On May 19, thousands of Irish citizens took to the streets in Dublin to protest government inaction on the ongoing housing crisis in the country. The march was organized as part of the ‘Raise the Roof’ campaign, which demands radical action to address Ireland’s increasing homelessness and skyrocketing rent rates. The protesters marched from Parnell Square to the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell street, carrying signs and chanting “For the people, not for profits!” and “Raise the roof, not the rent!”
‘Raise the Roof’ demands an end to evictions into homelessness, timely provision of public housing built on public land by local authorities, and an end to excessive reliance on the profit driven private sector to supply public housing. It also demands the formal insertion of ‘right to housing’ into the the Irish Constitution. The initiative is led by the National Housing Coalition, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Union of Students in Ireland, and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.
Latest figures from Ireland’s Department of Housing show that 10,305 people were registered as homeless in March, including 3,821 children. This number has spiked from nearly 3,000 in 2014.
Insufficient supply in the housing market and a shrinking social housing system has forced people to opt for private-rented housing. Private tenancies, for the most part, are unregulated. The landlords often upsell property and charge exorbitantly high rents. Vulnerable communities, especially students, refugees, and the Irish Traveler community, often find it difficult to obtain and retain such housing, resulting in forceful evictions and homelessness.
Rita Fagan, a community activist from the Liberties in Dublin who was present at the protest, pointed to one such case of forceful eviction. “In Emmet Manor, there are 27 families being evicted and given termination notices. They can do so because of the legal system says they can because they’re doing it up. These people, whether we like it or not, by September will be made homeless,” she said.
In 2016, the government had unveiled the “Rebuilding Ireland” housing policy in response to the worsening crisis. The policy was supposed to construct new public houses for the homeless and control property costs with its Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme and the Rental Accommodation Scheme. However, it has failed to deliver on these promises as homelessness and rent costs have continued to rise at an unprecedented rate.
“The Government’s Housing strategy is not working. And yet, every month when the homeless figures come out, they keep insisting the strategy is working. The emperor has no clothes and until they realize they have no clothes, nothing is going to change,” said activist Fr Peter McVerry.
The protesters said that politicians in power need to be held accountable in the next elections for their lethargic response. “There are local elections coming and people need to be asking candidates on the doorsteps what they’re going to be doing to make sure public houses and affordable houses are built. It’s the only way this crisis is going to end. It’s getting worse,” said Keith Troy, a construction worker participating in the protest.
In September 2018, opposition party Sinn Fein had moved a non-confidence vote in Dail, the lower house of the Irish parliament, against the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, for mishandling of the crisis.