There must be something in the Irish psyche, some cultural legacy of foreign colonial rule, of war and oppression, which allows us to continuously wipe the bad times from our collective memory. The generation of men and women who survived the Great Famine of the 1840s and ’50s, who didn’t find refuge on the coffin ships heading east or west, did their best to cast its horrors from their minds, turning the cataclysm into a near-taboo subject among polite society (or at least, among the new English-speaking majority created by the decade of hunger and disease). The generation who rose to power in the post-revolutionary period rapidly forgot the grinding poverty experienced by their parents and grandparents, adopting many of the airs and graces of the old colonial aristocracy, becoming the new masters and mistresses of the Big House.
Likewise, those who lived through the last ten years of socio-economic depression as young adults or children, who came of age during a global downturn grossly exacerbated by local conditions and mismanagement, have largely forgotten the hard lessons that stem from an economy based upon an inflated property boom. From RTÉ:
Around 20 people queued to buy houses in a development in west Dublin, several days before they were due to go on sale.
The first potential buyers formed a queue at the sales office at Beechwood Heath in Hansfield, Dublin 15, at around 6am yesterday morning.
By 3pm today a further 20 people had joined the line.
The sight of young couples literally queuing for hours in the open air in the hope of purchasing their own home, a modest house or an apartment, at already unrealistic prices, should send shivers through all but the most economically illiterate. What we are witnessing is an early replay of the same unbalanced market forces which led to the growth of the febrile Celtic Tiger boom of the early 2000s and which ended in a catastrophic bust several years later.
That many younger people seem ignorant or unwilling to acknowledge the possibly cyclical nature of all this is a mark of Ireland’s failings as a nation. Or more accurately, the failings of our right-leaning political classes who seemingly abandon all sense of fiscal responsibility when left to their own devices. Or in pursuit of profit for their own associates or patrons.
Just as the memory of An Gorta Mór was kept alive as a burning flame of outrage among the exiled Irish in the 19th century, or the greatest commitment to a revolutionary republic was found among those who left the post-civil war country in the early 20th century, so it is that those who fled the collapse of the speculative economy of the early 21st century know exactly what awaits the current generation of Irish citizens down the unregulated free market road.
The unwillingness of national government to step into the housing crisis, to avail of the opportunity it presents to construct thousands of high quality housing units in a coordinated manner, with reference to public services, transport, job creation, education and so, makes one wonder what on earth an elected government is for? The determination of the Fine Gael-led administration to take a hands-off approach to the market, indeed to let inflated property prices born of shortages spiral out of control while predatory foreign investors exploit the situation, is utterly shameful. It is a dereliction of duty.
One can only wonder, how many of the desperate couples and rare individuals queuing for a chance to step on the shaky Irish property ladder will be ruing their decision in less than a decade? Unfortunately, the Fine Gael government of Leo Varadkar, supported in Dáil Éireann by the supine fellow-travellers of Fianna Fáil, knows this full well, and that these ordinary citizens have little choice but to risk all if they are ever going to secure a place of their own in our little home-owning Republic.