When I was 15 years old the family home I grew up in was repossessed by the bank. 1986 was a tough year in Ireland’s economy and the home my mother was born in was taken away as my father’s small business floundered.
My mum went to Dublin Corporation, with our eviction imminent. Over the next two weeks we were brought to three different houses across Dublin that were vacant and we then planned to make Fettercairn in Tallaght our home. It was an hour’s journey on the bus from just about anywhere I knew and there were few social amenities – there were not even footpaths!
It was very difficult. My parents’ marriage did not survive the ordeal and our lives changed completely from living in the inner city to living in the “Wild West” of Dublin as my then 4 year old brother called it.
I started a new school that September with great fear and anxiety. That school, St Mark’s Community School was a wholly different environment and I was viewed as a bit of an oddity with my “posh” Dublin accent. But I made great friends and thrived in the atmosphere of constant encouragement and care.
The availability of social housing beside a community school enabled that thriving.
I see now the housing shortages, the waiting lists, the families in hotels and hostels across this land north and south and I know deep down my mother would not have survived the trauma of that time had we not had access to safe social housing. The resilience, courage and fortitude of those who through no fault of their own are living in total insecurity is quite astonishing. The hope and good nature of the children and teenagers also living in insecure accommodation is wonderful to witness. But it is also a source of national shame. How can it be that we were better in 1986 than we are now in 2016?
Social housing is the first and foremost step to addressing social inequality. Universal access to excellent education is the second.
In the context of “austerity” and “cuts” and general economic doom and gloom it should be remembered that when social housing was first built it was in times of great economic hardship. This was different on each side of the border and the matter of inequality in housing in the North is a lesson to be constantly born in mind. When access to housing for nationalists was unequal and unfair it compounded all other forms of inequality. While the nature of the inequalities to be addressed may have changed the importance of social housing has not. Beautiful homes are being built in West Belfast but too few for the housing lists to be addressed comprehensively. There are some who worry about public sector houses being built close to them. Building a fair future for all of our children will mean recognising the huge needs and the realisation of these homes – and that will be a good thing.