As we enter the closing stages of 2022, the issue that has pushed its way to the top of public consciousness has been the ongoing housing crisis. Exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the influx of Ukrainian refugees, access to adequate housing in Ireland has become more and more difficult.
While it is true that the tumultuous nature of the last few years has greatly increased the severity of the crisis, it is not true to say that they are its root cause. Fundamentally, there is a contradiction between the class interests of those who are forced to rent (the majority of the Irish populace) and landlords.
The high level of homelessness that we see around our towns and cities every day serves an important function, in the same way unemployment does to employers: it ensures there is always a potential customer, “a floating reserve army of labour” (or those in need of shelter), and in so doing makes it a seller’s market, allowing for wages to be kept low, and rental prices high.
Similarly, the dereliction that stains our urban centres allows for the remaining rentable properties to be valued much higher (and even those derelict properties can garner landlords an increased income through speculation). To remedy these issues would be to negatively impact landlords economically.
Who then do we turn to in addressing these issues? The first response of many would be the government and our representatives in the Dáil. But therein lies an issue: many of the nation’s TDs are themselves landlords. How can they be expected to do what is necessary to alleviate the burden of the present crisis from the shoulders of the majority of the Irish populace, when to do so would affect their own finances negatively.
In a recent Irish Times piece, it was revealed that of our 220 representatives between the Dáil and Seanad, 80 (36%) own a rental property (or properties), land, or both. Many of them receive income from local authority schemes such as the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) or Rental Assistance Scheme (RAS). In fact, TD for Westmeath-Longford Robert Troy, who recently resigned his position as junior minister at the Department of Enterprise on the foot of a scandal surrounding his failure to declare his property interests, was in receipt of income from both schemes across his 11 properties.
As a TD he has used parliamentary questions to gain information on the RAS scheme in his constituency from the then Minister for Housing and has lobbied the same minister for increases to the HAP scheme. Most egregiously however, was his lobbying of the government to make it easier for landlords to evict their tenants during the pandemic’s rent freeze.
Troy is just one example of the liberties taken by landlord TD’s (and as the original breakers of his story TheDitch have since revealed, 75% of landlords in the Dáil have committed similar breaches), but his experience speaks to a broader issue. A third of TDs in government are landlords; the primary base and donorship of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are landlords. While Sinn Féin’s ranks are not as stacked with property owners, they are by no means strangers to the profession, especially in the North of Ireland.
The question should not be “Are landlord TDs willing to act against their own interests to benefit society generally?”. They have demonstrated through their deeds that they will not, and the sooner that they stop being relied on and trusted and other avenues are explored, the better for all.