The bottom line is that property rights, including the right of rentiers and speculators to make a profit, must at all times take precedence over the right of people without a home to have their basic human needs met. In effect this means the law does not recognise the latter right at all. It is the right to profit from property speculation that produced the homeless crisis in the first instance, and measures taken by Fine Gael in government have done nothing to interfere with this right, and a great deal to strengthen it.
None of the outpourings of admiration for the deceased TK Whitaker I encountered yesterday were in any way diluted by considerations of how among the prime beneficiaries of the economy he is credited with bringing forth were bankers, builders and property speculators.
Instead, Whitaker was lauded as a figure whose free market inclinations and technocratic paternalism had brought prosperity to the country. It is no coincidence that Whitaker is remembered as rising above the fray of petty politics -he was never elected to public office himself, of course- and fostering a sense of order in the name of ‘public service’, ‘the national interest’, and the ‘common good’ that suppressed political conflict, particularly where trade unions were concerned. As trade unions are one of the most effective instruments for guaranteeing the rights of the working class to a decent standard of life -including decent accommodation- the ‘common good’ exalted by Whitaker’s admirers can only mean the suppression of the claims of working class people to a greater share of the wealth they produce. ‘Patriotism’ in this regard means making working class people get back in their box.
A quote from Whitaker doing the rounds, outlining the aims of his public policies, contains the word ‘eventually’: that once all these ‘free market’ measures are implemented, then everyone born on the island will be entitled to their share. This is of course a first cousin of the ‘trickle-down’ argument rehearsed ad nauseam by ruling elites across the globe, bent on their own enrichment on the backs of others, over the past four decades. The matter of precisely when this share will be apportioned must, of course, be left to the designs of the same ruling elites, and what their financial instruments tell them.
What the Home Sweet Home campaign centred at Apollo House in recent weeks has achieved is to undermine this prevailing notion that it is all a matter of waiting a bit longer, of depending on established institutions and their appointed experts to do as they profess. What is more, it has undermined the prevailing notion that the ‘common good’ is synonymous with property rights. It can hardly be expected to overturn such things altogether, or even conclusively resolve Ireland’s homelessness crisis, since the latter is a product of the property relations that the government, the courts and the press are concerned with upholding. But it has cast into sharp relief how spaces of mutual aid, solidarity and collective resistance amount to enemy territory for the ruling powers, and how recognising basic human needs, from the perspective of these powers is a “recipe for anarchy”, as lawyers pressing for the evacuation of Apollo House put it. That is, it cannot but produce fears of a crisis in property relations, in the prospects for making a killing off the misery and fears of others. Good: the greater the fears of such a crisis on the part of these powers, the greater the prospects of a decent and humane existence for all.