A new phase of Ireland’s Second Land War

by Ewan Forrest

Ireland’s ongoing housing crisis is prolonged class warfare fought with the weapons of extraction, gentrification and eviction. It is not a new phenomenon — even pre-Covid, the Irish housing situation was one of the worst in Europe for renters. The housing market in Ireland has been on ‘crisis’ footing since at least 2008, but the class character of said ‘crisis’ is stark. It is not a ‘crisis’ for landlords, developers, or the propertied classes; profit margins for these groups from housing stock has increased in leaps and bounds since 2008. It is not even a crisis of housebuilding or overall supply, contrary to the far-right’s cries that Ireland is ‘full’. Rather, it is a crisis of affordability and living conditions, lived as everyday anxiety and violence, for low-income tenants.

This class character, which determines who actually experiences the housing crisis as just that, is precisely why next to nothing has been done by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil et al. to actually fix anything. As of last year, 48 TDs and 29 Senators were registered as landlords — nearly a third of Dáil Éireann and a half of the Senate. Of these landlord politicians, the majority belonged to ruling parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Even as the housing situation bleeds the country dry of young people (7 in 10 have contemplated leaving post-graduation), the class self-interest of Ireland’s elected landlords prevents them from responding to an emerging national brain drain. Then-Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s ill-judged comments last year about the ‘grass being greener’ abroad, seemingly unaware of Ireland’s dire position, embody this let-them-eat-cake mentality.

It is this inaction, directly attributable to the class interests of Ireland’s ruling elite, that allowed the winter eviction ban to elapse on the 1st of April this year. The scale with which this has been carried out is staggering — more than 4,700 notices to quit have already been issued, adding to figure of over 11,700 people homeless in February. Some landlords, of course, could not help themselves and jumped the gun. Irish readers on the 27th of March woke to news that a Brazilian family of six in Donegal had been evicted with no notice. The cruelty of this eviction was particularly shocking, as hired goons changed the locks, dumped the family’s possessions into bin bags and threw them out in the rain, and threatened the father with immigration services. With legal restrictions on landlords lifted once again, Ireland can expect a great wave of similarly violent evictions.

The great and good of Ireland’s ruling parties are, naturally, somewhat defensive in the face of criticisms of this violence. A key example of this came from Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin’s tweet (now deleted with accompanying apology) depicting bailiffs and gardaí photoshopped into a painting of a Land War-era eviction. So apparently shocking was his comparison between bailiffs and RIC throwing families onto the street in the 1880s, and bailiffs and gardaí doing the same today, that he was forced to retract his tweet. Of course, masked gardaí enforcing evictions (both legal and illegal) is an established fact, and in fact where the image of said gardaí had come from. The sacred character of the Irish policeman, now protected from nasty insults, will presumably go on to conduct themselves honourably in the coming months of mass evictions.

In fact, it is the work of housing activists which has proven that gardaí can and will respond violently to attempts to house homeless people. A famous image of masked gardaí in front of hired goons in balaclavas comes from the North Frederick Street eviction in Dublin in 2018. In 2022, the Revolutionary Housing League (RHL) began a series of occupations to house homeless people, all of which were violently evicted by police. RHL faced particularly harsh police attention due to their affiliation with socialist republican groups like Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, and have documented several instances of garda violence towards them on their social media.

As the brakes have been removed from Ireland’s eviction machine, housing activists have not been idle. A coalition of Community Action Tenants Union (CATU), the RHL, Connolly Youth Movement (CYM), People Before Profit (PBP) and others briefly occupied the Department of Housing building in Dublin on the 31st of March, attempting to deliver demands to housing minister Darragh O’Brien. The minister did not respond. The RHL described this as the opening phase of a ‘new Land War’ in Ireland, calling to mind the land leagues and mass boycott tactics of the 1880.

CATU is a particularly important player in the Irish housing struggle, and they were the body which organised the Department of Housing protest. CATU was formed in 2019 from key member groups of the Irish Housing Network (IHN), a more ad-hoc coalition of housing organisations. For us in Scotland, CATU’s structure and activities will have an obvious similarity with the Living Rent tenants’ union. This is not accidental — CATU organisers took explicit inspiration from and actively liaised with Living Rent in these areas when founding their organisation. CATU therefore represents an organisation which can coordinate on an all-Ireland basis, take on casework for those already in a tenancy, and respond to evictions. The scale of the post-March eviction wave, however, will likely see CATU and others facing a massive uphill struggle.

Another emergent terrain in which Ireland’s social conflict is fought is more symbolic than material — Ireland’s prestigious universities. For the Republic’s ruling elites, institutions like Trinity College Dublin are where their successors are trained, and thus the opportunity to deliver speeches to venerable debate clubs or ruling party societies is coveted by politicians. These opportunities, however, have been lately soured by sustained heckling and protests by young activists. In March alone the CYM interrupted former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s Honorary Doctoral conferral ceremony at Dublin City University, and activists linked to Anti-Imperialist Action twice interrupted events at TCD, one about British colonialism and the second in response to energy price hikes. Incoming President of the TCD Student Union László Molnárfi has promised disruption to politicians using the university for ‘soft photo-ops’, having run on an anti-government platform. Even in Ireland’s gilded bubble, landlord politicians may not have a place to hide for much longer.

For us in Scotland, we may view Ireland’s situation as being worse than our own. This is partly true — Ireland’s rents are higher, and we in Scotland have a party in government (the Scottish Greens) who are at least somewhat committed to renter-friendly reform. Moreover, we have a more established tenants’ union in the form of Living Rent, while the younger CATU is still developing in relative infancy. However, we must not develop a complacency regarding housing.

Edinburgh’s rents are increasing at one of the fastest rates in the UK, and other Scottish cities are not far behind. Rent pressure zones (RPZs) are sporadically enforced, and Scottish landlords are chomping at the bit to get things ‘back to normal’ if Holyrood reverts any aspect of its renter protections. Ireland’s current situation is testament to the fact that the landlord class will take a mile if given an inch. The value of a united front coalition around housing, anchored by a strong tenants’ union and capable of militant action, may be proven or disproven by Irish activists in the coming months — we in Scotland would do well to watch and support their efforts closely.

As April Fool’s Day saw the eviction floodgates open once again, the joke is on Ireland’s working classes. Irish governments since 2008 have proven actively unwilling to resist landlord rule of society due to their own class interests. The housing crisis — one of the worst in the whole EU — is almost entirely due to this political incapability. With landlord powers unchecked, the rent increases will continue, the hollowing-out of tourist areas will exacerbate via short-term lets, and the evictions will increase in both scale and violence. To combat this, Irish housing organisations and coalitions of socialists and republicans are taking a stand to resist landlordism and defend working class communities.

The infrastructural challenge to these groups will be immense, and they will not be able to resist every instance of cruelty. However, the creation of new coalitions, the growth of young organisations, and an escalation in tactics is a sure sign that resistance is hardening. In Ireland, activists may see parallels with the mass actions of the Land War of the 1880s. In Scotland, we may look to Ireland today both as cautionary tale against conferring power to landlords, and as guidance for finding new methods of resistance.



Ewan Forrest is an activist in the Republican Socialist Platform and a member of the Heckle editorial board. He is from Edinburgh but is currently based in London, teaching history and organising within the National Education Union.

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