Trish Casey: ‘Why we must force some moral leadership on homelessness’

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Trish Casey: ‘Why we must force some moral leadership on homelessness’


'Let 2019 be the year when the hidden homeless become visible and vocal' (stock photo)
‘Let 2019 be the year when the hidden homeless become visible and vocal’ (stock photo)

“We declare that we desire our country to be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all …” (The Democratic Programme, An Chéad Dáil Eireann, January 21, 1919)

I am more than 15 months without a permanent place to live. This is my second no-fixed-address ordeal since November 2014. The first homeless period lasted 10 months, as a result of which the auto-immune disease I live with became acute. In January 2016, my body was shutting down and I was at risk of heart failure. It took most of that year to stabilise my condition. Then, in September 2017, I was made homeless again.

In my experience, renting in this country has always been stressful and precarious – now it is life-threatening.

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The Five Freedoms of Animals are guidelines on animal husbandry. An animal’s welfare can be assessed against the Five Freedoms as follows: high quality of life; good quality of life; borderline quality of life; poor quality of life; and a life not worth living. During my last period at no fixed address, when I was minding other people’s cats and dogs in order to keep a roof over my head, I couldn’t but be conscious of the fact that these animals had a better quality of life than I had.

Because I am now effectively locked out of any form of long-term housing, I have slipped from “a poor quality of life” to “a life not worth living”.

In his poem ‘The Present Crisis’, James Russell Lowell wrote: “They have rights who dare maintain them …” The European Pillar of Social Rights was proclaimed on November 17, 2017. Housing is one of the social rights named in this document.

The current Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, has stated that: “The Government is fully supportive of the principles set out in the proclamation.”

Ah yes, the great virtue of lip service. If tens of thousands of Irish citizens are locked out of the private rental market, locked out of social housing and locked out of home ownership, and if so many in the private rental sector are trapped in over-crowded, substandard or squalid accommodation at exploitative rents, then the question has to be asked: whose country is this?

Daniel O’Connell said nothing is politically right, which is morally wrong. I’m adding that nothing is economically right, which is morally wrong. The time has come for citizens to demand that a distinction be made between housing as a speculative asset and market commodity and housing as a social need and a social right. This is the point at which some people turn red-faced and apoplectic about “free housing”. What I’m referring to here is the right to affordable rent and security of tenure, as well as the right to affordably priced homes. Without these rights, an ever increasing number of Irish citizens will never have a home.

January 21 marks the centenary of the first Democratic Programme. I find it a cause of great sorrow to contemplate how far we have strayed from the principles of An Chéad Dáil Eireann. We now live in a country where The Market dictates whether we have a place to live. Surely it is time to reassess our values and the principles by which we consent to be governed. Or will we just continue to passively accept the dictates of the so-called Free Market regardless of the human cost?

Let 2019 be the year when the hidden homeless become visible and vocal. Let this be the year when tenants win constitutional protection. Let this be the year when we restore some degree of social justice to a country controlled by neo-­liberal economic dogma. Consecutive governments have been instrumental in creating this social crisis. Let this be the year when citizens collectively assume moral leadership. The people are sovereign – we just haven’t realised it yet.

Irish Independent

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