In the midst of the housing crisis and rising rents for students, finding affordable accommodation is practically impossible. More and more students are having to commute for hours or even defer their college place for a year. To discuss this in more detail, the Politics Society (PolSoc) hosted Dublin’s Fair City: A Panel Discussion on the Future of Housing in Dublin as their first speaker event of the year. With a guest list consisting of TDs, lecturers, and students, they provided a wide range of perspectives to discuss how the housing crisis is being tackled. With increasing housing protests and growing strife over the unfairness students are experiencing, an event like this was the perfect opportunity to empower students with more knowledge on the current housing situation in Ireland from people with first hand experience of how it works.
The panel was opened by a speech from the PolSoc’s Chair James McGrane-Ero, who kindly introduced all the speakers and gave an overview of the event. With only an hour to hear from all six speakers, James went straight to asking the Labour Party senator, Rebecca Moynihan, about Labour’s Renters’ Rights Bill. Moynihan set the tone for the event by emphasising the importance of fair, secure, and affordable housing. With the majority of student housing in Dublin being owned by private companies, there is very little security for students. The lack of regulation means unfair rent increases are sought by landlords through claims that they have substantial renovations to carry out in a flat, or by adding unnecessary extras to student accommodation such as bowling alleys or cinema rooms. Moynihan explained that these rent increases are pushing students out, which is why government funds are needed for student housing. Leaving it up to the private sector will just lead to more for-profit housing, blocking students from education.
Next to speak was Cian O’Callaghan, a TD and the deputy leader of the Social Democrats. He began his talk by emphasising the number of people with key skills we are losing in Ireland each year as unaffordable housing pushes them out. We cannot continue this way if people in professions like teaching and nursing can barely afford a place to stay. He believes there should be a stricter tax on vacant homes, as there are over 100,000 vacant properties in Ireland which could be put to good use. He also wants to put a stop to no-blame evictions. Currently, tenants can be given just a two month notice for no-fault evictions, leading to very precarious housing situations. He explained that it was a political choice by the Irish Government to not prioritise housing. Irish policy continues to show the Irish Government’s lack of care for housing as a human right. O’Callaghan emphasised that if even 10,000 new homes were built every year in Ireland, it would go a long way.
Next up was our very own SU president, László Molnárfi.
“As one of the main organisers of some of the recent student housing protests in Dublin, it was very insightful to hear his perspective in greater detail”
Similarly to the other speakers, he pushed for publicly-built, university-owned accommodation. He highlighted the two-tier college experience we are creating for students by forcing some to commute for hours, leading to them being unable to participate in the social life college has to offer. He then went on to challenge the criticisms made against recent student protests, namely the claim that students do not understand economics. With rent increases happening every year for Trinity accommodation, we are not seeing this money go to student services. Students are made to pay higher and higher fees that are going to management instead of important services such as free menstrual products. He finished his talk on a hopeful note, emphasising the importance of grassroots organisations such as the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU).
The People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, furthered the discussion by adding that the type of accommodation we build is just as crucial as the amount. If we increase student accommodation but continue to let it be controlled by private investors, it will not help anyone and will only continue to make housing unaffordable. Rory Hearne, a senior policy analyst and lecturer, spoke in detail of the Irish Government’s neoliberal policies. Leaving welfare policies up to the market will prioritise profit over the wellbeing of workers. He explained how it is clear through Irish policies that the government does not treat housing as a human right but as a way to gain more profit. The last speaker was Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin. He wanted to push that at least 30% of housing should be publicly owned, again prioritising quality homes over landlords. He wrapped up the talk nicely by stating that we should not only focus on the problems but also highlight and have hope that things can be different.
After each speaker went through their points, the PolSoc committee ended the talk by asking some interesting questions. One of these was about the balance between housing Irish citizens and immigrants. Richard Boyd Barret was the first to answer by emphasising that blaming immigrants for the housing crisis is just a way to pit people against each other. There is not an issue with the number of resources available, but the distribution of resources. Eoin Ó Broin continued the conversation by explaining asylum seekers are not taking up space in houses as they are in temporary accommodation. They have a right to housing yet are in some of the worst accommodation available in a separate and distinct system to Irish citizens.
“This was a very important discussion considering the rise in anti-immigration attitudes in Ireland”
PolSoc set the tone for the year ahead with their first speaker event. It included several great speakers, all from different backgrounds and with interesting perspectives. Giving a resource like this to students to help educate them about the current housing situation is extremely important. By holding other events like this, students will have more knowledge when facing precarious housing situations and unfair landlords themselves. PolSoc’s Chair, James, and Social Secretary, Lara Smith, added: “PolSoc was very satisfied with the panel event, we especially found the discussion of the far right’s anti-immigration narrative interesting and we’re planning on going into this topic in more detail in the future.”