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'We're conning our young people': Thousands take part in Raise the Roof protest

The protest today coincided with a debate in the Dáil on a motion on housing. / YouTube

THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE gathered outside the Dáil today in the latest demonstration over the housing crisis.

The protest included groups from unions, political parties, community organisations, colleges all across the country and activists involved in the recent Take Back the City movement.

Síona Cahill, president of the Union of Students in Ireland, said more than 6,000 students had joined the protest today. She told the crowd that they were tired of “damp, rundown and regularly overcrowded conditions”.

“This is the social justice issue of our generation, the locked out generation,” she said.

5601 Raise the Roof Protest_90555565 One of a number of construction workers who attended the protest today. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

Keith Troy, a construction worker on a zero-hour contract also spoke at the rally. He said workers in his situation “don’t know if they’re working from one day to the next” and have constant uncertainty about paying their rent or mortgages.

He said Irish citizens “need to unify more” in order to force reform in this area.

“We need everybody and their dog out on the street.”

Homeless campaigner Peter McVerry actually did bring his dog with him. He told the crowd they were both there “to fight for human rights”. 

Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

“This protest is not just about homelessness, this protest is about housing. I guesstimate that there are at least half a million people in this country whose housing situation is causing them serious distress. That includes homeless people, it includes people who are living in overcrowded households, people who are living with their parents because they cannot afford to move out, people living in poor quality private rental accommodation,” he said.

People who are living in rental accommodation, but are paying a huge amount of their income just to keep a roof over their head, people in mortgage distress of more than two years, worried sick about when the bank is going to put a letter through their letterbox.

McVerry said we “have a housing policy that is affecting a huge number of families from all social groups except the very wealthy in this country”.

5572 Raise the Roof Protest_90555567 Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

He also said most young people growing up “will never be able to own their own home”. 

To get a basic home at €300,000 requires you to have an income of about €80.000 a year and only one in three households in this country will have an income of €80,000 a year.

Young people who have been told stay in school, study hard, get a good Leaving Cert, go to college and Ireland will look after you – they have been fooled. Because Ireland will not look after them.

They will never be able to own a house, they will never be able to get out of the private rented trap they find themselves in. We are conning our young people.

sdr The apartment block Brian Desmond lives in was taken over by a vulture fund four years ago. Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

Speaking to about his reasons for attending the protest, Brian Desmond said the apartment block he lives in was purchased by a vulture fund four years ago.

“I’ve seen over past four years how much they have upped the rent, that people are being displaced, pushed out, the community is suffering,” he said.

People say ‘oh it’s only a 4% increase’, but that’s a lot for somebody who’s working and trying to cover a family of three. Now I’m at a point where it’s breaking point. My daughter’s in school, I don’t see anywhere I could move to if I’m going to keep her in that school.

“It’s unsustainable for me and my family and there’s no Plan B as far as I can see from the government. I think everybody needs to become a collective and it’s a civil rights issue at the moment, we’ve sold off out country to companies who are just trying to make profit.”

‘True colours’

The protest today coincided with a debate in the Dáil on a private members bill on housing drafted and signed by 47 TDs from Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, Solidarity, Social Democrats, Labour, the Green Party, Independents4Change and others.

The motion calls for:

  • A declaration of a housing and homeless emergency;
  • A dramatic increase in the capital spending on housing to €2.3 billion in Budget 2019;
  • End evictions into homelessness;
  • More aggressive measures to bring empty properties and unused building land into use for housing;
  • Real rent controls top achieve affordable rent;
  • Increase the proportion of public and affordable housing in private developments.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the protest and debate will “reveal the true colours of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail when it comes to the housing emergency”.

Are they prioritising the needs of a whole generation who are losing hope they will ever have a secure, affordable home of their own or will they continue to promote the interests of vulture funds, property speculators and landlords who are profiting from the housing crisis?

He said only a “mass movement of people power, of the homeless, of housing applicants, of workers, of students and young people affected by this crisis” will force the change of policy that is needed.

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