John McAnulty’s short, readable pamphlet couldn’t be timelier. On 3rd October, a reported 12,000 people marched through Dublin demanding real government action to tackle the country’s acute housing crisis. Allowing for the relative size of Ireland, that’s the rough equivalent of 120,000 people marching through London – on a Wednesday!
This mass movement didn’t come from nowhere. It was the culmination of a broad-based national campaign encompassing tenant and homeless groups, trade unions, opposition political parties and church and other civic organisations. This alliance – the Homeless and Housing Coalition – was four painstaking years in the making. But the perennial problems of building a united front is having its rewards. The Irish government is now under serious pressure on housing – being held to account for its failure in a way the UK government is not.
Perhaps one of the problems facing housing justice campaigns is that the crisis is losing its capacity to shock. But the rising anger in Ireland is a reward for persistence. Local and national demonstrations have been augmented by a consistent press and social media strategy that has made sure the issue isn’t allowed to be forgotten. Again, there are lessons to learn here, particularly in relation to the Grenfell Tower atrocity.
McAnulty sets the current situation in historical perspective, particularly the fall-out from the 2007/08 economic crash. Quite rightly, he argues: “The roots of the current housing crisis lie in this earlier period of public spending cuts and privatisation” (p27).
However, he also seeks to link the issue to Ireland’s longer history, particularly through anti-imperialist analysis. A short pamphlet can only skim the deep-rooted relationship between Irish people and their land, but it’s essential to relate today’s struggles for housing rights to the vicious history of landlordism and evictions.
Within this analysis are criticisms of the leadership of Ireland’s labour movement for failing to adequately confront Austerity in the Republic and Sinn Fein for their “capitulation” to it in the North. These are valid points that could equally be applied in the UK context. Neither the British Labour Party, not the TUC have treated the housing issue with sufficient seriousness. But in a short publication, it might be more useful to accentuate the positive of a grass roots movement that’s happening in spite of the bureaucrats and establishment politicians.
Similarly, locating the crisis with reference to classical Marxist analysis may not immediately resonate with the thousands of Irish people struggling to find and keep a roof over their heads. The balance between writing about political theory and practice is always a delicate one. But the more compelling and pertinent passages of McAnulty’s pamphlet are his succinct descriptions of how the Irish people bailed out big business after the crash and yet its government remains in thrall to the speculative private property market. Comparisons with the UK are stark. For example, despite the damage it has caused, elements of the Labour Party remain stuck in the failed pro-market, public/private partnership model (as reflected in the party’s green paper on housing).
The upsurge of working class militancy on housing in Ireland should be an inspiration elsewhere. The housing crisis is a global pandemic and calls for an internationalist response by the labour movement. This pamphlet provides a useful summary of how Ireland got into the mess, but it’s the same story everywhere. We all need to get involved in the struggle to get out of it.
A speaker from the Irish Homeless and Housing Coalition will be at the Safe Homes for All Summit on 8th December.
Read the pamphlet here.