As far back as the 19th century there has been a campaign to secure rights for tenants on this island. The Land League’s rallying cry for the three Fs (fixity of tenure, free sale and fair rent) was supposedly seared into the national psyche. Not deeply enough, judging by the stinging rebuke the country has just received from the UN.
In a damning indictment of housing policy, Ireland was one of six countries which the UN accused of “failing to regulate corporate landlords and protect tenants’ human right to secure housing”.
This Government has consistently shown itself to be tone deaf to the need for housing, given the scale of need. The UN salvo could not be more direct: “We remind all states that while gold is a commodity, housing is not, it’s a human right.”
Matters have been made considerably worse by the Government facilitating the hoovering up of swathes of homes by vulture funds.
The arrival of the giant foragers from the financial savannas make it virtually impossible for young couples to compete to buy homes on the open market, where they are competing with unlimited appetites with resources to match.
In its letter to the US government, the UN zoned in on the way corporate landlords bought thousands of ordinary family houses.
In this country it will be a subject of heated debate for many years to come – why so many homes were allowed to be sold off to the vulture funds at such massively discounted prices.
Certainly, a decade ago the crash made for hard choices – a government desperate to get the economy going again flogged all it could to get things moving.
Yet 10 years on, in the midst of a chronic shortage of new homes, it is reasonable to ask is there nothing we can do in terms of taking steps to secure our limited housing stock for the people who actually live, work and pay their taxes here?
As pointed out elsewhere in these pages today, Ireland is rapidly becoming a nation of renters.
When a body such as the UN is sufficiently concerned to warn us about “egregious” business practices of the giant private equity and investment firms buying up rental properties, the State should surely pay attention.
There are solutions such as the novel one proposed by the Land Development Agency in Shanganagh, Co Dublin. This will see a scheme where homes will be built and rented at cost.
The State has been inexplicably and culpably lax about introducing innovative polices which might stimulate social rented housing provision.
It has been equally slow to intervene in the private rental sector. As a result, tenants are left on the rack. Remember, we have 80,000 on housing lists and 10,000 homeless.
They say home is where you may find a light when all grows dark elsewhere. Too many will continue to be left in the dark unless the State wakes up to its responsibilities and prioritises people’s needs. If the UN is taking notice, is it not high time the Government did as well?