Monthly Archives For August 2016

Rebuilding Ireland: Long on Promise, Short on Detail

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In July, the government announced a new housing plan. Called Rebuilding Ireland, it is designed to tackle the current shortage in housing supply. It is an ambitious plan with praise for itself as radical and innovative. In truth, it is neither of these things. This plan was put together after the previous Housing Strategy document of 2014 but states that this is “having a positive impact, but not at the pace necessary to meet current pressures and pent-up demands.” It is not at all clear how Rebuilding Ireland will address this question of pace. The central problem with Rebuilding Ireland, however, is that it relies on the notion of ‘access to a home’. At best this is a poorly worded substitute for the right to a place to live. At worst, Rebuilding Ireland’s underlying vision relies on a flawed model of provision. We have to give the plan some time to produce something tangible but the way the plan is written does not inspire any confidence that the shortage in housing here will be addressed.

The plan is structured under five ‘pillars’. These are billed as “high level actions [which] will support a range of actions across the five key pillars of the Action Plan”. The plan seeks to address homelessness, accelerate social housing, build more homes, improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing. In time worn tradition, these have targets and deadlines for delivery across government departments and local authorities. A few days after its launch, a senior public servant spoke on the radio and bumbled his way through some of these targets testily insisting that there would be 47,000 social houses available by 2021. Considering that local authorities acquired about 1,000 units in 2015 and constructed just 75 in the same year, there are a number of problems with these targets. Chief among these is a reliance on the private rented market and Approved Housing Bodies. Relying on the private and voluntary sector to provide that many units in five years would require an immediate four fold increase in both building programmes and municipal acquisitions.  The plan makes it clear that this figure would be supported by €5.3 billion worth of investment, including accelerated Housing Assistance Payment delivery. As recent high profile cases have shown us, the HAP scheme moves people seeking housing off the local authority housing lists in return for subsidy payments to private landlords. These landlords can evict the tenant if they sell this property later, throwing people back on to some housing safety net which does not yet exist.

Rebuilding Ireland is neither innovative nor radical. One of its guiding principles is a reliance on private providers of housing. This means more money given to landlords, both individual and institutional / financial ones. Why fall back on a model of housing provision which currently does not support people in vulnerable housing situations and which, on other scales, has shown that it can sell property from under people’s feet? One of the reasons identified for an oversupply in the years to 2008 was a reliance on private developer-led speculative building. Developers relied on the continuation of credit to provide home loans to people needing a place to live. More worrying still, the plan promises that it will “work closely with the ESRI and the Housing Agency to improve understanding of conditions in housing markets around the country”. Such understandings are already available: from the ESRI, the Housing Agency as well as the National Economic and Social Council and a number of other bodies concerned with housing rights. Measuring supply and demand is easily done, right now.

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Brexit and Other Issues: Comments on the Current Situation

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The outcome of the Brexit referendum is a shock to all of the established political parties and to the British ruling class. The long term political and economic impact remains unclear. For socialists, the concern in taking a position in such referendums that are not of our making should be the outcome for the lives and living standards of working class people in Britain and across Europe; and the strengthening or weakening of the political forces fighting for socialist change.

The EU is a set of inter-state institutions (and a relatively toothless elected parliament) based upon a series of treaties – from which flow rules and regulations on how the member states act internally and in relation to one another. I am opposed to the politics of the EU and have opposed all EU treaties on grounds of their pro-capitalist and anti-social content. Exit from the EU means withdrawal from the EU institutions; it also means re-negotiating or abandoning the previously-agreed rules and regulations. This could be to the benefit of the bosses and the wealthy – or to the benefit of ordinary people, including measures to stop climate change.

In my opinion the content of Brexit is a reactionary break from the neoliberal EU. It was not a break by a government or movement seeking to reverse austerity, towards a Europe of working class solidarity and equality. It has strengthened British nationalist forces which oppose that perspective. The re-negotiation of agreements between the British state and the EU will not be to the benefit of ordinary people in Britain or elsewhere – because they will have no say in the process that will be conducted by their pro-capitalist enemies in the Tory Party who will seek to make gains for capitalists based in Britain.

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