Housing crisis: a government of landlords for landlords




The housing crisis in Ireland continues to deepen. The situation moves from bad to worse, month by month, year by year. Homelessness figures continue to soar, having reached a new record high of almost 11,000 people in emergency accommodation.

This figure fails to highlight the hundreds of thousands of predominantly young people that are trapped, living in their parents’ homes. They are incapable of accessing the rental market which is now plagued by obscenely high rental costs and extremely low availability. Rental accommodation prices continue to soar, having risen 14% in the past year alone, with the average rent nationally standing at €1,688, while the Dublin average is a staggering €2,258. Such high rents make it impossible for young people to ever dream of saving to purchase a home, and the prospect opens up for millions to be in poverty in old age.

There is scarcely a family unaffected by the harsh effects of the housing crisis.  Most renters are just one step away from homelessness at all times due to the chronic rental shortage. This is serving to further exacerbate the mental health epidemic among the youth. Tenants live in constant fear of their landlord upping the rents or choosing to sell the property from beneath them. Daft.ie posted a meagre 716 properties available for rent in August 2022. Even if a tenant can somehow afford the sky-high rent, they are competing with hundreds of other applicants. The results are the scenes recorded in a video on social media, where over 100 applicants attempted to view a single house in Drumcondra in Dublin. This incident among many others reveals the stark reality renters face in finding a place to live.

In another scandalous incident which circulated on social media, a Maynooth University student was informed by her landlord that half of her double bed would be rented out for €25 a night. This is far from an isolated incident, with so-called ‘bed shares’ becoming common sightings on Daft.ie. These are the appalling lengths – placing young women in danger – which many landlords are prepared to go to in the pursuit of ever-higher rents. Other students are being forced to sleep in their cars while attending university, with many students even requesting their Students Union to allow them to pitch a tent on their grounds.

The number of homeless people sleeping in tents has become a shockingly common sight in Dublin. It is an utter disgrace that is exposing the callous indifference of Irish capitalism towards the most vulnerable in society. A heinous 382 homeless people have died on the streets of Dublin in the past 5 years. Landlords are making a literal killing from the crisis. All the while, 166,000 homes lie vacant across Ireland with at least another 20,000 derelict properties remaining idle.

Rental refugees

The ever-worsening crisis is creating a refugee crisis for the youth of Ireland. A recent survey carried out by RedC on behalf of the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) found  70% of 18-24 year olds are considering emigration due to the housing and cost of living crisis. Rampant landlordism is a symptom of the parasitism of the Irish capitalist class. This parasitism is creating masses of rental refugees who  are desperately fleeing a collapsing housing market.

As the Irish ruling class creates rental refugees of its own youth, it is blaming refugees from other lands for causing the very same crisis. Divide and rule is a tactic as old as capitalism itself. The very artificial scarcity that this system creates is used by the ruling class to pit the poor against one another. Like rats in a cage, they are incited to fight one another instead of turning their attention to the real enemy: the capitalists and landlords.

In East Wall, an inner-city, working-class neighbourhood in Dublin, the government’s plan to house Ukrainian refugees led to the eruption of protests by local residents. These protests are confused. They are blaming the wrong people and raising reactionary demands. But they derive from an understandable place of anger.

The government constantly tells us, “we haven’t got the money to build houses for you all.” But when the Ukraine war erupted, the FF-FG-Green government suddenly made a big show of their generosity. Ireland would open its doors and house thousands of Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war of ‘evil Putin’. Many are naturally left asking: “where was the money when our children needed housing?” Of course, it is not a question of ‘our’ children being given priority in housing over Ukrainian children, but of nationalising the wealth of the banks and monopolies to invest in decent quality housing for all. The wealth exists but it is in the hands of the capitalists and major landlords. The problem is the left and the unions have failed to raise a campaign around a socialist housing programme, and this has left the door open to right-wing demagogues to tap into the bubbling discontent.

In reality, the Irish government never cared about helping refugees. It was about scoring propaganda points against Russia for western imperialism of which the Irish government is a lackey. Of course, refugees of western imperialism’s wars and those displaced by climate change receive a cold reception. Indeed, just as the politicians of the ruling coalition cry crocodile tears for Ukrainian refugees, Green Party Minister Eamon Ryan has declared that people with full refugee status living in Direct Provision accommodation should now pay rent!

And having made use of Ukrainian refugees for political capital, they are now predictably turning their backs on them too. Over 400 Ukrainian asylum seekers and refugees who sought refuge in Ireland and were housed in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry are now being ordered to leave, the hotel owners having chosen not to renew their 6-month contract with the State to accommodate them. The Crowne Plaza is just one of 365 hotels housing refugees who  had contracts with the State that were set to expire by Christmas, many of whom have not renewed or are considering non-renewal in preparation for the highly profitable tourist season.

Raking it in

Accounts filed by one of the country’s largest accommodation providers – Michael Gillen’s Bridgestock Care Ltd – revealed its pre-tax profits grew by 128% since 2021 to €4.52 million. The report by the company states Gillen “is happy with the company’s performance and expects the company to continue to be profitable”. Gillen clearly expects the gravy train to continue rolling with no end in sight! The most vulnerable in society will continue to suffer while these social parasites continue to amass vast sums at their expense, with the Irish government continuing to aid and abet this gross exploitation.

Capitalism is dramatically failing to deliver on the most basic requirements for the working class and youth in Ireland. This raises the obvious question: why doesn’t the government take the necessary action to resolve the ever-worsening crisis? As the great Marxist revolutionary James Connolly aptly put it “governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class”. Under Irish capitalism, not only does the government represent landlords but many of them are in fact landlords themselves!

48 TDs and 29 Senators own rental properties or land, or both. To expect these TDs to take action to reduce rents would mean cutting across their own financial interests, which they are clearly not prepared to do. The recent scandal involving minister Robert Troy became emblematic of how the government will not take action to remedy a crisis they directly benefit from. The minister conveniently failed to declare ownership over a whopping 11 properties… at the same time as he was insisting that the Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien support landlords seeking to evict tenants during the pandemic when the moratorium on evictions was still in effect.

For a socialist housing policy!

Reliance on the ‘free market’ to dig Ireland out of the housing crisis has proven an abysmal failure.  Ireland’s housing crisis is part of an ongoing crisis of the system. If left to the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, the likelihood is the next decade will see even fewer houses being built than the already paltry amount. Of the 30,000 dwellings built in 2022, only 6,500 of these were social homes. This  fell short of the 9,000 targeted social homes, revealing the government’s increased reliance on the already failing private market for home building. The financial oligarchy directly benefits from the housing crisis. A lack of houses means higher prices for property and land. Housing, instead of being a basic need and a right, becomes an investment opportunity, as low house-building levels mean prices rise inexorably upward.

The rental sector has completely collapsed with paltry protections in place, allowing landlords to operate with near impunity in squeezing tenants for higher rents. House prices have once again  skyrocketed to pre-2008, Celtic Tiger levels. Workers and young people are completely priced out of purchasing their first home, therefore being forced into renting accommodation in tenement-like conditions due to the sheer high costs. 

What is needed is a socialist housing policy for the mass construction of social housing, providing the necessary affordable homes for all. As an emergency measure, we must expropriate the properties of the major landlords and hotel chains to house all of the homeless in the vacant homes and derelict properties across the country. 

Local authorities must be given the funds and resources to carry this out. This in turn requires the nationalisation of large construction companies, the banks, and the land. This can begin with seizing the land in the possession of the Catholic Church. No longer should this institution – that has committed a plethora of abhorrent crimes against the Irish people in cahoots with the Irish state – be allowed to reign supreme as the largest landowner in the country.

Access to safe and adequate housing is a basic social need. If capitalism cannot deliver on it, then capitalism must be overthrown. Only a society sick to the core would allow a small clique of landlords, bankers and developers to make insane profits out of the misery of millions of workers and young people. Power must be wrestled out of the hands of these social parasites and their political lackeys, and put in the hands of the working class.

The housing crisis is only getting worse under the rule of capitalism. True and decent housing for all can only be achieved by breaking with the rule of the market, abolishing private property ownership over the means of building houses, and, ultimately, through the socialist revolution.