Roof raised as marchers take Dublin

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Up to 20,000 people, of all ages and from across the country, gathered at a rally outside the Dublin parliament on Wednesday demanding an end to the housing crisis.

Organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the National Homelessness and Housing Coalition, the rally was supported by all Irish political parties except Fine Gael, as well as student groups and other organisations.

Organisers said they were “overwhelmed” with the numbers that had mobilised “for a lunch time protest in the middle of the week” and said there would be a Saturday afternoon protest in coming weeks to which they hoped many tens of thousands would attend.

Speaking about the campaign, housing activist Fr Peter McVerry, said there were “at least half a million people...whose housing situation is causing them serious distress.

“The reliance on the private sector to resolve our housing crisis has been clearly a failure. We need to let [the Government] know: ‘Change your policy’. We have the same mantra from the Government again and again and again ‘Our homelessness policies are working’. There is no evidence that they are working...There will be an election coming...Let our politicians know: We are going to vote homelessness out.”

Students, who have also been disproportionately affected by the rental crisis, were involved in separate demonstration outside the offices of landlord ‘Ires Reit’ to protest a hike in their rent of up to 25 per cent in a development in Sandyford, Dublin.

Sinn Fein’s Eoin O Broin commended those who took part in the rally, organised under the banner name ‘Raise the Roof’.

“The 20,000 people who gathered outside the Dail today were there to tell this government that their housing policy is not working and that they demand better,” he said.

“They represented hundreds of thousands more people. All the young people locked out of secure and affordable accommodation. Families trapped in emergency accommodation and single people stuck in hostels or rough sleeping.

“They also represented the workers paying more than 30% of their income on rent or mortgages, the Travellers living in squalor and migrants living in appalling conditions or trapped in direct provision.”

“Today was just the beginning,” he added.

Mr O Broin was speaking during a parliamentary debate on a cross party housing motion to coincide with the rally. Signed by 47 opposition TDs, it called on the government to declare an emergency and take other specific measures to alleviate homelessness and the rental crisis.

The government was heavily defeated when Fianna Fail took a late decision to support the motion. Not one independent TD outside the government, with the exception of Michael Lowry, backed the bid to vote down the legislation drafted and signed by TDs from Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, Solidarity, Social Democrats, Labour, the Green Party, Independents4Change and others.

Both the national government and local councils have been paralysed by the scale of the crisis. Other than increased spending on emergency accommodation such as hotels and hostels to keep the homeless off the streets, emergency housing measures such as proposals for prefab villages or a cruise ship to be used to provide shelter have so far failed to advance beyond the drawing board.

The homelessness issue dominated questions to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as crowds gathered for the massive demonstration outside.

Mr Varadkar admitted that there was a housing emergency, and said the government was spending 60 million euro a year to put people up in emergency accommodation.

In angry exchanges during the debate, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald described the Taoiseach as a ‘lackey’ to private landlords who were exploiting the crisis.

“You have sat on the sidelines in the vain hope that the market will sort it all out, even though all of the evidence tells you that the market is not sorting this out, that the state has to do the heavy lifting and that any government worthy of the name needs to intervene in an emergency fashion.

“That means doubling your capital investment, it means being bold, it means having ambition, it means ditching your pathetic excuse for dealing with rent control and introducing a rent freeze.

“It is ensuring that you stop the despicable practice of landlords turfing families out to get vacant possession of properties that the state insisted these people buy.”

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