By Mick Barry TD
Just after Christmas, a corpse was found in the grounds of a derelict house in Cork. The head and the arms had been severed from the dead man’s body. The dead man was Frankie Dunne from the Northside of Cork city. Frankie had been homeless and had been living with the Simon Community.
He was the second homeless man to have been murdered in Cork city in the last few months.
These two deaths have brought home starkly the various vulnerabilities facing people when they are homeless. They have also brought home starkly the need to declare a housing and homelessness emergency and for emergency action to be taken on the issues
Officially, more than 10,500 people including nearly 4,000 children were living in emergency accommodation this Christmas. The media often quote these numbers as being the numbers of people who are homeless in the State, but the numbers living in emergency accommodation and the numbers who are homeless are two quite different things.
The 10,500-plus figure does not include people who are sleeping rough, people who are couch-surfing, women and children in refuges for victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers forced into Direct Provision centres or people living in emergency shelters not funded by local authorities.
The reality is that the number of homeless people in the State is actually many, many tens of thousands. It would be entirely possible to successfully tackle the homelessness crisis if the political will was there.
Because the majority of people who enter homelessness do so from the private rented sector, a key policy change needed is to ban evictions into homelessness. Solidarity TDs Mick Barry and Ruth Coppinger have put forward an Anti Eviction Bill which would ban evictions on grounds of sale of property or on grounds of renovation. Evictions on grounds of sale of property are banned in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Denmark.
But even this modest proposal is a bridge too far for the pro-landlord Fine Gael Government, which in turn of course has been propped up by Fianna Fáil. The Government have done everything in their power to use parliamentary blocking mechanisms to delay the passing of this legislation.
Movement of working class people needed
Bringing in real rent controls which cut rents and freezing them, as well as building social and affordable housing on a mass scale would also help tackle the crisis, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have consistently refused to take or to demand such action. All of this points to the need to build a mass movement of working class people to demand action on these issues.
That is how we forced Fine Gael to retreat on the water charges, and it is the only way that any real change benefitting ordinary people will be won. The trade union movement has a special responsibility to play a role in this and must be put under real pressure to act.
The election of fighting socialist TDs such as Ruth Coppinger and myself will be important to assist in building such a movement and to provide a voice for such a movement in the Dáil.