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Veering West

Thankful for the privilege of not worrying where to lay my head

April 10th, 2023 11:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

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LIKE many people of my generation, after school came college and I spent a decade or so living in shared rental accommodation in various rain-sodden Irish cities. First there was Limerick, then Cork, then eventually Dublin where I arrived at the start of the millennium, and then sorta forgot to leave. 

Some nights I wake up in cold sweats after dreaming about living back in a house share again. 

There were the digs in Castletroy with an eccentric lady who chain-smoked and yapped as we all gathered around the telly watching the OJ Simpson trial. 

The terrible house share in third year with people I didn’t know, a bunch of wild, awful Wexford men. These guys were fit for the zoo, not a university campus. 

Don’t get me wrong, there were also positive experiences sharing houses. I lived in the East Wall area of Dublin for many years with some close friends and this was the quintessential post-college house, the stuff of coming-of-age TV shows where people have one foot in the professional world and one in the semi-adolescent college state. It was in this house I embarked on much of my creative endeavours and got the opportunity to play around with music, film and animation – a massive privilege and luxury now that I look back on it. 

This was back around the turn of the millennium when a room in a house share cost about €230 per month.

My girlfriend and I rented for years subsequently, before we finally bought a place, and although it was a struggle it was just about doable when the economy was in tatters and rents were at an all-time low.

Navigating Irish property is like playing Winning Streak – the wheel just happened to spin in the right place at the right time for us and so we got to move on to all the normal life stages in sequence – moving in together, getting married, buying a house, starting a family .... 

I feel sorry for people in their twenties now, trying to navigate that precious and formative time of life. I feel sorry for people in their thirties or forties also, living at home with their parents, struggling to save up a deposit for a house that doesn’t exist and probably won’t exist for a decade, given the pace of housebuilding and the abject failure of our government to get a handle on the spiralling social disaster that is our accommodation crisis. 

The Fields of Athenry rings pretty hollow these days. Giving out about some British landlord from times gone by when we do the same thing to our own given half a chance.

I honestly didn’t want to write an angry column this week, because I generally try to be constructive in my criticism. I’m afraid that, on this issue, those in power seem to be simply too far removed from the gravity of the situation. They are like rich diners in a restaurant, looking out into the bay as a ship goes under, muttering about how terrible it all is. There is a generation in Ireland that is simply too comfortable in their own lives to really understand the dystopia that is unfolding on the streets.

In Dublin, the lines for food banks are shocking to behold – essentially soup kitchens in a time of a so-called economic miracle. And in recent weeks, we’ve all read the stories about how the lift on the eviction ban is going to affect families – it must be terrifying, particularly for those with small kids.

How can a country that is so rich, so overflowing in savings and wealth, be in a position where perhaps the most basic of dignities – having a roof over your head – is such a tortuous, exhausting struggle? How the hell have we let that happen?

The tweet sent by Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin at the weekend featuring artwork created by artist Mála Spíosraí and showing contemporary gardaí superimposed on a historical eviction painting was roundly criticised by the government and other opposition parties. 

Sinn Féin has made many of its recent gains based on promises to fix this problem. They know what will chime for his younger generation. Soon, they may get their chance to get onto the field of play and do something about it. And may God help them if they can’t follow through on their grand promises. Because who knows where politics in Ireland might be headed if someone doesn’t get a handle on this?

Finns happy to move on

I READ with interest that Finland’s Sanna Marin was defeated during the week in a tight election that sees Petteri Orpo’s centre-right National Coalition Party control the direction of the next government. Her impressive standing on the world stage wasn’t enough, it seems, to convince Finns that her handling of the economy was up to standard. In many ways, it echoes what happened in New Zealand with Jacinda Ardern, who was feted worldwide during Covid, but perhaps took her eye off the ball when it came to domestic affairs. These may be two cautionary tales for Holly Cairns who, as her star rises in Dáil Éireann, must remember to keep the home fires burning in the run-up to the next election. The parish pump hasn’t gone away, you know.

While on the topic of Finland, I read with interest a New York Times piece this week titled ‘The Finnish Secret to Happiness? Knowing When You Have Enough.’ Yes, it seems that having a very wide social security net where people feel the basics are covered and are lifted beyond the stress of trying to find a living wage, makes for a much healthier, happier country. 

It seems that living in a cold, remote country close to an aggressive neighbour gives you a strong sense of knowing when you have enough, but also what you deserve from your own country. 

Does this sound familiar? Maybe we need to start demanding more from ourselves. 

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