Ireland’s accommodation crisis is sending out a dangerous message

28 Aug 2017

Derelict buildings in Dublin. Image: Anton Ivanov/Shutterstock

Any gains or spoils of war from technology or Brexit stand to be negated by Ireland’s ongoing accommodation crisis, warns John Kennedy.

It is what it is. That’s what you normally say when faced with a baffling situation that somehow becomes accepted as the new normal. Like how you’d describe a relationship where two people never stop arguing but somehow remain together throughout it all, or the state of Irish politics.

It’s a verbal way of shrugging your shoulders. It is what it is.

But, having lived through the past decade, where Ireland dragged itself out of the bleak aftermath of the global banking crisis and swallowed its pride when it sold out its sovereignty to pay for the heady madness of its own internal banking crisis, ‘It is what it is’ just won’t cut it.

‘Foreign nationals are quitting good jobs in Dublin to move to cheaper rental markets overseas. This should be setting off alarm bells at the highest levels of the Irish establishment’

What is the ‘it’ I’m talking about? I’m talking about the accommodation crisis that has seen Irish citizens rendered homeless. How somehow we’ve gone from having a surplus of housing and properties a decade ago, to a situation where somehow it is acceptable to tell twentysomethings, who should be living life for all it is worth, to go home and live with Mammy and Daddy to save for a deposit to buy a home.

From the perspective of the industry I cover – technology – the glittering prize is now being tarnished by the fact that the very fuel for keeping the digital dream alive – young people from Ireland and, frankly, from all over the world – cannot get accommodation in what should be vibrant international destination cities.

Not only can they not get accommodation, but the word is out.

It is out there on social media and on the internet as, despite cities such as Dublin and Cork boasting the biggest tech names on the planet, you can forget about living there because it is simply unaffordable.

A few weeks ago, I wrote how Dublin, the city I was born in and used to live in, was in danger of no longer being fun or fair.

I was too late.

In recent weeks, a study by Prosperity, a recruitment firm, showed that 40pc of people it helped to hire for tech employers in Dublin came from overseas.

In 2016 and preceding years, the recruiter had a rejection rate of approximately 15pc on job offers to candidates living abroad but, by the third quarter of 2017, that has doubled to nearly 30pc.


Well, according to Prosperity managing director Gary Mullan, candidates from abroad have cited an internet search on the cost and availability of accommodation in Dublin – and the many associated horror stories – as their reason for rejecting a job offer, and they instead choose to remain at home or locate to a different European city.

He said that a mid-weight UX designer would pay 80pc less for an apartment in Lisbon, yet they might earn a salary of just 10 to 15pc below what they could earn in Dublin.

Berlin offers higher availability of rental accommodation and at 50pc less than what we pay in Dublin. It also offers cheaper transportation, at 30pc less.

Anecdotally, Mullan said, he is hearing from clients that foreign nationals are quitting good jobs in Dublin to move to cheaper rental markets overseas. This should be setting off alarm bells at the highest levels of the Irish establishment.

In particular, it should be alarming to IDA Ireland, whose professionalism and unwavering commitment to selling Ireland in the past decade is what helped the country regain its pride and claim Europe’s digital crown when all else seemed lost.

In recent weeks, I read in The Irish Times about a woman from Italy who, despite having a permanent job with Apple in Ireland, was struggling to find accommodation and had no other option but to stay in a B&B. She has to use foreign bank accounts because Irish banks won’t reactivate her account unless she has proof of address.

This kind of thing gets around. And it won’t look good for Ireland.

Wear the green jersey

In the bleak days that followed the financial crisis – and also haunted Ireland from 2008 to 2011, where unemployment soared to 1980s levels – another phrase emerged. “Wear the green jersey,” people would intone when it came to being patriotic and doing your bit for your country.

The phrase came to mind at the weekend when singer Imelda May ditched a festival in the UK in order to sing Ireland’s national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, ahead of the McGregor-Mayweather fight. “I simply felt duty called,” she told fans on Instagram.

Patriotism in the face of crises such as wars or revolutions or boxing matches is one thing, but Ireland is facing a different set of circumstances akin to war, only in an economic sense. We know only too well how this country is at the mercy of geopolitical headwinds.

The obvious challenge is Brexit, and we keep telling ourselves how Ireland stands to gain from the UK move as financial and tech firms leave London for safer harbours. If you were naive enough, you would think it is some kind of gold rush in the face of economic suicide by the UK.

But, before that bell can ring to signal a new round, we are already losing when employees of tech firms that have chosen Dublin, Cork or Limerick as safe harbours cannot enjoy the safety and security of putting a roof over their heads.

If they are talking about it online and overseas, we are already on the back foot.

What is the cause of this accommodation crisis? Is it landlord greed? Are they wearing their so-called green jerseys when they make exorbitant rent hikes and demands or try to let out substandard properties?

The landlords will rabidly fight back and blame the tax regime for the situation they are in.

The bureaucrats and civil servants will blame the planners for failing to keep up with supply and demand.

The reality is that the rental accommodation market in Ireland is dysfunctional. It has been for a long time but no one would do anything about it.

Tenants do not enjoy the same security of tenure as they do in continental markets in Germany or France.

This isn’t just an economic problem, it is a moral problem.

As the next set of economic headwinds prepare to batter our coast, a systemic overhaul is urgently required to ensure a fair country where people can live and work with dignity. A roof over one’s head is one of the most basic forms of human dignity.

It is about morality and compassion. But also sound economic sense.

Policymakers need to act fast to ensure digital and biotech industries don’t disappear, and that the opportunities of Brexit – if any – can be grasped. The weakest link is the accommodation crisis.

If we don’t solve this now, we will be kicking ourselves for decades.

Derelict buildings in Dublin. Image: Anton Ivanov/Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years