Political parties need to stop squabbling and start working together

Published: 11.07.2019


Today (July 11th) is the last sitting of the Dáil before the summer recess. In this blog post, Focus Ireland’s Communications Officer Conor Culkin calls upon Irish political parties to stop arguing and start working together in order to tackle the homeless crisis when they return in September.

The only certainty in life is death and taxes and political parties arguing with each other. This could be another take on a famous line by author and political theorist, Benjamin Franklin.

Watching two politicians with separate ideologues belligerently argue the toss is not a pretty sight. It also doesn’t help public apathy and the “they’re all the same” view is expressed by many disenfranchised voters. Few subjects divide Leinster House more than housing and highlight the fact that TDs and Senators are actually not “all the same”. Therein lies one of the many problems. The issue is debated and disagreed which mostly results in snappy soundbites for the Six One news or press releases with little solutions. Far from standing on the side-lines Focus Ireland has delivered progress – last year we helped secure a home for 400 families. However, further progress is frustratingly slow for the 10,000 plus people who are currently homeless.

‘Commission on Housing’

What’s the solution? A cross-party political commitment would certainly help. Focus Ireland believes a ‘Commission on Housing’ after the next election is needed to work out a broad consensus on the supply of affordable, secure housing over the next two decades.

Opinions in Leinster House are so polarised that few people know what the policy will be in the next few years. Even public opinion is divided.  Depending upon who you listen to, private landlords, approved housing bodies, institutional investors, vulture funds and homeless charities are an essential part of the housing solution or else the devil incarnate to be banned, abolished or fiercely regulated. The sheer volume of disagreement will only perpetuate housing insecurity for generations to come. Whether it’s a party on the left or right, a longer-term broad consensus which could last several decades is well overdue.

The proposal for a ‘Commission on Housing’ emerged from a diverse group of economists, housing policy experts, social housing providers, private developers, senior public servants, people with long experience of public affairs, who met over the last few months to discuss a longer-term perspective on the current crisis. The group, chaired by experienced public policy expert, Eddie Molly, came to the view that the key to a lasting solution to the housing crisis is not a particular set of ideas or proposals but rather an effective deliberative process involving a broad range of interests, professionals, people with specialist knowledge, political parties and, of course, citizens.

The group…came to the view that the key to a lasting solution to the housing crisis is not a particular set of ideas or proposals but rather an effective deliberative process involving a broad range of interests, professionals, people with specialist knowledge, political parties and, of course, citizens.

The group proposed that the Government which comes to power after the next election – no matter who is in that Government – should establish a broad based ‘Commission on Housing’ with an ambitious project of charting out a broad approach to the delivery of housing. The proposal should be capable of giving a broadly consistent approach to housing whether it’s planning, financing, land management or homelessness and many other fundamental issues.

Cross- party political cooperation works

This approach is not unique. Ireland in recent years has witnessed major social change, especially when there’s been a cross-party political commitment on key issues.  The same sex marriage campaign was a triumph and showed what can be done when political parties cooperate and put their squabbles aside. Additionally, the same self-defeating disagreement existed in many other economic areas – such as the role of multi-nationals or unemployment – and many were brought into agreement that real progress is possible. It’s hard to believe that nothing of this nature has ever been attempted on housing, which is so basic to our individual well-being and which we are so badly failing to solve.

Additionally, the same self-defeating disagreement existed in many other economic areas – such as the role of multi-nationals or unemployment – and many were brought into agreement that real progress is possible.

A ‘Commission on Housing’ will not be a magic wand for the housing and homeless crisis as the issue is so multi-layered  but it will provide a long term plan. While Focus Ireland work with The Government it’s clear that their overall strategy is not working. There is no clear vision to tackle homelessness – all it has is an outdated promise in Rebuilding Ireland and a stack of press statements. We urgently need a more ambitious plan to tackle the homeless crisis and a ‘Commission on Housing’ is a healthy start. This is the least our voters deserve.

You can read the proposal for the establishment of a Commission on Housing here.

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Tags: Challenges, Housing, Policy, Solutions

Author: Conor Culkin

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