LEFT-WING MEANS favouring equality over unfettered freedom, redistribution of resources over property rights. If you’re on the left you’ll appreciate planning, taxation, minority rights and nationalisation. If you don’t maybe you’re anti-Establishment or anti-intellectual, or post-Left-and-Right or Fianna Fáil or just confused. Maybe a Trump figure or the gilets jaunes or the New Land League are for you.
Ideology matters though in Ireland little is heard about ideas of any sort, much less the egalitarian ideas in the first paragraph.
Being left-wing doesn’t mean you support every underdog, or rally behind the anti-establishment banner with the noisiest support whatever its colour.
There is of course much ado about campaigns and that is fine. Campaigns are a good way of keeping a complacent government on its toes. However, if they are misdirected they can divert energy that might otherwise support more subversive, more long-lasting or more genuinely left-wing campaigns. There may be some short-term political gain and contrarian satisfaction. But little long-term gain for left-wing goals. Politics transcends campaigns.
But it is the paucity of the gain to the Left and its policies since Ireland’s economic collapse that reveals how misdirected the post-collapse campaigns were. Village would prefer if the left had campaigned on increasing property and wealth taxes, revulsion at NAMA refloating Ireland’s dodo development community, and jailing white-collar criminals. Not against water charges, bin charges, property taxes and carbon taxes. (The polluters pay principle should be a Left-wing mantra because polluters take from the common good and the future).
Championing ‘underdogs’ is not enough. Some campaigns favour underdogs who, in pursuit of right-wing goals like property speculation, generated their own demise. Some campaigns favour people who look like underdogs, often overdogs who were yesterday’s underdogs.
Egalitarians should not favour capitalists – risk takers, less still those who have taken risks and lost. Village never took to Sean Quinn or to the billionaire scions of the Quinn family, wherever their woes took them. Village has no sympathy left for the mostly ungrateful builders bailed out by the State through NAMA. The insolvent NAMA brigade should have been reduced to below the average wage, and public housing; a roof over their heads. Instead they are back now with different but gargantuan portfolios bagged at knockdown prices.
Certainly there is a right to housing, and homelessness is an abomination, but not a right to your particular mansion, if you gamble with it. Speculators have no moral claim to reinstatement of their lost capital. There should be no socialism of failed capitalism.
In a capitalist society capitalists must pay their debts. This is all the more desirable when the State owns 75% of Permanent TSB, 71% of AIB and 14% of Bank of Ireland. All things being equal, Village’s money is on the State not the failed gamblers. It is a pity that these banks have not pursued more foreclosures on the wealthy and on second homes. It would have kept mortgage-interest rates lower.
Property is a way the establishment preserves its historic privileges – a dangerous, and tedious, affliction that gets in the way of equality. After all, households in the bottom 25 per cent of income distribution spend half of their income on housing costs.
Unfortunately, however, Ireland is obsessed – perhaps because it is a victim of history. The influence of famine evictions, the iniquities of having been a colony and the fact we are not ‘post-industrial’ infuse much current thinking. The common good rarely figures in the discourse. Sadly it means that property rights resonate more with most Irish people than any other rights. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and their supporters unite in nothing so much as their aspiration to buy a second buy-to-let.
That is why we are so hostile to renting and to planning restrictions. It is why the government has just announced deferral of increases in property tax, even though gains in property values are less honourably accrued than those through labour.
Even many on the Irish left see principal private residences as “family homes” not as wealth that should be taxed. Even cosmopolitan socialist Richard Boyd Barrett believes, “there is no way of tweaking the property tax that will make it fair because by its nature, it is regressive and will hit low and middle-income families”. It’s as if only income signals wealth.
Meanwhile, RTÉ can’t run a feature on anything involving property from the CPOing of lands along commuter routes into Dublin to the taking of houses for the Metro to occasionally thwarted one-off-housing builders – without making an issue of the devastating hard luck of the property owner, rather than the public interest.
Far worse are the angry men of the property-rights groups. Jerry Beades of the New Land League, “a buddy system” for those in legal battles with the banks, backed the O’Donnell family when they lost their 10,220sq ft Dalkey home after the family amassed debts of 171 million to Bank of Ireland.
Beades himself accrued debts of almost 116m during his career as a developer. Ben Gilroy, a tin-pot anti-eviction activist, who has been involved in at least 16 High Court actions against banks, usually citing the natural law, is currently in Mountjoy for ongoing contempt of courts. Village is out of sympathy – there are too many genuinely deserving causes.
Unlike say the right to life, or the right to be treated equally, property is not really a right but an entitlement, perhaps sometimes necessary for economic predictability, but in all cases subject to the common good. Time to defetishise it and those who vaunt it, especially the angriest.