February 4, 2020: Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar during the final televised leaders' debate ahead of Ireland's 2020 General Election.Getty Images

If Irish press columnists were a guide, you might think the Irish government's recent controversial decision not to extend the moratorium on tenant evictions was a broadly popular choice there.

But the country is contending with a very serious housing crisis and many soon-to-be-evicted tenants - some as soon as this weekend - will face immediate and possibly prolonged homelessness.

The Irish charity DePaul estimates there was a backlog of 3,000 eviction notices ready to go ahead of the ban being lifted, which may lead to the kind of mass displacements we haven't really seen in Ireland since the 19th century.

If you have been back to Ireland recently, you can't have failed to notice that homelessness, a thing virtually unknown even in the raw years of stagnation and recession in the 1970s and 80s, has become a lamentable new normal.

Indeed when Irish Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien was challenged about the danger of the removal of the moratorium, he admitted that homelessness “could very possibly” increase. But the looming threat of adding thousands of suddenly unhoused new citizens to their number was not sufficient to make him vote against it, apparently. 

Think about this for a moment. Isn't the first job of government the welfare of its citizens? Minister O’Brien's shrugging response makes it sound like the haziest of afterthoughts. 

When challenged about the looming crisis, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, a new landlord himself, told the press, “I do think that there has been a demonization of landlords by our political system and by wider society over the past number of years. That hasn't worked. In fact, it's caused harm.

“It's made rents higher, it's made fewer properties available. That’s really hurting people, particularly those who need to rent for the first time: young people, new arrivals in the country, and people who need to move, who aren't protected by the rent pressure zones."

Complaining about landlords has hurt their feelings, Varadkar suggests, which in turn has led them to raise your rents or has upset them so badly they simply quit the market, which is why you can't find a place to rent now. It's your fault. 

Well, consider this. Between 2010 and 2021, property prices in Ireland rose roughly in concert with the EU average, but the average rent payments increased by nearly 70 percent. For those with property, that means their assets grew year by year, but Irish renters have paid far more for spectacularly less over the past decade. 

Worse, renters are now paying more than the average Irish mortgage holder, which means the seesaw is trending ever higher on one side.

Another dirty secret is that homeownership rates are now at their lowest in 50 years as private investors and global property groups swoop in and outbid us for new buildings, which they then let back to us at absurdly high rents.

Whole generations have been shut out of the property ladder and will never know the quality of life that comes from ownership and the wealth-building that accompanies it. That luxury is increasingly reserved for our propertied classes. 

So in Ireland, the future of the property market increasingly belongs in the hands of a small but influential circle of landlords, which adds to, rather than cures, the housing crisis. But don't criticize them because they're skittish and are likely to bolt at the first crossword, apparently.

Another great truth is that landlords generally let houses for profit, but they rarely build them. Existing properties are their stock in trade. They are middlemen, not the builders.

It is absurd to turn to them to solve the Irish housing crisis, which is really being exacerbated by not enough new homes to meet the demand. Every new landlord represents an opportunity lost to home ownership, that is all.

By calling on new landlords to come and fix the housing crisis, Varadkar is calling on foxes to repopulate the henhouse.

But worse, this cynical political dumbshow is giving a once-in-a-century opening for a new rise in populism, which inevitably appears and sweeps the decks when this level of complacent dysfunction continues unabated, as it clearly will. 

If this housing crisis continues unaddressed, the hurt feelings of Irish landlords will soon be the least of this government's problems.