It’s difficult to feel anything but outrage and disgust at the government’s passive response to the crisis of homelessness in Ireland. So far the right-wing administration of Fine Gael – and its motley crew of independents – has proven itself to be largely indifferent to the record numbers of fellow citizens in the country living without permanent accommodation. As of September 2017, that figure stands at 8,374 men, women and children, with some 3,124 of the latter. This is a 25% rise on last year’s statistics for the same period. However that indifference shades into something verging on hostility among a handful of senior conservative politicians.
In a recent statement, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, dismissed the growing concerns about the scandal with the claim that:
“Ireland has one of the lowest homelessness rates by international standards compared to our peers.
They’re the stats, we can provide them for you.
That is a good thing in Ireland, that we have a low level of homelessness compared to our peer countries.”
In fact the “stats” issued by the Government Press Office turned out to be wholly tendentious and quickly crumbled under closer scrutiny. Meanwhile, Damien English TD, the Fine Gael Junior minister at the Department of Housing, expressed the view that the nation’s overseas image was being damaged by the bad publicity the emergency situation was creating in the press and on social media.
“[it is not] …acceptable to hear commentators talking down our country. Over the past two years we have seen this narrative reflected in the national media. It has been claimed that homelessness in Ireland is at its worst since the Famine and that we have a crisis that is the worst in Europe.
Some of this narrative has seeped into international coverage of our housing system, and it is damaging to Ireland’s international reputation that our social response to this issue is being portrayed as dysfunctional.”
Of course, the damage has nothing to do with the social response to the crisis, and everything to do with the lack of political response. Because homelessness, like any other social ill, is a political matter requiring political solutions. and so far the doctrinaire free market philosophy of the Fine Gael party has left it unable – or unwilling – to tackle the issue. Perhaps the best summation of “Official Ireland’s” reaction to the problem came in this dreadful statement by Eileen Gleeson, the head of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, to Dublin City Council:
“Let’s be under no illusion here, when somebody becomes homeless it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years of bad behaviour probably, or behaviour that isn’t the behaviour of you and me.”
And these are the government ministers and careerist officials tasked with managing the record numbers of homeless citizenry in Ireland, the fallout of the disastrous socio-economic policies of the Celtic Tiger era and its calamitous aftermath? God help us…