With Amnesty International Ireland and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties both requesting reports be carried out on the events surrounding the occupation of 34 North Frederick Street, it seems that the current feeling of dissatisfaction with the housing crisis has reached a boiling point.
The events of last week have shown that when the elected officials, who claim to hold power and responsibility hand-in-hand, fail to address an issue that has been in the forefront of practically every media outlet, the people who elected them will take matters into their own hands.
The protest of 34 North Frederick Street and 41 Belvedere Place, not only brought to light the way Ireland’s legal system treats squatter’s rights, but also the way that it enforces the rights of the landlord over the civil rights of assembly.
An Garda Siochana, which literally translates as ‘peacekeeper’, donned black balaclavas and carried power tools. Further drawing parallels to Orwellian dystopia, the gardai threatened protesters with batons and pepper spray. Whether you think the protests or the gardaí are responsible for the hospitalisation of the two students, is up to you, but the fact of the matter remains that two students ended up in hospital with injuries, with many students’ unions and USI making statements condemning the use of force by the gardai on students partaking in a peaceful protest.
Despite these unfortunate state of affairs, one can remain optimistic if lightning does indeed strike twice when students are involved with national campaigns. Riding the high from the success of the “Repeal the 8th” campaign, which saw thousands of students from across Ireland and abroad gather together to achieve a common cause, it seems that finally the housing crisis might be next in line. Yes, there have been many attempts to end the housing crisis before, with many sabbatical officers from Trinity, DCU, UCD and Maynooth, in contact with the housing ministers throughout the years – but none have been on the same scale of the “Strike4Repeal” or the “HomeToVote” campaigns seen in the lead up to the referendum in June.
We must be cautious of empty promises and practise scepticism with discussions on the housing crisis. The new Housing Development Authority announced by the Government has been said to favour developers, and its target of 7,500 houses a year, on average, is pitifully low. A National Forum on Student Accommodation and the creation of links with financing bodies, such as the European Investment Bank and the Housing Finance Agency, has been mooted by the Student Accommodation Working Group. Much may come of this. However, the Forum would tell us what we already know – the time for government-led intervention has passed, and action is urgently needed.