The Fixable Fact of Homelessness in Ireland

The Fixable Fact of Homelessness in Ireland

By July 28 this year, the homeless population of Ireland reached a staggering 10,275. The number of homeless families has increased by 178 per cent since June 2015, with more than a 1000 per cent rise in the number of families becoming homeless every month since 2011. This astronomical number does not even include “hidden homelessness” – people living in squats, staying indefinitely with friends, those in domestic violence refuges or even those who are sleeping rough. The official rough sleep account in Dublin in April 2019 was 128 people.

For Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen, the solution to homelessness is clear – more social housing and more affordable rental accommodation. But is it quite that simple? Maybe it is.

Of course structural factors are prominent in the direct causes of homelessness. One cannot deny the effects of the housing market – people are being pushed out of their homes due to high rents, landlords selling up and an overall shortage of properties to rent at all. In some cases, life’s circumstances such as mental illness, relationship breakdowns or addiction, can cause people and families to become homeless quite suddenly. However it may be submitted that there is something more fundamentally flawed that remains rooted in the people that have the power to change things.

Every person in Ireland is painfully aware of the horrors of homelessness . Those growing up in Dublin especially have grown grossly accustomed to the sight of homeless people, or young children going to school out of bed-and-breakfasts, or students crashing on their friend’s couches as they cannot afford their rent at the moment. It is a sure sign of something inherently wrong when these statements simply don’t faze anyone anymore.

While the stark figure of 10,000 homeless seems daunting and unapproachable, the solution is just within our grasp. A solution to the every-growing “Homelessness Crisis” is perhaps not as distant as we perceive. So why is the government making no visible effort to tackle the issue in any tangible way? There is certainly a stigmatised view of the cycle relating to homelessness – a slight feeling that perhaps these people put themselves in this position and we should leave it up to them to remove themselves of it, one of those phenomena that is terrible in theory but bizarrely appears to be acceptable in practice through a warped sense of victim-blaming. However, a dehumanised approach to homelessness will hardly solve the urgent crisis at hand. The small and incremental actions that are currently being taken are almost insignificant compared to the rapid rate of the growth of homelessness right now.

Greta Thunberg has recently emerged as a global leader, working diligently to combat climate change. Yet her discourse is undeniably appropriate in a discussion on homelessness. At the UN Climate Action Summit, though referring to a very different topic, she stresses: “You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.”

Amidst a disheartening crisis, it is essential that the public maintains hope and focuses on working toward the solution, not the problem at hand. Focus Ireland has provided some recommended figures earlier this year – €400 million to deliver 2,000 social homes in addition to 7,716 homes in 2020, the approval of a €1.3 billion borrowing capacity to finance 6,500 new social homes by 2021, an “innovate homeless prevention” fund of €500,000 and €250,000 to fund mediation services. They also recommend a vacant home tax to return units back into the “active housing supply”, the provision of Case Managers and Family support teams, the restoration of domestic violence services, an increase of Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payments. Ireland’s rainy day fund, which will be worth approximately €2 billion by the end of next year, would more than cover this. And I cannot think of a better cause for these funds than the eradication of homelessness, once and for all.

 

 

Photo by Ev on Unsplash

 

Want to learn more about how the housing crisis is impacting students in Ireland? Listen to the STAND Student Podcast – Episode 1

 

 

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Did the Greta effect fail in the US?

 

With Trump’s administration, talking constructively about climate change on US soil is not an easy task. Ask Greta Thunberg. However, advocates of a Green New Deal are not backing down…

 

 

The Greta Thunberg’s effect in the USA

On the 18th of September, Thunberg took the floor in front of the US Congress. With a clear reference to Martin Luther King, she stated: “I also have a dream: that governments, political parties and corporations grasp the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis and come together despite their differences”. In a country where climate change is “being discussed as something you believe in, or not believe in”, “It is time to face reality, the facts, the science.” As she emphasised the necessity to address climate change as the emergency that it is and recalled that there was no way to cut a deal with Mother Nature, some listened carefully while others rolled their eyes.

A few hours later, what sounded more like a good ad than a “short-film”, starring herself and the journalist Georges Monbiot, was released. Through it, they intended to promote their “Protect. Restore. Fund.” slogan and to show that more can be done thanks to “natural Climate solution”. In the video, we learn that only 2% of the funding granted to the decrease of CO2 emissions is invested in natural tools, such as replanting enough trees.

On Friday, global climate strike day, Thunberg stood in front of about 250.000 strikers in New-York’s Battery Park. “We will make them hear us”, “we are a wave of change”, “this is what people power looks like” she said, as her speeches seems to become more and more revolutionary.

A few days later, Thunberg spoke at the Youth Climate Action Summit, held on the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Thunberg was one of the lucky activists who was given a visa on time and could indeed talk in front of the Assembly. She hammered that “we are at the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” In the end, “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

About what could be expressed at the Summit, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, was clear to world leaders: there is no need to take the stage if it’s not to develop “concrete and transformative” plans. “We had enough talk”, “this is a climate action summit” (emphasis added). “Nature is angry”, so it’s about time to implement the Paris Agreement. 

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, said that “Germany sees its responsibility on the international stage and on the national stage”. This is a lot more than we would never hear from the United-States President, Donald Trump, who tried as hard as he could to avoid attending the summit, and finally stayed 15 minutes without saying a single word. 

Later on that day, 16 children including Thunberg, aged between 8 and 17, coming from twelve different nations, filed a complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. According to them, Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey breached the most widely ratified treaty in history, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, by letting children’s lives being impacted by the climate crisis. These nations are amongst the most polluting countries. One may wonder why the United-States, the historical biggest polluter, and China, the current biggest polluter, aren’t on the dock. The reason is simple: those two states never ratified the Third Optional Protocol of the treaty which allows children, or adults representing them, to seek justice for alleged violations.

 

 

US presidential campaign & the Green New Deal 

The Green New Deal (GND) is a ten-year plan aiming at economic justice while addressing climate change. It has already been discussed in the American political sphere. After being rejected by the Senate in March 2019, some Governors adapted and implemented the Deal in their State.

While Republicans resolutely oppose the GND, Democrats embrace it. So far, Trump’s campaign only states that he had done an incredibly good job in increasing the oil and gas exploitation and exports. He also congratulates himself for undoing the Clean Power Plan. Nothing eco-friendly to be found here… As for the other Republican candidates for the 2020 presidential elections, they still have no idea what their election platform will be like, except for advocating not being Trump.

On the Democratic side, election manifestos are actually written, and each includes a point about climate change. All claim wanting a fair transition to a neutral emission State. Some of the candidates even have co-sponsored the GND in the Senate. 

As the campaign moves forward, it will surely be interesting to see the place climate change gets in the national debates. 

 

 

Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

 

 

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Did the High Court of Ireland just take away our right to strike?

Did the High Court of Ireland just take away our right to strike?

It appears that every week now, a new Ryanair strike is imminent, stirring up memories of early August when the public was first fed the news that an Irish High Court injunction had simply shut down a strike by Irish Ryanair pilots. Of course, this was impacted by the complementary news that the equivalent strike among UK-based pilots due to take place at the same time was to go ahead. How could that be possible? Admittedly, in Ireland we don’t engage in industrial action to the same frequency as countries like France or Denmark, or apparently the UK in this case, but there must remain some sort of inherent, strike-culture mindset that would make it at least somewhat uncharacteristic for such an injunction to be passed in our little democratic republic?

 

The Judgment

On 21 August 2019, the Irish High Court passed an injunction to prevent any Irish-based pilots from striking later in that same week for issues regarding pay. The union responsible and the parent union of the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association, FÓRSA, was requested to return to mediation tactics so as not to dismiss the final holiday plans of thousands of Irish travellers.

 

The Arguments

Ryanair, in seeking an injunction (a court order requiring a party to do, or preventing a party from doing, a specific action) to prevent the industrial action, claimed that the strike proposed was a breach of an agreement signed by the parties the previous year following mediation after industrial action last July and August. Ryanair made further claims that there was no valid trade dispute between the parties and that the dates chosen for the strike were decided upon especially to cause major business disruption, as well as to coincide with the Ryanair strike organised by UK-based pilots. At the same time, FÓRSA argued that the strike ballot was fully compliant with the rules of the union itself as well as with laws associated with the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. They continued to express  that they were in fact involved with a trade dispute which related to pay, adding that Ryanair had failed to engage with proposals made in March. Despite this, in his ruling Mr Justice McDonald stated that he was satisfied that Ryanair DAC was entitled to orders against FÓRSA in preventing the pilots from commencing a 48-hour strike at midnight on 22nd August.

However, Ryanair failed in a similar bid against UK pilots to secure an injunction against this strike. There was strong emphasis, in particular, on the fact that Ryanair was “foolish to bring this into the High Court rather than the negotiating room” (Brian Strutton, Secretary of the British Air Line Pilots’ Association). One might wonder why the legal right to strike was seemingly shut down in one case and welcomed in another, identical one.

 

But how was the injunction passed?

In Ireland, there is actually no general right to strike.There is simply a freedom to engage in industrial action under certain circumstances, which creates an immunity against any legal restrictions on these strikes, which means that trade unions are protected from prosecution if, and only if, the trade unions legally organise industrial action and if the action itself is lawful. This stems from the Industrial Relations Act, 1990,  in which any members of a trade union who participate in a lawfully balloted strike are granted immunity from the specific actions and/or torts (civil wrongs) that they commit, provided that some conditions are met. One of these, as mentioned with Ryanair, is that immunity is only granted to acts done in consideration or continuance of a trade dispute (a dispute between workers and employers, which relates to employment or non-employment and/or terms and conditions of employment).  Furthermore, even when such a dispute relates to the terms and conditions of employment or even the employment of an individual, if the agreed procedures for the resolution of individual grievances are not exhausted, immunities will fail to be granted. In the case at hand, FÓRSA argued that they were involved in a trade dispute and Ryanair DAC claimed that they were not – and they ultimately won.

Although the outcome of this case resulted in many happy holidaymakers able to jet off to enjoy their last moments of summer fun, it does encourage us to question what happens from here. The result is likely to leave a lasting imprint on our strike-culture here in Ireland – not only in legal precedent, but in the minds of the public themselves too.

 

 

Photo by Lucas Davies on Unsplash

 

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Self care advice for college students

Self care advice for college students

Starting college is both an exciting and frightening time. For some people, it’s their first taste of freedom away from home, and for others, it’s a fresh new start. College is a time of self discovery and this can be quite intimidating. Freshers’ Week can be overwhelming at times. With many societies and events happening at once, it can feel like you have to go to every event in order for you to have a fulfilling Freshers’ Week. But once it’s over, you can be left feeling unsure. It is very easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle and end up burning yourself out by trying to do as much as you can. But it’s important to look after your mental, physical and emotional health. 

The first thing is to figure out what services are available for you. If you have a disability, set up a meeting with the disability service and find out what facilities they offer. During my time in college, I found the disability service to be a huge help with my transition from secondary school to university. College can be difficult for everyone but it can be even trickier when you’re disabled and it’s good to know what services you have to help you along the way. Services disabled students might be entitled to are exam accommodation, occupational therapy, assistive technology, etc. Even if you think you won’t need any support, it’s good to have a relationship with the disability service – just in case you’ll need to use it in the future. There are also supports that are open to all students, which may include counselling, peer support, tutors and accommodation. You should familiarise yourself with the supports you have available to you to help you when you need it.

One thing that saved me a lot of time was getting a calendar. This can be a physical one or an electronic one, whatever you prefer. Once you get your timetable, put this information somewhere you can access at any time. This will allow you to see where you have gaps, during which you can schedule studying, society events, coffee break or even a nap in between classes! You don’t have to plan every detail to the second, but knowing when your classes are and when certain events are happening can be a useful tool in finding the right work/life balance. 

Looking after yourself during college is necessary. Remember that self-care doesn’t just mean bubble baths and face masks – it also means eating, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep. Self-care while as a student can mean taking a step back from social events or societies if they are causing you to miss class, sometimes it’s taking the day off from studying, or maybe it’s allowing yourself to go out and have fun once in awhile. 

College can be one of the most exciting times of your life but it can also be a very stressful experience. In the era of social media, you can constantly be comparing yourself to friends and classmates. You can get down on yourself because you’re not getting the best marks or you’re not going to the best events but it’s important to remember that behind those screens, everyone else is having those same anxieties. It’s okay to not have everything figured out, it’s okay to have struggles, and it’s okay to ask for help. College is a time for you to explore your identity and flourish as a human being. 

 

 

Photo: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash

 

 

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Why self-care can be a radical act

Why self-care can be a radical act

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde, writer and feminist

What do you think of when you hear the term self-care? Do bath-bombs, luxury spa days or yoga retreats spring to mind? Is it reminiscent of a solitary walk in the woods or of curling up with a good book by the fire? Maybe it simply means cooking yourself a good meal or going to bed on time. More importantly, do you react positively to the term or do you view it as somewhat self-indulgent?

Self-care relates to the self. It is personal in nature. Thus, it makes sense that self-care looks different for each of us. However, the concept has an interesting and complex history that most people have forgotten about.

With the advent of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, self-care became a political act. Women and people of colour perceived the white, patriarchal medical system as inadequate for their specific needs and – worse – as sexist and racist. To tackle hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation, marginalised groups had to look after their own health, simply because nobody else would. For women, taking the time to self-care also went against patriarchal ideas about women’s role in society, as women are often type-cast as carers of others rather than self-carers.

As Sadie Trombetta writes, for these groups, “[self-care was] a courageous act that started with acknowledging that they had needs, that their needs were important, and that those needs deserved to be met, no matter what their oppressors said”.

Many black people at the time lived in the kind of sub-par conditions strongly correlated with ill-health. To help address this structural inequality, groups like the Black Panthers set up free community-service programs to look after the healthcare needs of their community and ensure their access to healthcare. Women’s groups took their cue from these community programs and opened health clinics to ensure women – particularly poor, working-class women – could get the care they needed. This often included access to reproductive services.

Around the same time, a broader wellness or self-care trend arose within society – however, this had more to do with improving quality of life than ensuring access to healthcare. People began doing activities such as yoga and paying attention to their diet in order to create positive health (rather than the mere absence of illness). By the 1980s, this trend had become mainstream and commercialised, and soon it developed into the mass billion-dollar industry we are familiar with today.

As a result, some argue that self-care has been hijacked by capitalism and that the concept has been reduced to something we buy – wholly divorced from its political origins. However, for marginalised groups the act of looking after oneself is still arguably a radical act for the reasons outlined by Trombetta. Furthermore, in airplanes we are told to tend to our own oxygen masks first before helping others. This isn’t selfish – rather, it puts us in a better position to help others and to deal with life’s challenges. Used wisely, self-care can help us become our best selves so that we can also serve society – a noble aim for any aspiring activist!

If we are seriously concerned about effecting change in our world, it is important to keep psychologically healthy so that we don’t become disheartened or burn out. The fact that the term ‘self-care’ was googled twice as much in the week after Trump’s election illustrates this point beautifully.

Now, where are my bath salts…?

Photo via Pixabay

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Addiction in Ireland

Addiction in Ireland

In my hometown of Roscrea recently a man emerged from the grounds of the imposing town castle clutching a joint. After a couple of pulls he sidled up to me and said “Want a toke cuz?”. 

He looked the picture of ill health. Raggedy unwashed clothes and bony narrow face beneath greasy unkempt hair. My only concern was my own personal safety. This man was clearly a drug addict. I resented his encroachment into my personal space. I lamented the fact that he was comfortable enough to roll and light up in the middle of the day as the half-deserted town went about its daily business. 

Across the road the once famous Pathe Hotel remained closed while every second shopfront sported To Let or For Sale signs. The town has been decimated by urbanisation and globalisation and has been ranked high on the deprivation index.

In 2014, Roscrea made national headlines. A spate of drug related suicides and anti-social behaviour plagued the town while austerity saw the police station effectively closed. The locals had enough.700 of them held public meetings and raised their concern at the breakdown of decency and morality in their town.

Drug use and addiction are inextricably linked with youth unemployment and lack of opportunity. In the years since the economic crash the country appears to mirror Roscrea’s experience of socio-economic disadvantage and rising drug abuse.

Between 2004 and 2016 there have been 8207 drug related deaths recorded in Ireland. That’s an average of 683 per year or almost two a day. These figures include the full spectrum of substance abuse from alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, prescription drugs and heroin.

Research into the psychology of addiction proposes strong evidence that drug addiction risk is exacerbated by a confluence of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors. Individuals with poor inhibitory control are more vulnerable. Inhibition of negative thoughts, actions and behaviours are essential to living a decent life. Self-control is a skill that can be developed in children and young adults however many drug addicts turn to drugs due to early traumatic experiences and lack of economic opportunity, Repeated use of addictive substances disrupts the brains optimal functioning by dulling and weakening the brains executive functioning in the prefrontal cortex. This is the organ of civilisation, the area of the brain that allows us to control, direct and supervise our goal directed behaviour. Bypassing these mechanisms drug addicts behaviour is governed by increased arousal and disruption of the limbic system which is the centre of the brain responsible for reward and motivation to pursue rewards. The limbic system is disrupted by stimulant ingestion leading to automaticised addictive behaviours where the victim can feel helplessly enslaved to his or her need for drug ingestion.

To put it simply the need outweighs the rational self- control elements of the brain. Control systems become highly compromised leading to drug addicts living their lives moment to moment in a constant state of self-destructive nihilism.

Have you ever found yourself reaching for a bar of chocolate, buying a bottle of wine or dialling a fast food restaurant despite being conscious of not wanting to do so yet feeling like you deserve a reward? Multiply that feeling by a hundred and maybe you are close to what it feels like to be ensconced in the belly of the beast and full-blown drug addiction.

Just as it is simplistic and ignorant to tell a person with depression to “snap out of it” it is equally foolish to sternly advise a drug addict to “just give it up”.

Addicts are often helpless amid their maladaptive and self-destructive behavioural patterns which are often exacerbated by society’s disgust and disdain for their predicament. In Ireland the ‘junkie’ is demonised, hated and feared; he (for it is often a he) is considered a threat to personal and public safety and must be treated with contempt.

Plenty of evidence exists in the literature to support links with adverse early child and adolescent experiences, mental health difficulties and the descent into hard drug use. A strong argument can be put forward therefore for the case of diminished responsibility which then leads us to the need for more compassionate and holistic approaches to drug addiction which can mitigate the personal and public safety concerns overall.

Aodhan O Riordan of the Labour Party, the Minister for Drugs in 2015, proposed the idea of injection centres that have been used to great success in Portugal, Holland and Germany. He was quoted at the time in media outlets as saying that Ireland needs to undergo a “cultural shift” in our attitudes to drug addiction. O Riordan advocated a shift from criminalisation to harm reduction. Instead of locking up drug addicts the state should adopt a hands-on compassionate approach which will in turn alleviate the anti-social problems associated with indiscriminate drug use. Safe spaces where users can even bring their own heroin into fully serviced legal injection centres offered a novel and effective approach to our drugs problem, he suggested.

O Riordan subsequently lost his Dail seat, an electoral failure that may be in part explained by his stance as well as the Labour Party’s overall meltdown that year. The current Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, has supported O Riordan’s policy proposals. In 2017 she indicated that legislation to decriminalize heroin, cocaine and cannabis for personal use could be in place by 2019. The legislation for injection centres has been passed yet a pilot programme for the first injection centre was held up by Dublin City Council citing planning permission issues following representations by concerned community and business groups who clearly do not want to see such injection centres in their locality.

Activation of the legislation and a roll out of nationwide injection centres remains in limbo amidst cries of Nimbyism.All available evidence supports the move towards injection centres. It seems however that most Irish people support a health-based approach to drug addiction… if those centres are not on their own doorstep.

In the classic HBO television series, The Wire, an inner-city Baltimore police chief effectively decriminalises drug use by moving drug abuse to specific derelict areas of the city under the passive supervision of police officers. The result is a decrease in drug related crimes and associated anti-social problems freeing up police officers to focus on traditional police work. The War on Drugs has failed utterly because it is in effect a War on the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the oppressed and only by recognising the issue as a public health problem and not a criminal problem can the effects of drug addiction be tackled. The show’s fictional narrative-written and produced a former police officer and journalist- appears to be mirrored in real life cases. Portugal for example had an estimated 100,000 people addicted to hard drugs in 1999 with high numbers of deaths and overdoses related to addiction. A decade on the number of addicts had been halved while the number of drug overdoses had dropped to double figures after the country’s government opted to embrace the harm reduction approach and decriminalise personal drug use.

In Ireland, 72% of drug possession cases (12,201 arrests) were for personal drug use. There are approximately almost 19,000 opiate users in our country while people seeking help for cocaine use has increased by 32 per cent between 2016 and 2017 with 1500 cases recorded.

The shift from criminalisation to de-stigmatisation appears to be in effect amongst policy makers and the Irish public however progress moves at a snail’s pace. The issue is sensitive politically as O Riordan might attest. In our current binary, discordant and moronic political and ideological climate the wait for a full roll out of harm reduction policy and injection centres seems unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon especially with a general election looming as TD’s frantically attempt to shore up their base.

Fine Gael’s self-crafted PR image as the party of law and order is hardly commensurate with a truly modern mature and intelligent nationwide implantation of harm reduction drug policy. It is likely however that following the general election a stronger impetus for activation of holistic drug treatment will occur leading to reduced public safety concerns and a political success story.

The issue requires long term vision and implantation which is not conducive to the atmosphere of competition during the canvassing period.

Photo courtesy of Josh Calabrese via Unsplash

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