No word in the English language, except perhaps ‘famine’, provokes a greater feeling of horror and unease from deep within the Irish psyche than that of ‘eviction'. With its sharp evocation of harsh Victorian landlords and mass homelessness the word has important historical resonance, but now at the very beginning of the 21st century, the word is blighting Irish society yet again.
The streets of Dublin are lined with sleeping bags and cardboard signs that plead for help, many more sleep in cars or on the couches of friends. 1,800 of Ireland’s homeless, some 27% of the total, are under the age of 18; they go to school, play GAA and study for their exams like their peers but all without a permanent roof over their heads.
Right2Homes is a group of Irishmen and women seeking legislation to prevent home repossessions and speaking to IrishCentral the group’s Brian Reilly said they had devised, “a credible, ethical type alternative” to the status quo.
The great recession of the last decade meant thousands of Irish homeowners faced negative equity and bankruptcy. Banks, themselves under huge financial pressure, sold off many of their loans to foreign “vulture funds” at knockdown prices and most commentators believe these funds were much more aggressive in ordering repossessions when people got into trouble with their mortgages.
The solution Right2Homes believes is for the state to found a national housing co-operative that can swoop in and help families in trouble.
The co-op would require $5 billion and the group believes such a sum can be raised in America.
The proof, they believe, that they’re onto something is that pressure was put on members of the group by “vested interests” not to travel to America - although they won’t reveal by who.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” another member of the group, Sandra Daly admits but the pressure not to go was proof enough to them that they are “going in the right direction”.
“We’re also having some preliminary discussions with potential funders,” Reilly says, “and they have been very informative… if the bill is passed into law and if the co-op is structured to what we describe last night they are interested.”
A bill has been written and support has been given by the four largest opposition parties in Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament).
“This is a people’s bill, as Sinn Féin’s Pearse Docherty described it because we created it,” Reilly adds.
“[It’s] five billion to buy it, it’s 14 billion balances outstanding, there are 60,000 households and the average debt is 234 thousand,” he continues.
“The price I'm saying we can buy this for is an average of 90,000 per house. It costs the state 60,000 a year to house a homeless family. The economics of this are a no brainer.”
Whilst that might seem like a loss to the state Daly adds that loss of economic output as a result of homelessness shouldn’t be disregarded either.
“These people do not function in society, they’re not functionally socially, morally. It’s bad economics if we ignore this.”
The economics behind the bill have been drawn up by Pat O’Sullivan - a former Bank of Ireland employee.
“We took the figures as published by [Ireland’s] Central Bank,” he explains.
“They were putting huge pressure on the banks to adequately provide against future losses… I wanted to establish what the written down value was so that when we get [the Department of] Finance to do this job it’ll be done on the price paid by the vultures to the banks as of last December.
“They’ll use their estimated values for the property, so that they don't get an unfair gain because the house marketing is [increasing] and this would be a huge write back of profit. Having already been bailed out for 65 billion euro, Irish people would be asked to pay again in effect.
“Money is available on the international market... at 2%. So the numbers that I’ve done on this transaction will enable a financial re-engineering of the book which will not disturb one family - they’ll be able to stay where they are - and it’ll be self-financing. It’s clean simple and legit, there’s no funny business in it.”
For him the bill is about far more than economic sense, it’s about providing a moral alternative to vulture funds.
“The vultures that were brought into our country,” he concludes, “they were given charitable status... they were exempt from stamp duty, income tax, in effect corporation tax and they raped our country.”
This week it was confirmed that the number of rough sleepers in Dublin had hit a record high: on Tuesday 176 men and 27 women were curled up in sleeping bags with the temperamental summer sky their only shelter.
Without drastic action few doubt there’ll be many more joining them soon.