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Another winter of discontent ahead

August 30th, 2022 11:40 AM

By Southern Star Team

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IT looks like we could be facing another winter of discontent. But this time it won’t be Covid that will be dominating the headlines.

Although the medics are warning of another tough few months when the virus could reappear, or the combination of a coronavirus surge and the regular flu could combine to result in a difficult time in our hospitals.

But at the moment we are facing altogether different problems – the dual crises in the accommodation and energy sectors.

With colleges about to return to on-site classes and the country in the grip of what our president has already called the housing ‘disaster’, alongside an estimated 1,000 people from Ukraine arriving here weekly and in need of a home, the situation could get very tricky indeed, to put it mildly.

This week a college (UCD) was forced to launch what it called a ‘digs drive’ to try and secure accommodation, by basically chugging the public in an effort to get them to agree to bring students home with them!

It’s an extension of last week’s bizarre comments by higher education minister Simon Harris that the public should consider bringing in students, because they can earn up to €14,000 a year tax-free by sharing their home and helping to alleviate the third level accommodation crisis as a result.

While the idea seems innocent enough at a superficial level, what is really happening here is that the government itself has now entered ‘crisis’ mode (or should that be, to borrow a phrase from President Higgins, ‘disaster’ mode?) when it comes to the housing sector.

Years of being told that we weren’t building enough houses and doing very little to address the problems has finally come home to roost – with magnificent levels of catastrophe looming large.

Long before the students were in the mix we have had a rental sector so broken that in one week recently there were just over 700 homes for rent in the entire country.

We saw scenes in recent days of long queues formed in our capital to view one single three-bedroomed house.

We also had queues to rent ‘flats’ in the bedsit lands of Dublin 6 and Dublin 4 in the eighties, but in those days a scandalous queue comprised 15 or 20 people  – not 200.

Then we have the horrific stories of refugees who have been forced into student accommodation being told they must leave within days – with no clear indication of where they are going next. Or else, the same students who believed a deposit secured their college-time accommodation are having their money returned as some landlords choose to house Ukrainians rather than bring students back.

On top of that, there are hundreds of renters getting notices to quit, as smaller landlords are being squeezed out of the market, due to rising costs, insurance and another impending rise in mortgage rates. So asking the public to step in and pick up the pieces for a government that must have seen his coming down the tracks for at least two years – in the case of the refugee situation, at least – and a lot longer regarding the chronic shortage of rental accommodation, is a bit cheeky.

There is almost an element of guilting homeowners into solving the problem for the government.

But maybe UCD has the right idea – digging up the word ‘digs’ from our past could be a genius way of reminding us all how it was before apartment living became so commonplace.

Students were sent to Dublin to share a home with the city equivalent of the Irish college ‘bean an tí’ and parents down the country felt their darling sons and daughters were at least getting some protection from the unpredictable and often worrying college life ‘up in Dublin’.

Maybe a return to the ‘Dublin digs’ would be a good solution all around? Though it would be much more acceptable if it was a choice, rather than a last resort.

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