The first thing I should say is thank you.
I wrote here a few weeks ago about being evicted from my home of eleven years, as my landlord is selling off the building. It was a horrible experience, and I spent seven of my statutory nine months’ notice searching in vain for a new place. The worry and uncertainty gnaw away at you.
I’m sorted, so thank you. Thank you to everyone who read my column and to everyone who asked if I was okay.
Despite being blessed with this platform, I tend not to talk about myself – I’m a pretty private person behind it all – but sometimes you have to put your head above the parapet, don’t you?
I felt it would be dishonest of me – in the midst of the worst housing crisis in the history of the State – not to mention that I was myself in trouble. I was very conscious that I didn’t want to bandwagon so serious an issue, so I was very careful to make clear that I have family and friends and wasn’t likely to be sleeping on the street.
The column I wrote became one of the most-read pieces I’ve ever written here and it led to a pretty awful appearance on Liveline and a better on-air chat with Matt Cooper on ‘The Last Word’. I wouldn’t be a great media performer. A friend in RTÉ suggested that the next time Liveline rings, I hang up and change my number immediately.
On Twitter, one or two people did accuse me of bandwagoning homelessness to get a column, or sympathy, or even a home, out of the story. But then, he who lives by the tweet… On the other hand, I was swamped with kind messages, and I was very humbled by a tweet from Helen McCormack of the Simon Community, who noted that I have written many times about the issue of homelessness, long before it ever came knocking on my own door.
Anyway, the column was read by a very kind couple who own a cottage and they decided they would be interested in renting it, so they called into The Avondhu office in Fermoy to ask to speak with me.
It’s a most beautiful place, out in the countryside, by the river. I’m delighted at the light and the space. There’s even a stove, something which is a big deal to someone used to expensive and unreliable storage heaters, so I’m looking forward to listening to my Rory Gallagher records in comfort for the winter.
So I’m sorted. Thank you.
But here’s the thing. I’m only sorted because I have the privilege of having a column in the newspaper.
Last week’s top story in The Avondhu was written by Eoin Scanlon and had the headline ‘135 applications for one social house’. As it happens, I was talking with the father of one of the unsuccessful candidates and – naturally – he felt his daughter was a far more worthy candidate. That’s only human nature, and I sympathised, but I couldn’t help but ask whether the real issue isn’t that the right or the wrong person got the single social house, but rather that 134 people – including his daughter – are being failed utterly by Cork County Council. And that situation is replicated in every county, every city and every town in the land.
Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Irish Times two weeks ago, made the point that Ireland cannot truthfully be said to have a housing crisis. “A crisis, properly speaking, is a moment of breakdown that leads to a resolution”. Looking back through the archives as far back as November 5, 1913, (“Government rejects Commission of Inquiry over Irish housing; Widespread criticism over failure to deal with housing crisis”) O’Toole says we have never had a resolution.
“We’ve had a revolution, a civil war, two World Wars, a new State, the declaration of a Republic, membership of the European Union, the Celtic Tiger. Nothing has changed the reality that this is a society that refuses to accept a duty to decently house all its citizens.”
O’Toole contends that the housing ‘crisis’ – a century old or older – exists only because we collectively choose to allow it to perpetuate.
“We have periods in which a sense of shame becomes intolerable and we build public housing on a large scale. But these are periods of remission in a chronic disease. The old fever breaks out again, the delusion that the market – if it is properly incentivised – will provide housing for all. And we default to the norm, to the crisis that is not a crisis but an ideological choice.”
The only way this will ever change is if we tell our elected representatives that we want it to change. It is within our power to fix housing in Ireland. It is within your power. Here is a contact list for every Oireachtas member. Pick up the phone. Tell your TDs you want an Ireland that is serious about social housing.
O’Toole observes that in 2006, at the height of the boom, a total of 236,000 people were unable to access private housing without State assistance.
“If the market couldn’t solve a housing crisis (then), it is never going to do so.”
We need a fundamental ideological shift in our thinking and we need to invest massively in social housing in this country. Otherwise we’ll just continue on as we have done for a hundred years or more and the only people we will have to blame for that will be ourselves.
Tonight there will be over 8,000 people homeless in Ireland. Over 3,000 of them are children.
If only everyone facing homelessness had a column in the newspaper.