Rewind Wednesdays

              

Throughout our national history, Ireland has fought against oppression through its social movements. If you’ve been following along the last month you’ll have noticed these movements very rarely succeed in their first iteration. Such was the case for the gay marriage referendum and the movement to repeal the 8th, however, in the last six years, these social movements finally found success at the constitutional level.  These movements stood on the shoulders of the previous generations but it was ‘Generation Rent’ that brought them through to their ultimate success. Faced with housing crisis of epic proportions it is our belief that Generation Rent will usher in a new and equitable era in housing as well. Constitutional change in  this regard will not come easily or overnight; this generation will have to join together, yet again, as one unified voice and demand it. 

A History of LGBTQ+ Rights in Ireland 

It is a difficult fact of Irish history that prior to June 24th, 1993 being a ‘homosexual’ was considered a criminal offence in Ireland.  Although David Norris, a lecturer in English at Trinity College Dublin at the time, began legal proceedings to decriminalise homosexuality in 1977 his case was defeated in the High Court and its appeal was subsequently defeated in the Supreme Court.  It took the brutal murder of Declan Flynn in 1982 and the laughable sentencing of his murderers (who were all given suspended sentences for manslaughter) to generate the outrage and protests that catalysed the movement towards constitutional change. In the year following Declan’s murder, Ireland’s first Pride parade took place and it was aimed at highlighting the violence perpetrated against the LGBTQ+ community. It would be another decade before homosexuality was finally decriminalised at the constitutional level in June of 1993. 

Momentum for equal rights for the LQBTQ+ community slowed after the decriminalisation of homosexuality but community outreach and political action continued and the next major moment came 17 years later when the Civil Partnership Act passed through the Dáil in 2010. This gave LGBTQ+ couples more rights than they had previously, but did not unequivocally allow same sex marriage.  It was another 5 years after the Civil Partnership Act was enacted and 22 years after homosexuality was decriminalised that Ireland voted in a majority to legalise same-sex marriage, making us the first country in the world to make same-sex marriage legal by popular vote. Further strides were made in 2015 & 2017 with the Gender Recognition Act & the lifting of a lifetime ban on blood donation for gay men.  

Although there are still battles to be fought, Ireland is light years  ahead of where it was even 10 years ago, all thanks to the persistence of our predecessors  and their desire to pass the baton to the next generation who have finally been able to force governmental change. 

A history of the Eighth Amendment

In 1983, Ireland voted by a majority of 66.9% in favour of the 8th amendment to the constitution that saw women lose autonomy over their own bodies and healthcare. At that time Ireland was tightly held in the grip of the Catholic Church and women who chose to end pregnancies were shunned and sent packing from Irish shores while those who remained were forced to carry unwanted or unsafe pregnancies to term.

As the years progressed, issues with the wording of the 8th amendment stained the headlines, many cases being brought to the courts in instances where the mother’s life was at risk. One of the most famous cases was the ‘X Case’; a 1992 hearing related to a 14-year-old girl who had become pregnant as a result of a rape and wished to travel to England to have an abortion. The girl’s parents advised Gardaí of their plans, which led to the involvement of the Attorney General – eventuating in their case being presented to the High Court. The High Court were told that ‘Girl X’ was at serious risk of suicide if she were denied permission to travel for an abortion, the counter argument being made that there was also a threat to the life of the unborn if ‘Girl X’ did travel to England. Initially it was ruled that ‘Girl X’ must be “restrained from leaving Ireland for a period of nine months.” However, the appeal brought to the Supreme Court, it was ruled that the “abortion was allowed in circumstances where there was a substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother and that this risk could only be avoided by the termination of her pregnancy.” 

The foundation of the 8th amendment began to crumble with the landmark “X Case” and more amendments were introduced to the constitution which allowed travel outside of Ireland for an abortion followed by laws providing women with the right to obtain information about abortion services abroad. 

Unfortunately, a step backwards was taken in 2002 when the issue of suicide as grounds for an abortion was put to the public. It was once more rejected but this time the result was closer and the turnout at the polls was far smaller than it was in both 1983 and 1992. As the years progressed, a number of events brought the 8th amendment back into the lime light, one of which would shape Ireland’s future in regards to a women’s right to choose. In October 2012, Savita Halappanavar, died when the medical staff at University Hospital Galway were forced by Irish law to refuse her  an abortion while she miscarried. Complications and sepsis caused by the miscarriage led directly to Savita’s death and spurred national outcry for change. In response, Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael government introduced the “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act”. This Act was passed, but immediately met with derision as it required women to jump through legal hoops to obtain permission from multiple doctors (& potentially multiple psychologists) before they were allowed to make decisions about their own health.

On May 25th, 2018 – 5 years, 6 months and 28 days after Savita Halappanavar’s death, the Repeal the 8th Referendum took place. This issue galvanized a new generation of voters to participate in Irish politics in order to allow women to decide their futures, instead of a man with a gavel or a man behind the door of a confessional. Irish people raised money to donate to campaigners & to purchase flights for people to fly home and vote in the end ensuring no other women would suffer the same fate as Savita. And, once again it was proven that it is citizens who have the power to evoke change in our society and constitution. 

What now? 

All the social movements we’ve discussed thus far in Rewind Wednesday  initially met with failure,  it took persistence, community action and ultimately a new generation to usher in a more equitable future for Irish people. September 8th marked 171 years since the birth of the Three F’s, October 1st will mark 178 years since O’Connell’s speech at Mullaghmast for the original Repeal movement, February 17th will mark 30 years since “Girl X” was refused permission to leave the state & March 22nd marked 38 years since David Norris’s court case to decriminalise homosexuality was rejected by the Supreme Court. 

It would appear that the next battle to fight will be on the front of Ireland’s housing crisis. Fortunately,  we have the blueprint  from The Tenant Right League and The National Land League to  unite us around one simple message: Fair Rent. This project was born as a means to fight against the unfair and unrealistic rent rates and housing prices in Ireland and to drive out absentee landlords so we can fulfil a dream of the “Land of Ireland for the people of Ireland.” Most importantly the aim is to raise much needed funding for Irish charities that are battling against an increasing number of mouths to feed and families and individuals to house. Please consider purchasing one of our lovely, high quality, Irish made jumpers as all profits are being donated to Irish charities battling homelessness. 

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The Repeal Year

In 1843, Ireland’s first Repeal movement, the Repeal of the Union, caught fire. This movement was led by Daniel O’Connell; who, along with his followers, formed the Repeal Association.  With the “Acts of Union, 1800” the Repeal Association fought for Ireland’s own government, with the goal of repealing a constitutional law that merged the governments of Ireland and Britain as one ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland’.

During this year, now referred to as “The Repeal Year” – O’Connell organised over 30 Repeal Gatherings across the country, focusing some of the larger events on 3 particular sites; the Hill of Tara (the seat of the ancient high kings of Ireland), Clontarf (the location where Brian Boru defeated a Danish army in 1014), and the Rath of Mullaghmast (where English soldiers slaughtered Irish leaders in 1577). These locations were chosen to drive home the connection between Ireland’s present and its past. During his speech at Mullaghmast, O’Connell rallied the attendees, convincing them to stand up for constitutional change for the sake of Ireland and its people:

‘O my friends, it is a country worth fighting for – it is a country worth dying for’

Despite O’Connell and the Repeal Association’s efforts, the British government remained opposed to granting Ireland its political freedom because it would threaten their vision of a ‘United Kingdom’. O’Connell didn’t see Ireland’s freedom come to fruition in his lifetime but the remnants of the Repeal Association’s political ideals lived on, leading to the formation of the Home Rule League and later the Irish National Land League. The Irish National Land League, of course, being the political group who fought for the rights of Irish farmers, defending them against their British absentee landlords in the form of the Three F's and bringing Ireland one step closer to gaining independence. 

Throughout history, Irish people have banded together to fight against oppression in its many forms and to ensure that our governmental documents and governmental bodies reflect and protect our rights as citizens. In 2018, with the Repeal the 8th movement, Ireland illustrated the power of the Irish people in a tour de force of community action, giving women autonomy over their bodies and access to proper medical care. Irish people will need this same dedication and vehemence if we are to catalyse positive change in our current housing crisis. 

The HSE website currently lists 38 homeless charities with whom they work, noting that this is just a sample number and does not accurately reflect all of the groups operating across Ireland fighting to feed, clothe and provide shelter for those most vulnerable in our society. While the issues of affordable housing, reducing homelessness and improving the quality of life for the average person living in Ireland are becoming more prominent topics of discussion in the Dáil, what Ireland desperately needs (and in short order) is an amendment to the constitution to make housing a human right.

A survey commissioned by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) showed that 64% of Irish people believe that Irish citizens should have a constitutional right to housing; furthermore more than 80% believed housing to be a basic human right. Spain, Belgium and Sweden already protect the right to housing in their constitution and Spain, a country of 47 million, has nearly a third the rate of homelessness that Ireland currently has (per 10,000 residents).

If the vast majority of Irish people believe these things to be true, why is it that the government has failed to introduce a referendum that reflects our interests? The answer is simple; governments do not change until they are moved to do so.  It was shown in these early movements for independence and again in 2018 that Irish citizens hold the power to make governmental change and we should use the examples of our predecessors to ensure housing is a human right along with protections for Irish citizens against landlords and foreign investors.

October 1st, 2021 marks 178 years since O’Connell’s speech at Mullaghmast. While the aim of O’Connell’s Repeal movement differs greatly to the one of 2018, they’re both rooted in the desire to fight back against oppression to create a more equitable society. With a constitutional change the laws that govern us can reflect the ethos of the current age and make housing a human right. As Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the IHREC has said we must look at housing ‘as a right, not a commodity… Housing represents more than just the cost of brick and mortar; its where our children grow, where our families gather and where generations should feel safe and secure.’

Help us raise awareness and much needing funding for the great work being done by Irish Homeless Charities by buying a geansaí of your choice. We have the opportunity not only to celebrate our history, but to live it. Demand Fair Rent from your government and demand a better future for the people of Ireland. 

FairRent_


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Absentee Landlords

From the mid 1500’s to the early 1600’s the British Crown sought to expand their influence in Ireland through the colonisation and anglicisation of the island. During this time period, known as ‘ the plantation,’  Irish lands were stolen from native residents and allocated to Scottish and English noblemen and soldiers. This British aristocracy then rented the stolen lands back to Irish farmers, allowing these noblemen and soldiers to live lives of luxury back in their homelands; becoming the original instance of absentee landlords in Ireland. By 1870, 98% of the land in Ireland was owned by roughly 10,000 individuals, accounting for just 0.2% of the population. Of those 10,000 individuals, 50% came from the same 40 families, the majority of which resided in England or Scotland. This meant that, when the famine hit in 1845, there was already a deep disconnect between the landlords who owned the Irish lands and the Irish people who lived on and worked them.

When “middlemen” or “Land Sharks” were appointed to collect rent on behalf of the absentee landlords the divide was further deepened and it may have been this dissociation between landlord and tenant that led to the exorbitant rental rates charged to peasant farmers. Often when the farmers weren't able to pay the extortionate rent, they were evicted by Land Sharks without notice. In 1844 future British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli acknowledged the dire situation faced by Irish people under British rule, saying;

A dense population, in extreme distress, inhabit an island where there is an Established Church, which is not their Church, and a territorial aristocracy the richest of whom live in foreign capitals. Thus you have a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church; and in addition the weakest executive in the world”

While the treatment of Irish farmers by these Land Sharks and their masters was egregious, Ireland was further debilitated by the export of the revenue paid by tenants to these absentee landlords, fuelling economic instability. This diversion of wealth and capital from Ireland to the British empire exacerbated the devastation experienced by the Irish during the Great Famine. It was in direct response to this oppression and divestment that the Tenant Right League & later the Irish National Land League was formed. Their singular demand of course being fair rent for the land they occupied and fair treatment by their landlords. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that this goal was actualised and  legislation was passed to break up large estates and land. Gradually, the land was returned to rural landholders and by 1929, the dynamic had shifted in favour of the Irish farmer and almost 98% owned the land they occupied and worked.

Although the Republic of Ireland is no longer under British rule we are still constrained by foreign property investors and their subsequent economic obstruction. The Irish Institutional Property (IIP) estimated that between 2017-2019, 78% of the capital funded into the Irish residential and commercial property market was from private foreign finance providers. If we only consider the Irish government's contribution to residential housing (their goal is to build 30,000 units per year) that figure increases to 86% of the capital being funded by international investors. Even after billions in expenditure by the Irish government to create residential housing, we as a nation, are still leasing our land and properties from foreign entities. Irish residents, singularly, cannot match the buying power and political influence of massive foreign investment firms; so affordable housing has become the national pipe dream.

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) released a report in 2019 stating that 95% of the new apartments built were sold to institutions, leaving only 5% for the Irish residents to squabble over. During the building of a housing estate in Maynooth, Round Hill Capitol attempted to buy up 152 out of the 174 houses. This caused national outrage and after protestation by Irish residents the deal was rightfully withdrawn. Although a light was shone on this disastrous event, there are countless other companies, buying up estates around Ireland & driving up prices in the housing market, that do not garner the same media attention. Take Herbert Hill in Dundrum, for example, in which 90 apartments were built to be allocated for social housing by the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council . In 2019, the company who constructed these apartments were allowed to sell the development to a German Investor, who then leased the apartments to the local authority for an average rent of more than €2,000 per month for 25 years. A €54,000,000 investment, and at the end of it, the council will not own a single one of these residences. Either families will be homeless or the council will have to negotiate a new deal throwing more Irish taxpayer money into the abyss. 

In the 1800’s Ireland fought against its oppressive landlords and demanded governmental changes and protections through marches and protests but today we still find our futures being controlled by absentee landlords who look to profit off the struggle of the Irish people. All the marches, beatings and bloodshed of our predecessors and yet we find ourselves, once again, beggars in our own backyards. It is an abject failure of the Irish government to rely on non-Irish private investors to build housing for its citizens. And it is a failure of the Irish government to allow the unfettered domination of private companies over individual citizens in the purchase of houses. But, it is our silence and lack of action that makes us tacitly complicit and allows the Irish government to fail us over and over and over again.

This year marks 142 years since Michael Davitt of the Irish National Land League coined the famous slogan “The Land of Ireland for the People of Ireland”. We’re still in pursuit of this simple idea, battling against the increase in absentee landlords, rising rents and homelessness. Raise your voice, be heard, show your support by wearing a FairRent geansaí  and demand change for the future of Ireland.

FairRent_

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The Three F's

For the last decade, lack of availability in liveable housing and skyrocketing prices in both the rental and buyers market has left Irish people in a perpetual state of crisis as housing scarcity and homelessness booms. This has been compounded by the Irish government’s reliance on, and subsidisation of foreign investment firms. After the Celtic Tiger and its subsequent bust and economic crash, the Irish government seemed to adopt an “any investment is a good investment” mindset. This allowed private firms to bulk buy apartment blocks and benefit unilaterally from tax breaks and incentives without mediation by the government to ensure fair access to housing or appropriate pricing. We chatted with Eoin Ó Broin of Sinn Féin to get his thoughts on the current crisis and how we ended up here; “For decades Governments have not built enough social and affordable housing. Instead they have over relied on the private sector to meet housing demand. As a result we have high rents and house prices, an undersupply of much needed homes, and unacceptably high levels of homelessness.” To put things into context, the average monthly rent has doubled in the last decade, from €742 per month in 2011, to €1,443 in 2021 (if you’re lucky enough to get rent at the average rate). The average wage, on the other hand, has stagnated in comparison increasing by less than 1% in that same time frame. This means that, for people under the age of thirty, their chances of buying a home is less than half of that of the previous generation. Exorbitant housing prices  have garnered these would-be home owners the moniker “Generation Rent” and it will be the first generation in Ireland to be considered poorer than their parents. The only conclusion that can be drawn given the disparate evolution of housing prices in comparison to wages is that Irish residents are being price gouged out of their homes and their futures.
While the housing struggles of the last decade may feel unique to our generation, it is not the first time in Irish history that the average Irish person has faced  soaring rents, threats of eviction and the very real possibility of becoming homeless. From 1845 to 1852, Ireland experienced what became known as An Gorta Mór or The Great Famine, in which a crop blight affecting potatoes led to mass starvation in Ireland. The blight, which infected crops all across Europe, had a particularly devastating effect on the population of Ireland, leading to a reduction in its population of roughly 20% (made up of both death and emigration). It was not just the reduction in potato supply that led to Ireland being so badly affected by the famine; it was also due to the amount of food & rent that was being exported to England. During this time period, English absentee landlords had “middlemen” AKA “Land Sharks” in Ireland who would collect rent on their behalf from the impoverished Irish tenants. In return for their collusion in the exploitation of Irish tenants, these middlemen  were given large plots of land at a fixed rate. These plots were then divided into smaller subsections and leased to Irish farmers at a much higher rate. Irish farmers, who already struggled to feed their families and afford the rent paid to their English landlords, were brought to their knees when the famine hit. Most landlords showed no mercy to their tenants during this time and Irish families were still expected to pay rent, despite the fact that their crops were depleted.
A famous quote from Jon Mitchel, of the Repeal Association in 1861, sums it up perfectly: “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.” This would become a pivotal moment for the Irish people and would catalyse the creation of The Tenant Right League, formed in September, 1850. This league was made up of 120 representatives from the four Irish provinces, including local farmers, clergymen, tradesmen and numerous other professions. The league was formed to fight for the rights of tenants in Ireland against their absentee English landlords and focussed on three pillars, that would give Irish tenants a chance at fair rent, notice of upcoming eviction & the right for farmers to sell their share of land to the next tenant, without landlord or land shark interference. These demands came to be known as the “Three F’s”:
Fair Rent (assessed by land value and fixed to prevent the rack renting of tenant improvements)
Fixity of Tenure (so long as the fair rent is paid)
Free Sale (the right of farmers to sell their "interest" in their holding to an incoming tenant).
In spite of its ultimate failure, the Tenant Right League paved the way for the formation of the Irish National Land League in October, 1879. This newly formed league was again demanding reform in the form of the Three F’s fighting against the unjust and exploitative rent rates being charged to Irish farmers. The “Land War” in 1879-1882, was fomented by the league, which led to Irish farmers standing against their oppressors in the form of rent strikes, blocked evictions and even the ex-communication of tenant farmers who paid rent while others withheld.
As a result of the Land War, the British government began introducing a series of Irish Land Acts that would go on to allow tenants to pay a reduced rent for the land they occupied. By 1914 up to 75% of tenants were finally in a position to purchase the land they had worked from their English landlord, instead of renting.
September 8th marked the 171st anniversary of the formation of the Three F’s. Yet modern day Ireland continues to grapple with many of the issues we faced in the 1800’s. It seems we fare little better than our ancestors did.
At this point you are likely asking yourself, how are we still faced with the same issue of paying a Fair Rent? Why are we still beholden to pay absentee landlords? Why do we have an ever increasing number of people without the ability to feed themselves and live in adequate shelter? Help us raise awareness and much needed funding for the great work being done by Homeless charities across Ireland by buying a geansaí  of your choice. Use your platform, raise your voice and demand change so that accommodation no longer is a luxury, but a basic right in Ireland.
 
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