Homes for all —or seats in the Dáil

Fianna Fáil, at 5 per cent, had a record low share of the vote in the recent by-election. The response of their director of elections, Jim O’Callaghan, was, “We must do better on housing.”

This is their strategy: lead people to believe that this was a wake-up call, leading to a turning-point in Fianna Fáil’s policy programme. Fianna Fáil, along with the other establishment parties, are all about running the country in the interests of business. “Doing better on housing” has nothing to do with ending the housing crisis: it’s all about how we adapt our housing-policy language to get more TDs elected.

Fianna Fáil are experts at this; hence their latest housing proposal, which they call “Securing homes for all,” in reality their latest strategy for “Securing more seats in the Dáil,” which would allow them to continue to carve up Ireland’s wealth and resources among their rich and powerful financiers.

Government housing policy is working perfectly well for landlords, builders, speculators, and developers; that is who it is designed to benefit. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are in office to benefit them. The business class in reality rule, just as if they were in the Dáil themselves. That onerous task they leave to their political puppets, who dutifully make Ireland “the best small country in the world in which to do business.”

The crises in housing, health and employment are three of the main weapons capitalism is using in Ireland today to control the citizens and to transfer wealth upwards to the business class from the ordinary working people. Where do the massive profits made on the backs of low wages go? Who owns and profits from private hospitals and health insurance? Private rented accommodation is the main form of tenure in our cities and towns—who owns it?

We have a one-policy capitalist state. The politicians and parties that describe themselves as “left,” “left of centre,” “social democratic” etc.—the so-called “parties of change”—promote their various solutions with one thing in common: the solutions are all within the confines of the capitalist system.

There are many well-meaning members in these “parties of change” who believe they can actually change or reform the system for the better. Unfortunately, history tells us that capitalism is willing to make reforms and concessions when its interests require it to, but they are always only temporary.

We can see many of the gains made by workers since independence being taken away or whittled down to a level where they are of little or no value any more, for example an end to the building of public housing, the privatisation of state assets, continuous cuts in services, and the decimation of workers’ power through the likes of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act.

Reduced workers’ rights open the door to precarious work and low pay, leading to debt, and puts owning a home beyond the reach of the vast majority of working people—all to the benefit of the business class.

The “parties of change” react to the narrative created by finance capital and promoted by their puppets in the Dáil and the media. They make demands for compromise or reform within the capitalist system: “social and affordable housing,” instead of “building universally accessible public housing,” and not just on public land for low-income families.

“Social and affordable housing,” with the “market” deciding what is affordable, gives a blank cheque to private capital to draw from the resources of the state to subsidise citizens so they can afford the purchase of a home from the private sector in a direct transfer of public wealth to private hands.

The “rental sector” solution is an even bigger con job, the flavour of the month being the “cost-rental model.” Houdini himself couldn’t have imagined a more perfect trick: to conjure up an Illusion whereby, in the name of affordable rents, the tenant, through the rent, pays the full cost of building, maintaining and even paying into a back-up fund (to cover the cost of any major structural repairs that may occur), without ever actually owning the home. No ownership would be by the city or county council.

Reform is akin to loosening the chain of a slave or making it a bit longer—an easing of the burden, but still a slave, without independence or power, free only within the confines of the master. The citizens’ master is the capitalist class.

We have seen many, some well-meaning, parties and independents of the left entering government with great expectations only to be forced in some cases, and more than willing in others, to compromise, to water down demands and reduce the expectations of their supporters by hiding behind excuses of the “national interest,” “competitiveness,” “debt levels,” “market forces” or some other ruse or irrelevance once they get their seat in the Dáil and get sucked in and consumed by the system.

In the words of James Connolly, “all bourgeois movements end in compromise, and the bourgeois revolutionists of today become the conservatives of tomorrow.”

We need system change, not government change.