Déardaoin, Bealtaine 27, 2010

Tenants Forced to Live in Flats Flowing with Raw Sewerage


Dolphin House flats

A report in yesterday’s Irish Times detailing the dreadful inhuman living conditions endured by council tenants in Dublin’s south inner-city could have come straight from the pages of newspapers of the early 20th Century.

Almost a century after the Dublin Lockout, the shocking living conditions of working class residents in the Dublin City Council flat complex of Dolphin House are an indictment on the Twenty-Six County state.

According to a Human Rights Commission report, flats in the complex “have sewage backing up into sinks and baths and mould covering entire walls of bedrooms”. The Commission viewed video material made by the residents, which showed “black mould growing on walls, curtains and clothes, sinks and baths filled with sewage and water dripping down walls and windows”. According to a survey of the residents of 72 flats, 84 per cent regularly experienced sewage coming up through pipes and sinks, 72 per cent had damp in their flats, 64 per cent had mould growing in bathrooms and bedrooms, 93 per cent reported foul smells, 91 per cent of those who had damp or sewage problems said it was affecting their health and 86 per cent said they were dissatisfied with the response from Dublin City Council.

That working class communities in the 21st Century continue to live in conditions of absolute degradation is a shameful and criminal indictment of the state authorities and proof, were it needed, that the rights of citizens to live in dignity is subordinate to the interests of private capital.

How is it that, 100 years after the Dublin Lockout, council tenants in one of the wealthiest cities in Europe continue to live in conditions that are unfit for human habitation? What type of society allows it citizens to live in flats where raw sewerage flows through plug holes; where walls drip with water and crumble from damp; where, due to the environment in which they are forced to live, adults and children suffer from asthma, respiratory illnesses, skin infections and stomach bugs? The Human Rights Commission report stands as a criminal testimony of inequality perpetuated during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years. The Celtic Tiger did not so much by-pass communities like those in Dolphin House as crush them under-foot and force them deeper into poverty.

A sink in Dolphin House

Yesterday’s report was all the more shocking given that the slums of Dublin were believed to be a thing of the past. That we are still reporting on such conditions, illustrates that capitalism works only in the interest of a minority. In 1934, the newly founded Republican Congress reported on the appalling living conditions of the Dublin working class. On June 23 that year, the group’s newspaper Republican Congress, published a story describing the living hell that was Magee’s Court in Dublin’s north inner city:

“In Magees Court there are seven small cottages (42 rooms) enclosed in a court ten feet wide. In these cottages live 36 families – 156 people. The air is practicably unbearable. The rooms at night are walking with sewerage beetles. Mothers have to remain up all night to protect their children from these loathsome insects… The walls are crumbling and damp, the roofs leaking, the floors slanting in the upstairs rooms because the front walls of the houses are leaning so much forward.”

Meanwhile, on York Street, in Dublin’s south inner city, swarms of rats were “a constant worry” with “as many as thirty caught in one kitchen in one week and an infestation of countless millions of bugs” was causing an “even greater calamity”. These hellish conditions were being reported two decades after the 1913 Lockout, a period in which Arnold Wright, no friend of the Dublin working class, described the slums of Dublin “as a thing apart in the inferno of social degradation”. During the course of the 1913-14 British government Inquiry into Dublin Housing Conditions, Dublin Corporation was forced to admit that 28,000 citizens of the city were living in conditions that were unfit for human habitation. The Irish Times described the Inquiry’s report as a “terrible indictment of the social conditions and civic administration of Dublin”. Not surprisingly, the same paper neglected to include that the slums also represented the very essence of capitalist exploitation.

The ‘civic administration’ indicted by the Irish Times almost 100 years ago once again stands indicted for placing the interests of private capital above that of its people. The response from Dublin City Council to this report has been utterly contemptible. Indicating the blatant disregard in which the Council holds its tenants, city manager John Tierney refused to even attend the launch of the report. The Council should be hauled before the courts and charged with human rights abuses. It is becoming clearer by the days that we live in a society in which those without power, wealth and influence can quite literally be treated as non-humans. While the state facilitated widespread profiteering in property by a powerful rich elite in Irish society, the working class of Dolphin House are forced to live in Dickensian conditions.

The weasel words from a city council press release that they do not have sufficient finance to carry out the necessary repairs in Dolphin House is simply a hand wringing exercise and a complete abdication of responsibility. It has been clear for a long time that the Council is seeking to extricate itself from its responsibility to provide social housing. In 1985, the local authority provided 27 per cent of new homes built, by 1998 this was reduced to just eight per cent. During that period, thousands of local authority houses were sold to tenants. The use of Public Private Partnerships for regeneration programmes has resulted in a further significant reduction in the number of social housing units available. While council tenants in Dolphin House live in a sewerage infested hell, private landlords are getting rich on massive state subsidies.

According to research conducted by Tenants First in 2008, private landlords were subsidised to the tune of €391.5m [£332m] annually through the rent supplement scheme, with Dublin City Council spending an almost equal amount on rent supplement as social housing. Ironically, given the abominable conditions in which the residents of Dolphin House are forced to live, an astonishing 96 per cent of private properties in the city council area failed to comply with minimum standards under the rent supplement scheme. Given the current economic recession and the huge increase in unemployment, there has undoubtedly been a significant increase in the amount of public money going to subsidise private landlords. While private landlords enjoy a feast of public money, city council tenants in Dolphin House endure intolerable and inhuman living conditions. Were this a failed bank with billions of euro of debt, there is no doubt that the state would intervene. The fact that the state is pumping billions into Anglo Irish Bank, while citizens of the state live in conditions akin to the Dublin slums of the early 20th Century says everything about the rotten, corrupt and barbaric system that is capitalism.

It is difficult to comprehend that an analysis from the Republican Congress newspaper just over 75 years ago could so appropriately describe the contemporary living conditions of the working class of Dublin’s inner-city; “terrible indignation should burn up in the breast of every worker at a system that condemns our brothers and sisters to crawl to an unholy death in such cesspools of misery and death”. Dublin City Council must be compelled to take immediate action and provide decent living conditions for its tenants in Dolphin House. Residents should withhold their rent and City Hall should tremble from the march of thousands until an end is put to the appalling human suffering in Dublin’s south inner city.

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