How on earth has Ireland’s politics come to this? Degenerated so deeply that a sizeable body of elected representatives can regard the crisis of homelessness as little more than a footnote in an otherwise inspirational tale of economic recovery from a decade of austerity, unemployment and mass emigration? How have we sunk so low that senior government ministers can think it acceptable to claim that any public discussion of the subject should be sidelined in favour of feel-good stories about foreign direct investment and hi-tech jobs? I’ve all but run out of condemnatory words to describe those who would ignore, downplay or mishandle the scandal, even though it worsens with every passing month.
New statistics from the Department of Housing indicate that at the end of February there were 9,807 people without accommodation in the State, including 3,755 minors in 1,739 families. Compared to the same period last year, this represents a 32% increase in overall homelessness, a 47% increase in homeless children and a 40% increase in the number of families without a home. These unprecedented figures are a grave indictment of our society and of those who would govern it. It is beyond reprehensible that this crisis has arisen and it ranks alongside the reluctance to reform and extend the health service as further evidence of the shortcomings of conservative politics in this country. Whether they stand under the banner of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party or the supposed Independents, the advocates of the ideological right have failed the voters they supposedly serve.
In particular, an Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has led his party and nation towards an especially vacuous form of neoliberal politics, free of conscience or obligation. He has adopted a laissez-faire attitude to the housing crisis that would not be out of place among mid-19th century British politicians during the era of An Gorta Mór, trusting in the market to find a solution to every challenge, no matter how calamitous. Unfortunately, we are well beyond the nebulous good intentions of the free market will-o’-the-wisp, and the new Lord Trevelyan of West Dublin has done little to make one believe that he dissents from the opinion that a little hardship is an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population”.