Was It For This?

In Blogby Niall O'Sullivan1 Comment

arbour hill

Above: Some portraits celebrating the memory of the executed leaders of the 1916 rising at Arbour Hill last week. Check out more shots from Jamie Goldrick here.


Last week’s 1916 commemoration was a grandiose spectacle, imbued with a huge amount of national symbolism and with no cost spared. Niall O’Sullivan says it’ll change nothing for the growing thousands of homeless men, women and children in emergency accommodation or those sleeping rough within earshot of the ceremonies.

Tricolours adorned every square foot of O’Connell Street. Aircraft flyovers, a huge military parade, open air concerts and plenty of ceremonial speech-making were the order of the day. Political rivals Martin McGuinness and Joan Burton shared jokes like old pals.

The old Fianna-Failure Taoiseach alumni Bertie and Cowen watched the procession with all the glee of children watching their favourite football team. Almost 250,000 people turned out to watch the precision-planned blockbuster of Irishness.

The proclamation read on the steps of the GPO unequivocally declares “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland.” So what the leaders and visionaries of 1916 would think of the almost 1,500 homeless children, the events of Tyrellstown or NAMA’s scramble to sell 90% of our “bad assets” to US vulture funds is anyone’s guess.

We’ve become numb as a people to images of our elected representatives walking past the homeless, of shelters outside Leinster House being torn down, of families being thrown out of their homes.

What should be seen as a national emergency and epidemic has been, unlike the fanfare of the ceremonies, met with deafening silence by the establishment.

With all the inward reflection on the significance of the sacrifice taken on by those involved in the Rising, stark parallels can be drawn between the Ireland of then and the Ireland of today.

Only change the names and accents of those responsible in this human tragedy and you have the same situation. The absentee landlords of early 20th century Ireland have been replaced by foreign US “vulture funds.”

As NAMA, a state agency supposedly representing the people, sells off swathes of Irish homes and property to hide the gambling debts of the bankers.

The dreaded Royal Irish Constabulary has been replaced by sheriffs and bailiffs, only too ready to boot stubborn families onto the street, often with the full consent and protection of the Gardaí.

James Connolly, 1916 revolutionary and visionary was, along with many authors of the proclamation, a passionate opponent of this wholesale abuse of a basic human right. The absentee landlords, British government and propertied classes of the time ensured that Dublin had some of the worst slums in Europe, and also the world.

Connolly exposed this right at the heart of the empire. The signatories furthermore stated in the Proclamation that “all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right to welfare.” Obviously – Kenny and Burton did not do their homework.

This crucial statement on the right of citizens to adequate public housing couldn’t be clearer if those who conceived it rose from the dead and shoved it in the face of the establishment. Yet it has been consistently ignored by successive Irish governments.

Today’s crisis does not exist in some vacuum or otherworldly place; it is the result of callous policies enacted for profit and by an uncaring national government with the sale of massive amounts of property supposedly owned by the Irish people.

At present, there are almost 300,000 empty housing units around the country. Bizarrely, this is while there has been a staggering 76% increase in the numbers of families in emergency Accommodation, or none. This is as a direct result of evictions such as the over 100 families in Tyrrelstown. Entire families are then crammed into substandard emergency accommodation or hotel rooms and expected to rejoice at having a place to stay at all.

Children have to add hours to their commute to school, there are no facilities to cook, the humiliation of losing one’s family home takes its toll. Many young people and students, myself included, have fallen victim to the Wild West conditions in landlord-tenant relations as well.

A lack of any regulation or protection on behalf of the rights of tenants means that, as happened to myself and housemates – you can be kicked out with little notice before the 6 month tenancy period on the basis of “renovations.” It’s the cursory eviction version of a shrug and an “oops, sorry!”

The result of such vicious upheaval has had dire social consequences. Suicide rates have also gone up dramatically, with three farmers who had been evicted from their farms in recent weeks having taken their own lives.

Foundations such as Console have also seen a skyrocketing increase in the numbers of people calling their suicide hotline, a great many of them victims of this crisis – mothers, fathers and children.

Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs places shelter/housing as one of the most fundamental human needs. Housing is a human right. We would do well to remember that those such as Connolly who saw it as such gave their lives in an attempt to bring this ideal to fruition.

However, successive Irish governments have at best paid only a bitterly ironic lip-service to the ideals of the Proclamation. At worst, they have outright betrayed them.


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