If there is a shadow side to the booming Irish property market and the story the Irish government is telling about our prosperous new Ireland it is best seen in the Dublin housing market
Who we are as a people, what we stand for and what we will not stand for is being tested in a way that is intimate and human scale and unlike anything I have seen before in my lifetime.
It's not just our values, it's our spirit as Irish people that seems to be back on the block again right now. I am sad to say that I can't predict with confidence which side of this tussle will likely win.
Are we to live in a rapacious new society where market forces alone determine what our lives will look like, or will we intervene to create a fairer system that addresses people's real housing needs and actual ability to pay?
The Dublin of pre-revolutionary 1913 is back with us in some unexpected ways again now, isn't it? You can see it in the growing lines of hungry Irish citizens waiting on the city streets for free food donations in the midst of plenty.
You can see it in the protests that erupted this week when demonstrates condemned a vote to develop public land by a private company. The €320,000 price tag for “affordable homes” under this new scheme was criticized as being laughably out of touch and the demonstrators demanded an increase in the public housing units being built on the publicly owned land.
Many Irish people feel increasingly oppressed by the shocking housing prices and the low numbers of units being offered on the city property market, where commercial buildings now outnumber all others by a margin unseen since the Celtic Tiger era.
There are dozens of construction cranes on the city skyline again but they toil mostly on new commercial developments, mainly on new luxury hotels. Worse is the growing awareness that most of these new property investors live overseas. It's just a new class of absentee landlords ruining the quality of life for those who actually live and work here, people say. It's the 19th century in the 21st. The horse has just changed riders, but the lash goes on.
So far it looks like the markets are wining. There are more than 10,000 people homeless in Ireland for the sixth month in a row according to the latest figures from the Department of Housing. 10,275 people were living in emergency accommodation in July (6,497 adults and 3,778 children). This figure is up 103 from 10,172 in June.
In previous eras, these figures would have been a resignation matter for the current Housing Minister. The government could have fallen over the public outrage. By any yardstick, it's an appalling indictment of the failure of the markets and prevailing conservative political ideology to contend with the actual housing needs.
Because the actual numbers of the Irish homeless are even higher. The current figures do not include the rough sleepers or those living in squats, or people living in direct provision or women’s shelters, or the so-called “hidden homeless” who surf couches and have no home of their own.
The longs lines for food the now include Irish children, the explosion of rough sleepers on city's streets, the tents that have appeared on the edges of suburbs, are all telling us a sobering story about who is currently setting the tone for our nation, who is tailoring its dreams, and what they are prepared to live with.
But there is another legacy of 1913 that hasn't dimmed. It's one that the novelist James Plunkett often celebrated in his famous novel of the period called "Strumpet City." Simply put, it's what the Dubliners call “auld decency.” The kindness and civic spirit of the capital city have been tested by the market forces that have given it a facelift but have not diminished its spirit yet.
We were under British misrule in 1913, when the numbers of the destitute exploded. We don't have that excuse now. So it's time we took a hard look at ourselves and who is governing us and what they are delivering. We have to navigate a wiser path between the neo-colonialism of the international property markets and the revolutionary promise of 1916.
We are completely failing in that task right now, and the consequences will be far-reaching if we don't alter the course soon. The Dubliners of 1913 would have recognized the two-tiered Dublin of 2019.
They might have had a harder time accepting it was all the work of their fellow Irishmen and women, however.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section, below.