We are now heading into the month of May, a month where trade unionists celebrate progress in the area of workers’ rights, and agitate for better working conditions and decent pay for all.
While workers’ rights in Ireland have improved in Ireland, in no small part due to the contribution of our Party, the agenda is not yet complete. Indeed, there are parallels between the overcrowding and landlordism of 100 years ago, and the desperate situation facing renters and those in homelessness today. One of the single biggest problems facing Ireland’s working population in 2023 is the housing disaster, which continues to exacerbate inequality on grounds of class, age and nationality. It is nearly eighteen months since the Government launched its flagship Housing for All plan. Since then, the number of people accessing state funded emergency accommodation has increased by more than 3,200. The cost of rent has continued to rise. The number of homes for rent has diminished. The full impact of the Government’s unforgiveable decision to lift the eviction ban, with no evidential underpinnings and no contingency plan, has yet to be realised.
Yet, the Government has demonstrated that it has no desire to change its approach. The most recent package of measures from Minister Darragh O’Brien, announced on Tuesday, does little more than further subsidise developers – a strategy which has inarguably contributed to the dysfunction we see in the sector already. While the crisis has affected Ireland’s economy and our ability to attract Foreign Direct Investment, it is the human cost which hurts worst of all. Labour representatives are supporting people across the country through housing distress. I am supporting young workers who are couch surfing because they cannot bear to enter overcrowded emergency accommodation. I am supporting pensioners facing eviction who, after decades of paying income tax to the State, feel totally abandoned. I am supporting young families, taking on second and even third jobs to make ends meet, but worrying they will have to pull their children out of school because they can no longer afford to live in their community.
Somebody needs to get a handle on this crisis now. We need emergency measures to stem the worst effects of the ban, such as a temporary reinstatement of the eviction ban until homeless figures have dropped for four consecutive months. However, we also need medium to long term plans to create good quality jobs to deliver social and affordable homes, removing pressures on our broken rental system. At Party Conference last month, I shared with you Labour’s ambition to deliver one million homes in 10 years. Housing is the defining issue of our time and Ireland needs need a housing policy that reflects that. The Government has accused our vision of being ‘pie in the sky’ but our plans are based on established need, as assessed by the Government’s own agencies. Elsewhere, in this newsletter, you will find an opinion piece which outlines the rationale behind Labour’s plans and how we plan to deliver on them. Workers’ rights are qualified so long as our housing system remains in chaos.
I look forward to sharing with you some of our plans for the month of May in due course. Until then, I hope that you will enjoy the May Day Bank Holiday weekend – another invention of Labour in Government.