Now let’s act on homelessness


IMPACT’s Limerick seminar showed there are loads of bright ideas on resolving the housing crisis. Now we need action.

By Joe O’Connor

Úna Burns of Limerick-based Novas Initiatives addressed IMPACT’s homelessness seminar.
Úna Burns of Limerick-based Novas Initiatives addressed IMPACT’s homelessness seminar.

IMPACT’s Limerick seminar about our campaign on the homelessness and housing crisis recognised that the problem is not confined to Dublin. It’s a national emergency.

This was reflected in the strong turnout and tremendous engagement throughout the two-and-a-half hours we spent exploring local experiences and the responses put forward by our expert speakers, who included Mark Leahy (chair of IMPACT’s Limerick Local Government branch), Úna Burns of Limerick-based Novas Initiatives, and Rob Lowth of Limerick City and County Council.

In my introduction, I outlined IMPACT’s view that homelessness is a trade union issue because it’s a human rights issue. Every citizen should have a right to a home and the basic dignity that comes with it. The housing crisis is also a trade union issue because the lack of quality and affordable accommodation has a hugely detrimental effect on our members’ living standards, and those of other working people.

With other organisations, IMPACT has been campaigning on this issue over the past two years. Our activities have included:

  • Our Boards and Voluntary Agencies branch petition campaign to protect homeless service budgets in Dublin City Council, May 2014
  • ‘A Roof is a Right’ public meeting, September 2014
  • Stakeholder meeting with homeless charities and economists on housing policy hosted by IMPACT, November 2014
  • IMPACT submission to Minister Kelly’s Emergency Homelessness Summit, December 2014
  • IMPACT motion to ICTU conference on Housing Provision and Homelessness, July 2015
  • Strong involvement with National Homeless and Housing Coalition (NHHC), which comprises of trade unions, homeless charities, political parties, NGOs and minority representatives and community housing action groups
  • NHHC has organised two national protests (December 2015 and May 2016) and launched a petition campaign for General Election 2016, calling on concrete and immediate actions from the new Government to tackle the homeless and housing crisis

Our first guest speaker was the incredibly brave Dublin mother Erica Fleming, who spoke in the recent RTÉ documentary My Homeless Family about raising her daughter in a cramped hotel room. She is now a campaigner and activist for government action on homelessness, and joined us with nine-year-old Emily by her side to deliver a passionate and defiant account of her situation. She had just returned from Brussels after travelling with an Irish delegation to address the European Commission on our housing and homelessness crisis.

Focus Ireland’s Mike Allen, and mid-west Simon Community’s Jackie Bonfield, joined us to talk about the complex nature of homelessness and their ideas on how we can end it.

Dublin City Council planner, IMPACT member, and long-time advocate for quality and affordable housing Kieran Rose was next up. He focused on the need for an effective vacant land levy in order to stop land hoarding. He also said reducing apartment housing quality is not a way to increase housing supply or affordability.

Kieran called on the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to investigate anti-competitive practices, in the construction industry and in relation to land hoarding, to see if there is evidence of monopolistic practices.

Our final guest speaker of the evening was Rory O’Donnell, director of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), who discussed the policy solutions set out in four recent NESC reports.

One of these, which was agreed by of trade unions, employers and other groups, advocated an effective system of rent regulation. This chimes with the European model of ‘cost rental,’ or permanent affordable rental, which IMPACT has advocated over the last couple of years.

He also said the political system needed to support local authorities and voluntary agencies to enable them to get on with the job of solving the housing crisis, rather than waiting for a ‘magic solution.’

In his closing address, IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan urged an easing of EU fiscal rules to enable a comprehensive State programme of building and buying affordable housing. He said this is achievable if we work together to put pressure on the political system.

The articulate and passionate questions posed to our speakers by Erica Fleming really captured the hearts of the audience and brought home the fact that, to Erica and Emily, this is more than just a policy issue. It’s their reality.

Thanks are due to IMPACT organiser Sinéad Wynne, our colleagues in the IMPACT mid-west office, and the Limerick local government and health branches for their work in making this event happen. Let’s hope we can now draw upon the energy and ideas in the room to bring an end to the homelessness and housing crisis, a national emergency which is rupturing the fabric of our society.