On 11th September, a group of balaclava-clad men, protected by similarly balaclava-clad police, stormed 43 Frederick Street in the centre of Dublin, violently evicting a small group of protesters.
The property was one of a number that had been occupied in recent weeks by Take Back the City, a group that aims to highlight Ireland’s housing crisis and the absurdity of unoccupied houses confronting mass homelessness.
The images of this violent eviction have caused widespread revulsion and are seen as emblematic of the rottenness of the Republic: with the state, armed thugs and the landlord and capitalist classes standing one side; and the mass of workers and ordinary people standing on the other.
This is their answer to the peaceful protesters who, through their actions, are asking: is human life not more sacred than private property?
Government of the rich, for the rich
The wave of revulsion led 1,000 people to occupy O’Connell Street in the centre of Dublin the day after the eviction, with smaller protests in other cities.
As the evicted protesters have explained, once evicted they will simply occupy one of the other numerous unoccupied buildings in the city. A mass protest is planned for 3rd October, outside the Dail (parliament).
This issue isn’t going to go away for a government that is not just for the landlords, but is also of the landlords: 36% of Fine Gael’s TDs are themselves landlords.
Ireland is supposedly in the midst of an economic upswing and yet the country is in the grip of a spiralling homelessness crisis. It certainly doesn’t feel like a boom for most.
According to the official figures, more than 10,000 people are homeless. This figure includes no less than 4,000 children.
Properties vs homes
After the last crash, thousands of homeowners were left with huge debts and arrears to the big banks. The bankers needn’t have worried - the state happily stepped in with a bailout of €64 billion.
Now these same banks are returning to profit by selling off their portfolios of “non-performing loans” at cut down prices for “vulture funds” to merrily pick at the bones. That means foreclosing on thousands of workers’ homes.
Furthermore the housing market is once more in the grip of a speculative bubble that has left the Celtic Tiger looking more like a tabby cat by comparison.
Rents in Ireland today are 34% higher than they were at the peak of the housing bubble in 2008; and rents in Dublin are an incredible 73% higher than they just six years ago. It is no wonder that the housing question has developed explosive potential.
The picture is a familiar on a world scale. The “easy money” pumped out by central banks since 2008 - far from leading to investment - has lead to speculation in prime housing markets. From New York to London to Tel Aviv: house prices have spiralled out of control for the last eight years.
The result is that many of the world’s biggest urban centres have become “unlivable cities”, with housing costs outstripping the ability of workers to pay. In Dublin this boom in prices has spurred a boom in construction - but none of it has resulted in more affordable housing. Instead, investment is almost exclusively in office space and luxury apartments.
The government has complained that the lack of affordable housing is down primarily to the exorbitant price of land. And what a wonderful excuse for this government of landlords to privatise what little land the state does own for a mere song to private developers!
Only 40% of the land will be required for housing construction; and of that only 30% will have to be classed as “affordable”. According to housing minister Eoghan Murphy an affordable unit can be anything up to €320,000!
Expropriate the speculators!
It could not be clearer that the housing crisis in Ireland is unsolvable on the basis of capitalism. What is needed is a socialist revolution in Ireland and the formation of a Workers’ Republic.
Once power is taken out of the hands of the landlords and capitalists, such a government would nationalise all of the land. It would immediately take possession of the housing stock that has been hoarded by the big landlords and speculators and solve the homelessness crisis overnight.
Furthermore by nationalising the banks and the big construction companies, thousands of units of excellent quality, affordable housing could be built that would permanently solve Ireland’s housing needs.
As the great Irish Marxist James Connolly sardonically noted as early as 1899:
“Let us free Ireland! The rackrenting landlord; is he not also an Irishman, and wherefore should we hate him? Nay, let us not speak harshly of our brother – yea, even when he raises our rent… After Ireland is free... you will be evicted same as now. But the evicting party, under command of the sheriff, will wear green uniforms and the Harp without the Crown, and the warrant turning you out on the roadside will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic. Now, isn’t that worth fighting for?
“[...] I say, let us organise as a class to meet our masters and destroy their mastership; organise to drive them from their hold upon public life through their political power; organise to wrench from their robber clutch the land and workshops on and in which they enslave us; organise to cleanse our social life from the stain of social cannibalism, from the preying of man upon his fellow man.
“Organise for a full, free and happy life FOR ALL OR FOR NONE.”