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Ireland: Is Property Theft? Irish Landlords in Power

Ireland, with its punishing history of colonisation, has a no less traumatic ‘memory’  of property, its possession and, more importantly, its dispossession or lack

The meaning of property is not constant. The actual institution, and  the way people see it, and hence the meaning they give to the word,  all change over time. The are related to changes in the purpose which society or the dominant classes in society expect the institution  of property to serve . . . (C. B. Macpherson  quoted in Barbara Lewis Solow ‘A New Look at  the  Irish Land  Question 1981’)

 

“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine’, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

 

Ireland, with its punishing history of colonisation, has a no less traumatic ‘memory’  of property, its possession and, more importantly, its dispossession or lack.

 

Thus, since before the Irish Famine of the late 1840’s where over 1 million of the population starved to death and another two and a half million fled, while food in substantial quantities was shipped out to the English mainland, for sale of course, Irish landlords have not had a good name.

 

From the mid-1500’s on, the outcome of the eventual-800-year long English conquest in Ireland was to transfer ownership of the land from the Irish to the ‘foreign’ invader. This intensified following the murderous Cromwellian invasion where in 1649, Oliver Cromwell landed in Ireland with his New Model Army and by 1652 had all but completed his bloody conquest. The English Parliament thereby published its harsh terms of surrender for all Catholics (and Royalists) in Ireland, which included the mass confiscation of all Catholic-owned land. Confiscation was no new experience for the Irish and so between 1550 and 1690 it is estimated that more than 90% of all land on the island came into the possession of Protestant English landlords. “The people had now before them the choice between the occupation of land, at any rent, or starvation. System of rack-renting…” Karl Marx said in his address to the Communist Educational Association of German Workers in London in 1867.

 

By the 1800’s a lot of these landlords did not even live in the country but rather collected the rent to squander it in “lavish lifestyles” in London or the other big English cities… (“According to Marx, the amount of rent sent to absentee landlords, the amount of interest on mortgages, and the investment of Irish capital in England was many millions of pounds sterling.” Slater & McDonough, Department of Sociology, National University of Ireland, Maynooth)

 

The people they were collecting this rent from were usually extremely poor Irish peasant farmers struggling to feed their families from small plots of land that they were afraid to develop for fear of the rent being increased. Oftentimes this same farmer, for a variety of reasons, found himself and his family evicted to the side of the road or a makeshift shelter on an ocean of wet bogland.

 

“In locating the importance of rack-renting in the relationship between the landlord class and their tenants, Marx moved his analysis onto examining the role that landlordism played in the colonising process….This imposition of a landowning aristocracy upon Ireland allowed them – with the full backing of the military and police apparatus of the new state – to use their monopoly ownership of the land to exploit the native population in a rack-renting system…The Irish parliament was a means of oppression… All these [measures] were means for robbing the Irish of their land … The consequence of this ‘takeover’ manifested itself in the landlords essentially protecting their own economic interests vis-a-vis their Irish tenantry by dominating and controlling the political and legal institutions of the state. During this period, statute after statue was passed by the Irish Protestant parliament for the benefit of the landlords when dealing with their Irish tenants; for example, ‘the ejectment code’ was enacted to expedite and facilitate the eviction of the tenant, to get rid of every formality and difficulty that protected the British tenant under English common law.” (Eamonn Slater & Terrence McDonough)

 

Time passed and along comes the 20th century: rebellion, guerilla warfare, a type of ‘independence’ and civil war, with the result that any notion of reorganising the society the English had just been kicked out of got shelved and it was back – (notwithstanding the changing of the colour of the Post Boxes from red to green) – to business as usual.

 

“Business as usual” would last until, with the century on its way out, the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ arrived on the back of a “property boom” (“In 2006 the prices peaked at the top of the bubble, with a combination of increased speculative construction and rapidly rising prices”) – where, supported by a variety of governments, a small percentage of the population succeeded in amassing enormous amounts of wealth, leading to the ‘crash’ of 2008 where Ireland was forced (or some say deceived) into bailing out the banks and, less we forget, their corrupt or incompetent bankers – (“The panic decision to give a blanket guarantee to the banks on September 29th, 2008, will be remembered as the greatest piece of social vandalism here, probably since Cromwell.”  Vincent Browne) – and the large property developers to the tune of 64 billion euros, for which the rest of the working population, along with their children’s children, as if anything was new, are now liable to pay for…

 

Fast forward a decade and our current national debt stands, in 2018 at over 211 billion. This works out at around €45,000 per citizen of the State. The interest of which to service Ireland pays out €16.5 million a day – “our” national debt. Interest paid, presumably, to some other banking institution.

 

In other words, whether 100 years ago, or now-the-present,  Irish independence was not to fundamentally alter property relations nor the distribution of wealth and poverty in the Irish Free State despite the aspirations of a minority of its revolutionary leadership. And so, the result, after all the eulogies about “independence” have gone silent, and if in no other way, poverty finally gained the right to an Irish passport, Irish citizenship and an Irish identity. And on more than one occasion, a ticket on a boat to find work somewhere else.

 

This is as much a part of our history, past as well as present, despite the smug denials of “the dominant class” and their political representatives. Also a substantial part of our culture and identity, seldom articulated, least of all regarding our need to be free of it…

 

As so to the crash of 2008.

 

A Housing Crisis, ongoing…

 

Shelter, a roof over your head, a house, a home is a basic human need as well as a fundamental human right. But as C. B. Macpherson pointed out “The meaning of property is not constant.” What is my home is often your bank manager’s balance sheet, or a landlord’s meal-ticket or a vulture fund’s asset.

 

Now, whereas there have always been individuals who found themselves homeless, for a variety of unacceptable reasons it is now apparently the norm that homelessness has become a factor in the state’s structuring of property relations.

 

Since the crash and despite almost a hundred years of hardship (in “boom” or “depression”) for a significant portion of the population we have now been visited with a housing crisis made up in equal portions of a homeless epidemic resulting from rent increases of catastrophic proportions in the “market”, at a time where each year since 2008 the numbers of people stranded on the social housing waiting lists have increased dramatically as well as the time spent waiting to be accommodated.

 

The spiraling costs of private rented accommodation are forcing many who have no recourse to social housing into homelessness (as well as some of the 100,000 mortgage holders estimated to be in arrears to the bailed-out-banking-system which, along with the “major supply problem in the main urban areas, especially Dublin,” as an explanation for this almost criminal rent inflation, all lead  the homeless figures to have steadily increased.

 

Finally, we find ourselves living in an environment where vulture funds are buying up so many of these non-functioning home loans from the banks and, like the banks themselves, but with less oversight, only to ready to continue the process of evictions of the families living within just as we are now, it seems, about to embark, on a new property boom, with the apparent goal merely being to realise these enormous profits once again.

 

Business as usual for “the men of property” it seems…

 

Oh, but don’t mention the families now living in cars, or hostels or temporarily accommodated in hotels or the people, the many people (and their dog) sleeping by the side of the road.

 

So much so that we saw in 2017 where three homeless people died on the streets in one week in September – and two others were to follow on the streets within the space of 48 hours in November.

 

The recent government statistics (March 2018) show that the figures for homeless adults were 6,035 and the number of homeless children were 3,646, with a total number of 1,720 families in emergency accommodation. A record number of 1,178 families with 2,423 children are homeless in the Dublin area alone.

 

“They have become homeless either because they cannot afford (even with the Government subsidy) to pay the increasing rents being demanded, or because the banks (including the Government-owned AIB) are repossessing their homes, or because a landlord cannot meet the repayments on a buy-to-let mortgage, or because a landlord has decided to sell up.” Peter McVerry

 

In December 2017, 8,587 people were counted as homeless by Peter mcVerry, the homeless campaigner; while in the same month he placed the figure of children at 3,079 children without a home.

 

“Unfortunately, homelessness is increasing year on year. Between December 2014 and August 2017 there was a net increase in the number of people recorded as homeless of 5,412 people, an increase of 189%. This upward trend has existed for a number of years and the number of people becoming homeless is actually increasing.”

 

What is property? May I not likewise answer, It is robbery!” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the “father of anarchism”, said

 

 

Welcome to the New World Order! A place where there is always money for banks…(“Globalisation is merely the totalitarian extension of the logic of the finance markets to all aspects of life.” Subcomandante Marcos) …the people’s money, created from the work of a country’s citizens as well as the use of the limited natural resources of the planet – all sunk, we see now in the black hole of a financial system composed equally of abstract figures and privilege, but with little space for people and obviously now: not their basic needs…

 

Is Property Theft? Government policy

 

“…housing policy in Ireland over several decades has been very successful –

 

successful in shrinking the role of local authorities in providing social housing and offloading the task on to the private sector;

 

successful in creating a whole new landlord class, including within it an increasing number of absentee corporate landlords;

 

successful at generating profits and making some people very wealthy;

 

successful in ensuring that housing properly reflects people’s earning power and/or inherited wealth;

 

successful at modernising thinking about housing so that many in positions of influence in business and politics, as well as some better-off members of the public, no longer subscribe to the old-fashioned notion that housing is a means of creating a home and being part of a community: instead, they happily (and profitably) think of housing primarily as a commodity, an asset, an investment.”  Peter McVerry

 

One in every five TDs are landlords

 

And having faced all this with a stoicism born of despair we learn now – as if the rest of this tragic farce was not enough – that one in every five TDs (public representatives in the Irish Dáil [parliament]) –  are actually landlords. The question, of course that follows, in a country that seems to have an enormous problem with either controlling the housing (or any other) market (or property developers themselves, or the banks or other “powerful” groups within society):

 

Is there a conflict of interest?

 

“Long-time homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry last night told the Irish Examiner while it has been known for a number of years that a number of politicians are also landlords, the growing concern is that “this could create a conflict of interest mindset”. While suggesting individual TDs may not be deliberately blocking new laws to lower rent prices for personal gain “because they’re paid very well anyway”, Fr McVerry said the scale of Dáil landlords means they may be suffering from group-think and only approaching the issue from one perspective. Citing an example of the problem, the campaigner said “rent pressure zones are simply not working” and that if the tenant’s voice was more strongly heard in the Dáil, politicians would accept “we need to declare an emergency…That emergency should be called now, and I would actually go so far as to say there should be a rent freeze for three years, but that would be anathema to the Government…” he said.”

 

Figures released from the Dáil’s Register of Interests where a declaration is needed where a public representative earns more than €2,600 a month in rent showed that:

 

30 of Ireland’s 158 TDs are landlords. That includes at least four out of 15 of the current Cabinet.

 

The present  Fine Gael Government’s landlords include:

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: Current second in command (Tánaiste) in the government, and Foreign Affairs minister, also the former Housing Minister, the Register tells us Simon Coveney lets an apartment overlooking Harty’s Quay in Rochestown, Co Cork. He also has shares in Private Wealth Managers, a wealth management investment group and Coveney Family Investment Club.

2 years ago, one media report stated:

“Minister Coveney is tasked with controlling the housing market in Ireland which has seen rents spiral to record levels in Dublin.  While thousands of Irish families are homeless.”

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty,

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, (the landlord of three properties in Macroom. He has also declared ownership of a holiday home in Glenbeigh, Co Kerry),

Junior Health Minister Jim Daly lists his occupation as “landlord” and declared one property in Cork,

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan “listed himself as a “property owner”, including details of a holiday cottage in Sligo used for “part-time holiday letting”.

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe “lists “landlord” among his occupations and declares three apartments, two in Wexford and one in Dublin that are leased out.”

Minister John Paul Phelan “lists “landlord” among his occupations and one property in Dublin.”

Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell has five investment properties, two in Westmeath and three in Dublin.

Fine Gael chair, Martin Heydon lists “landlord” among his occupations and a rental property in Wexford.

Waterford TD John Deasy declared “rental income” from an apartment in Citywest, Dublin, and a holiday apartment in Sardinia, Italy.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD Pat Deering declared “rental income” from a house in Carlow.

Alan Farrell declared his former primary residence in Kinsealy, Co Dublin, has been rented since May 2016. He now rents a property elsewhere for his own use.

As well as Sean Canny, Independent TD for Galway East and Landlord, who lets a number of dwellings in Galway.

 

Those who support this present government’s policies  from the  Fianna Fáil party and who are also landlords are:

Robert Troy, Eamon Scanlon, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, Sean Haughey, Marc Mac Sharry, Stephen Donnelly, Sean Fleming, Billy Kelleher, Timmy Dooley, Bobby Alyward, John McGuinness and John Curran.

 

And from the other parties currently in the Dáil: the Teachta Dála (TD) landlords include:

The Labour Party’s Alan Kelly,

Independent Michael Healy-Rae,

Independent Noel Grealish and Independent Michael Harty,

 

The figures for 2017 showed one in four TDs were identified as landlords in the Dáil  register of interests.

 

In February the socialist TD, Mick Barry, responding to the reports said:

“We know that a quarter of the cabinet are landlords and that the Dáil itself is rife with landlordism, too. The Government’s pro-landlord policy is determined, first and foremost, by Fine Gael’s slavish pro-market policies. I think we should be told, now, what kind of rents these ministers and TDs are charging…There should be a national register of the rents charged each year by every landlord in the State, but the cabinet and Dáil information should be put out there first.”

 

Barry’s criticism of his colleagues in the Dáil came “as the latest www.daft.ie report revealed that rent prices are now surging beyond boom-era levels, with averages of €1,822 in Dublin, €1,180 in Cork, and €1,227 nationwide” the Irish Examiner pointed out.

 

Questions Being Asked

 

Fr. Peter McVerry started working with excluded young people in Dublin’s rundown north inner city in 1974. It was here that he saw first-hand the key issues of homelessness and deprivation – going on to set up his first small hostel in 1979 specifically designed to provide accommodation for homeless boys between the ages of 12 and 16. He founded what would become the Peter McVerry Trust in 1983 while working in Ballymun. Since then, the charity has developed from a three-bedroom flat in Ballymun to the large homeless-support organisation  it is today.

 

In an article written for thejournal.ie early in April McVerry said:

 

“The majority of people and families who are becoming newly homeless have been evicted from the private rented sector, either because they cannot afford the increasing rent, or the house has been repossessed because the landlord has fallen into mortgage arrears, or the landlord decides to sell the house or needs it for a close relative to live in.

 

It should be made illegal for the next three years for banks or vulture funds or landlords to evict people onto the street, except in extreme circumstances such as refusal to pay rent or antisocial behaviour, in which cases a fast-track process through the courts should be available to landlords…”

 

The Liberal, the new Irish online publication, (founded in January 2014), was less reticent:

 

“Some may wonder why rent caps and other bills haven’t been passed in the Dáil to protect tenant’s rights and prevent landlords from overcharging and treating their tenants unfairly. Some may even see bringing in rent caps as common sense and essential to allow our citizens including our homeless to be able to afford somewhere to rent. Figures in the latest Daft rental report shows the average list price rose by 8% in 2016 with some landlords renting out average area one bed apartments for anything up to €2,500. So why haven’t the government brought in helpful rental changes? Because as per usual Irelands government are more concerned with lining their own pockets before remotely addressing our nations national housing crises. At least 30 of the 158 TDs in the 32nd Dáil are landlords and rent out property to tenants in Ireland and abroad. These figures come at a time when ministers, TDs and other members of the Dáil including the Taoiseach, have increased their own pay packets substantially. They will see their salaries jump by between €2,700 and €5,000 on top of their annual salaries and their extra rental and stock income.”

 

Similar points are also being made from different ends of the social-political spectrum. The Communist Party of Ireland (CPI):

“Some groups are saying that the housing system is broken; but in fact it is operating exactly as Fine Gael and their allies in the landlord and developer class intend. Within the next three years the state will subsidise landlords by a whopping €3 billion, through rent allowance, housing assistance payment, the rental accommodation scheme, and leasing.

 

When you consider that a house can be built for €150,000 by a local authority on public land and leased to a tenant for an affordable rate, you can see that this manufactured crisis is merely a transfer of public money to the hands of landlords and developers. With the average increase in rents from 2011 to 2017 hitting 45 per cent and the average increase in wages a mere 5 per cent, working people are being squeezed for the well-being of the landlord class, and to reduce the cost to the exchequer of the bank bail-out through an increase in asset prices.”

 

…Makes you wonder about Marx’s view of “…the landlords essentially protecting their own economic interests vis-a-vis their Irish tenantry by dominating and controlling the political and legal institutions of the state…”

 

Conclusions

 

In March 2015, Peter McVerry had spoken out on the same dilemma:

 

“There are a number of TDs who are landlords and I don’t think that they are going to vote for it” (rent certainty). I think the issue in Fine Gael particularly is much more on the side of those who have power, rather than those who are powerless.”

 

Few would be irrational enough any longer to envision a society where the State owns all property (even on behalf of “the common good”) and the individual none. But that does not deal with the outrageous fact that a small number of individuals control the majority of the world’s wealth (“The globe’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth”) to the detriment of the rest – the majority – of humankind. In that case, property (or profit), as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon pointed out, becomes the thief of the livelihood of millions of humans and decisions based on profit we are seeing now, are seldom good either for the planet or for the needs of the countless numbers of the dispossessed.

And so, it all begins again

 

“Not surprisingly, the debate has started again about the bubble-like properties of the market. The argument about whether it is a bubble or not, is not really the point. The crunch for any market comes when it is hit by a shock, such as the sub-prime crisis back in 2008. If rising house prices have pushed debt levels higher, which is now happening, then the whole market and the economy becomes very vulnerable as was found out a decade ago. Ireland needs to increase housing supply as a matter of urgency. That is the only real solution…” Friends First (life assurance company) Housing Report’s author,  economist Jim Power.

 

The “only real solution”, you say? That. Is. Except Revolution – meaning a complete transformation in the way we organize the societies we live in, our relations to each other, and above all, our relationship to “property”. It hasn’t worked. And we are “undone”. Having listened to 100 years of “imposters”, following the aborted Irish revolution at the start of the last century: we have forgotten that  “the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

 

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1840)

May we hope, or not? What must we think of those who govern us? In the world of sorrow in which the proletaire moves, and where nothing is known of the intentions of power, it must be said that despair prevails… Then let the government declare its position; let it print its profession of faith in equality, and I am dumb. Otherwise, I shall continue the war; and the more obstinacy and malice is shown, the oftener will I redouble my energy and audacity. I have said before, and I repeat it, — I have sworn, not on the dagger and the death’s-head, amid the horrors of a catacomb, and in the presence of men besmeared with blood; but I have sworn on my conscience to pursue property, to grant it neither peace nor truce, until I see it everywhere execrated. I have not yet published half the things that I have to say concerning the right of domain, nor the best things. Let the knights of property, if there are any who fight otherwise than by retreating, be prepared every day for a new demonstration and accusation; let them enter the arena armed with reason and knowledge, not wrapped up in sophisms, for justice will be done.

 

Landlords beware.

 

séamas carraher

 

Postscript (P.S.): Media Reports also published Other TD’s Assets Identified in The Register:

 

Paudie Coffey, a  Fine Gael politician and Senator in the 25th Seanad, owns shares in the ESB. He also rents out a house in Portlaw, Co. Waterford and has 20% share in Clodagh Enterprise Property, The Square, Portlaw, Co. Waterford.

 

Former ceann comhairle (Speaker) of Dáil Eireann and Fine Gael TD, Sean Barrett describes himself as a “shareholder in a company that owns an office block and which is leased to a tenant.”

 

Tom Barry holds shares in Dairygold and Bank of Ireland. He also owns agricultural land in Monanimy, Rahan and Ballyduff in Killavullen, Kilquane in Castletownroche, a site for houses in Mallow, 5 apartments for rental in Brideholm, and 2 houses for rental in Beechgrove, Listowel.

 

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy lets out 27 acres of land in  Ballyvora, Ferbane, Co. Offaly

 

Fine Gael Galway East TD, Ciarán Cannon is an executive director in a property company and owns property in Carrabane, Athenry and Banyuls Dels Aspres in France.

 

Fine Gael deputy James Bannon declares an apartment in San Bartolomé de Tirajana, on Gran Canaria, a house on Clonliffe Road, Dublin and another in Derraghan, a constituency office and yard in Longford and farmland in both Newtown and Derraghan.

 

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter “famously owns and rents out an extensive property portfolio in Dublin, London and in the Florida destinations of Naples and Marco Island, on the Gulf of Mexico.”

 

Frank Feighan is a Senator in the 25th Seanad. He rents out his 4 properties in Sligo. He also has properties Leitrim, Roscommon, Dublin and according to his declaration, rents out an apartment at Madach Gardens (Goszdu Court) in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.

 

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton owns shares in Arytza the Swiss food company, Bank of Ireland, Irish Life & permanent, Smurfit Kappa Group, FBD Holdings, AIB Investment Fund: c/o Ark Life Assurance and He also owns a house on Conyngham Rd., Dublin 8, setting farmland and a house in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Setting farmland in, Drumree, Co. Meath and Leixlip, Co. Kildare.

 

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe, has shares in Surrey-based consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble.

 

Willie O’Dea a Former Fianna Fáil Defence Minister has a significant portfolio of investments in oil and mining concerns, including Union Jack Oil (Bath), Kaizen Discovery (Vancouver), and Dragon Oil (London).

 

…Makes you think of the great ancestor of some of these public representatives who ended up dying in an English prison cell, Theobald Wolfe Tone, one of the founding members of the United Irishmen, and regarded as the father of Irish republicanism and leader of the 1798 Irish Rebellion against the English invader:

If the men of property will not support us, they must fall. Our strength shall come from that great and respectable class, the men of no property.”

 

Say no more?

 

References:

 

Image:

Dublin’s O Connell Street, 27 May, 2016, at 8.30 in the morning.

By, séamas carraher

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

 

The Register:

REGISTER OF INTERESTS OF MEMBERS OF DÁIL ÉIREANN PURSUANT TO

SECTION 6 OF THE ABOVE MENTIONED ACTS IN RESPECT OF THE  REGISTRATION PERIOD 1 JANUARY2017 TO 31 DECEMBER 2017.

http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/tdsandsenators/Register-of-Members-Interests-2017.pdf

 

Video:

10,000 March In Dublin For Housing (April 2018)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpY1lmouOQ8

 

Ireland’s Housing Crisis #8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QToibxThI_o

 

Ireland’s Housing Crisis 2017: A Crisis to Let.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoS9eyFXQps

 

Richard Boyd Barrett questions the Taoiseach

about the housing crisis (February 2018)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkPmqfjzJtY

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