By Conor Payne
The decision to lift the ban on no-fault evictions on 1 April laid bare the right-wing, pro-landlord and anti-working class character of the Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael / Greens government. While the government likes to talk about how there are no easy solutions to the housing crisis and how they are doing everything they can, this was a conscious decision to make thousands of renters homeless, by a government that is packed with landlord members. The class contempt underlying this decision was highlighted by Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen’s comments that the eviction ban was like ‘making sweets free for children’.
Public outrage, political skulduggery
While the government knew the likely consequences, it didn’t necessarily expect the level of public backlash and political pressure that it has faced. Having already lost its formal majority in the Dáil, Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan also jumped ship, voting against the government on this issue. Other Green TDs, whatever concerns they might have expressed, shamefully voted to end the ban. And even Hourigan went on to vote her confidence in the same government that made this decision just a week later.
In the Dáil vote, the government was rescued by a significant number of right-wing Independents, some of whom posture as populists or opponents of the establishment. To be sure, they extracted some “concessions” in exchange for their support but these concessions consisted mainly of more handouts to Ireland’s struggling landlords! This episode shows the hollowness of the “Independent” label. These TDs are certainly not independent of the landlords and developers and now they are not even independent of Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. The real question is not whether a politician is an Independent, but what they stand for; are they on the side of working class-people or of the wealthy elite?
Despite the widespread public opposition, the government pressed ahead and lifted the ban. It has tried to move on the discussion by attacking Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin O Broin for tweeting a piece of art which accurately depicted the Gardaí facilitating evictions. It successfully pressured Sinn Féin into a climbdown, with Mary Lou McDonald saying that: “we have to be very clear that the Gardaí have to do their job”.
Radical change needed
This decision pours petrol on an already raging fire – ten years of a housing emergency with no end in sight. The real issue now is building a fightback against evictions and to demand housing for all. Many who receive notices to quit will simply have nowhere to go and will choose to stay in their homes past the eviction date rather than become homeless. Overholding is not a criminal offense, it just puts you in dispute with your landlord. The information on overholding needs to be promoted, but crucially, networks of solidarity should be built which can stand in solidarity with anyone who chooses to resist their eviction.
A mass housing movement is needed on the streets, in workplaces, colleges and communities to demand a reinstatement of the eviction ban, the conversion of the huge numbers of vacant buildings into public housing and a massive state programme to build public housing on public land. The trade unions are a key force which could build this movement, with hundreds of thousands of members, many of them hit hard by this crisis.
The government has been weakened by these events, and for many it will underline again that we need Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael out of office. This is essential, but a new government will not bring real change unless it breaks with the capitalist framework which has dictated this government’s approach to housing. In this capitalist system, housing is treated as a commodity for the profit of landlords and developers, not as a human need and right. We need socialist change, bringing the abundant wealth of this tiny elite into democratic public ownership, and using it to provide decent homes for all.