Remember the Housing Action Committees – don’t we need them now?

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imagesIn the 1960s there were militant grassroots campaigns for access to housing, both north and south.  In Derry and elsewhere in the six counties they campaigned for equal access to housing and fought sectarian discrimination; they demonstrated and they occupied.  In Dublin they also demonstrated and occupied, demanding that more houses be built and that empty houses be provided to people who needed them.

Pictures: above, Dublin Housing Action Committee protest, late 1960s; top left, homeless person in the six counties; top right, ghost estate

Pictures: above, Dublin Housing Action Committee protest, late 1960s; top left, homeless person in the six counties; top right, ghost estate

Today there are 90,000 people on housing waiting lists in the south, while there are 700 ghost estates – and that’s not counting the ghost estates that have been bulldozed – and many, many thousands of other unoccupied housing units.  NAMA holds most of the abandoned properties and, while 4,000 of these have been earmarked for public housing, this isn’t exactly proceeding quickly.  Moreover, 4,000 is a ridiculously low number – in Kildare alone, for instance, there are 5,000 people waiting for homes.

Indeed, reports by the BBC and The Guardian in April 2010 suggested there were as many as 300,000 fairly new, empty properties in the south.  Karl Whitney notes, for instance,  “A recent report by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Planning estimated that there were over 300,000 empty, newly built properties in Ireland’ (The Guardian, April 8, 2010).

In the north, the situation is proportionately similar.  The Department for Social Development itself noted in its official action plan released last year, “as of December 2012 there were over 40,000 people on the Waiting List with approximately half of these applicants in housing stress”.  Not that I have had time to put much work into it, but statistics for how many vacant homes there are in the north seem a lot harder to come by – wonder why!  (Stats for England are very easy to find.)

It seems to me like there’s a basis for an all-Ireland housing campaign there.

Yet what is happening is that it is being left up to charities to take up the issue, with the left sometimes falling in behind.  For instance, a 24-hour sleep-out was organised by 100 Help the Homeless in Belfast, the Sunday before last.  Various political activists participated in the protest.

I’m not against charities in principle.  But, in cases like this, they exist because of the absence of the left.  In the 1960s, people, including left-wing activists (and especially republicans), didn’t wait for charities to do stuff and then get in behind them.  They were out front, leading.

Surely what is needed is occupations of the ghost estates and other empty housing.  The ghost estates are an especially good target for occupation, because you can involve much larger numbers of people in taking them over than you can with individual vacant houses and flats.  Also, the ghost estates are a very direct product of the consequences of a market economy, where the drive for maximum profit trumps human need.  They’re a living (or rotting and getting demolished) testament to the need for a planned economy.

A housing campaign on both sides of the border also has the possibility of bringing together workers on the basis of workers’ needs, rather than Sinn Fein-type romantic nationalist rhetoric which doesn’t appeal to many workers in the nationalist community let alone workers in the unionist population.  A housing campaign can put the national question on the agenda before workers across sectarian lines, on the basis that a 32-county workers’ republic could solve the housing problems, but neither partitioned, capitalist state ever will.

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Posted on June 9, 2014, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Civil rights movement, Economy and workers' resistance, Irish politics today, Partition, Republicanism 1960s, six counties, Social conditions, twenty-six counties. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Looking back at the Dublin Housing Action Committee, from the Come Here to Me blog. http://comeheretome.com/2014/05/28/looking-back-at-the-dublin-housing-action-committee/

  2. 100%. The HACs were one of the highlights of the 60’s activism.

    Today there’s a problem with these parasitic developers, who wipe out landscapes and small towns just to build acres upon acres of overpriced (“starting at 300 thousand”), prefabricated houses that either go unsold or their owners go bankrupt in a few years. Then the taxes go up and what was once a quaint, economically comfortable, scenic community has now become an ugly ghost town for people who didn’t need the houses in the first place (they could have afforded to build their own), or else it turns into a slum! Rant over.
    Its an endemic problem here in the US, and I saw a little of it on the west coast of Ireland. Heard its bad in wales too.
    If housing complexes are going to be built they should be for the tens of thousands who actually need houses, or existing ones restored to livability.

  3. (The HACs were also lucky to have the backing of a strong republican movement. “The Lost Revolution” has some interesting details on how the pre-split IRA lent support behind the scenes in dublin and derry.)

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