefits will follow, said Ms Nunan, who called for an increase in funding for social housing in the forthcoming Budget.
She acknowledged that many of the people affected by the housing crisis might not be able to attend Wednesday’s protest because they have to work or are busy trying to find emergency accommodation.
“This isn’t about numbers. The Government has to listen to the mood music. There is only one coherent way to solve this issue.
“People are now at boiling point, this is going to lead to more protests. People need to be convinced that this is a central plank for government. They need hope. The protests are going to get larger and noisier.”
On the same programme Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty defended the Government’s housing policy. “People are right to be angry, it’s a democracy.
“We are in year two of a six-year programme, we had to cut, cut, cut for the first five years of being in government. For the first five years there wasn’t a bean.
“When the economy started to recover the first thing we did was introduce a housing policy. Project 2040 is going to deliver 100,000 houses in the next 10 years. Maybe progress is not as quick as people like, but it is going in the right direction.”
Ms Doherty acknowledged the speed with which social houses are being built may not be fast enough, “but they can only be built at the rate that they can build them.”