I am sure that if I were a psychologist, I would really enjoy working out what is it that has led to successive TDs’, ministers’ and entire governments’ complete inability to sort out the housing crisis, which has been getting worse for years.
What is it in our collective psyche, or that of our politicians, that has led to the ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ kind of mentality to one of the biggest catastrophes that faces Ireland today?
In the middle of the last century, just 30 years after Independence, we had a political system that was pragmatic in its approach to some very big challenges, not least of which was moving families from the dangerous squalor of tenements in Dublin city into new homes in the suburbs. Clearly, there was an innate understanding that without a safe, secure and stable place to call home, it was impossible for citizens to manage their lives.
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Fast forward to today’s Ireland. We have breached the 10,000 homeless barrier, including 3,784 children.
Many of these are stuck in so-called emergency accommodation, where they have nowhere to do their homework, nowhere to run about, and no space to play outside. Their parents have nowhere to cook or wash clothes.
I may not be a psychologist but I know we will be dealing with all the problems caused by ’emergency accommodation’ in the decades to come. And yet Government won’t take decisive action and build enough social and affordable housing.
They tinker about with all kinds of notions, from modular homes to the latest bright idea which is to pay our older people to downsize. Sounds reasonable perhaps at first glance and no doubt modular homes did too. But when you think about it, it’s fraught with very obvious problems.
First and foremost is that older people generally want to stay in their local community, where they have lived for decades and where they feel secure. So where are they going to move to? What kind of accommodation would they favour? Have we asked them? Probably not. Much like how we didn’t take any notice of the fact that the majority of older people want to stay at home when we were subsidising nursing homes instead of investing in proper community supports to enable them to continue to live independently.
Ageism is as insidious as it is abhorrent, leading many of us to think we know what older people should do and what is best for them, instead of actually asking them.
But even if we did ask them and could provide the kind of accommodation they would like, in their own communities, who is going to buy their four-bedroom semis? Many of our senior citizens live in older suburbs which are now among the most expensive areas of our cities. Their houses will be well beyond the reach of most young families who are the ones with the most urgent need.
But why let a little fact like this get in the way of some good Government PR – “look over here, we are offering a grant to your granny and grandad to move into a wee apartment and don’t be looking over there where families are having to vacate hotel rooms again in order to make room for an influx of Paddy’s Day tourists”.
What is wrong with us? It’s not just housing that seems to be beyond the wit of our legislators; the building of a children’s hospital seems to be too taxing for them too. After millions spent on the wrong site at the Mater Hospital, it was decided that St James’s Hospital would be the ideal place; decided, no doubt, on the basis of some very expensive consulting.
A hospital to cater for our youngest and sickest citizens being shoehorned into a tight site in the middle of an already gridlocked city, instead of building on a greenfield site which would no doubt be cheaper, would have had room for expansion, would have adequate parking for staff and most of all, be relatively easily accessible for parents.
As we all wonder what the hell is going on over the water and why the Brits seem so hell-bent on burning their own house down, possibly bringing ours down with it, let us not forget this. One hundred years after we managed to gain Independence from the same Brits who are now having an existential crisis, we can’t seem to manage one of the basic principles of government, that of looking after our own people, especially the most vulnerable; the youngest.
Again, I ask – what is wrong with us?