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 it’s 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 marks 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 Ireland's homeless charities 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.