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Estates of Fear

Inept decision-makers ignore the wishes and interests of local authority tenants.

By Mannix Flynn.

Ireland’s Attitude to Social Housing

Let’s be clear, though the middle classes could not care less, tenants in our local authority estates have rights. A few years ao it was reported that local
authorities had received 10,000 complaints about anti-social behaviour in just two years,  2015 and 2016. It’s an ongoing crisis. But only for those who live in the flats.

You could easily miss this timebomb because the general view is that Council estates are the sinks of our society. This is partly because so
much of housing policy obsesses over how to facilitate private development and private reward.

The unnecessary bifurcation between ownership classes for housing is deep-rooted and long-standing; and drives the self-image of far too many. It ownership classes for housing is deep-rooted and long-standing; and drives the self-image of far too many. It also affects construction. As long ago as  the report ‘Housing Conditions of the Working Classes in the City of Dublin’ concluded 14,000 new homes needed to be built to rehouse slum dwellers. Crucially this building programme needed to be undertaken by the State because the private sector had not made itself available to “any appreciable degree sufficient to grapple with the present needs of the city”.

Inadequate supply of social housing remains an indictment of our society. There are at least 70,000 on social housing lists.

But there are other age-old problems. The same report said there needed to be better enforcement of the laws in relation to rented accommodation. That’s a hundred years ago! A 2010 report criticised “housing management
policies that make enabling tenant purchase the priority”, to the detriment of quality, amenities and relationships. We don’t get social housing in
Ireland. Never have. It’s very diff erent elsewhere. In Vienna 62%
live in social housing, good-quality social housing.

The Legacy

Anyway on we go, building sinks, ever since, from the grand scale of Herbert Simms through the 1966 Housing Act and a burst of high-rise
including the 3,000-unit Ballymun development with disastrously diverted physical and social infrastructure to sprawling 1970s houses in desolate new towns to the limited vision over the last few decades of Part V and 10% allocations of social housing in, or sometimes away from, private housing developments.

The quality and conditions are grim for those in the Ghetto. In the Inner City many of the flats are slums.

Ordinary people feel abandoned, unsafe, distant from a regime they see as Stalinist. Mostly they feel fear

There is a correlation between growing up ghettoised in a slum and dysfunctional behaviour. Ordinary people feel abandoned, unsafe, distant
from a regime they see as Stalinist. Mostly they feel fear. Fear every day.

Dysfunctionality from crime and poor conditions overflows into the inner city generally. Families and elderly people don’t go into the city any more.

The multi-agencies that are supposed to be looking after the welfare of the homeless and the addicted fill their own coffers like Christmas.

The Council and all the political parties including FFG, People Before Profit and Sinn Féin but also NGOs and community activists have abandoned the flats. Eoin O’Broin writes about a Tiocfaidh ár Lá dee daw utopia of social housing everywhere but people in the ghetto want safety first. Where is Amnesty’s Colm O’Gorman on the breaches of civil liberties for those abandoned in fear in the flats? God knows there must be a judicial review in it for those who bed down amid the mould and vermin. There are certainly enough Acts that are suppose to cover it. Worthy report after report is forgotten by the middle-class worthies paid to churn them out. Nothing ever changes.

Social Housing Figures

As to social housing, only 9% of Ireland’s housing stock is social housing compared to the European average of 20%. In 2017, there were 24,000
Dublin City Council tenants paying more than €78 million in rent. On average, tenants paid €272 per month.

You wouldn’t know they pay anything, the way they are abandoned by civil servants and Garda who live miles away, to anti-social behaviour.

Anti-Social Behaviour

This is defined under the Criminal Justice Act 2016: “A person behaves in an antisocial manner if the person causes or, in the circumstances, is
likely to cause, to one or more persons who are not of the same household as the person –
Significant or persistent alarm, distress, fear or
intimidation, orSignificant or persistent impairment of their use
or enjoyment of their property”.

Anti-social behaviour fails to describe what people are facing day and night in local authority estates, the place they call home – and without
any help in the event of abuse. When drug lords shoot a lad dead in Gloucester Place or Sheriff St who picks up the pieces? Who deals with the
terror residents feel passing the spot every day? It’s not as if anyone provides counselling.

The knotweed of this criminality euphemised as anti-social behaviour is tightening its deathly grasp all over the city.

A 2019 University of Limerick report found that only a relatively small number of people in social housing (estimated at under 2% between the
ages of 12 and 40) are involved in criminal and anti-social behaviour, but that their actions were having a continuing corrosive and damaging
impact on a far greater number. Up to 1000 kids, mostly from “chaotic” family backgrounds are groomed into criminal activities

Crime in Social Housing


A third of Irish people say crime and anti-social behaviour in their community has had an impact on their quality of life. In Dublin the figure rises to four in ten residents who feel their lives have been negatively affected.

As of 2018 Dublin’s north inner city had the highest crime rate in the State at over five times the national average. The Dublin North Central
division had the highest rate for 11 of the 14 main crime categories, including homicide, sexual offences, assaults, drug crime and public order
offences, and had the second highest rate in the remaining three. The North Inner City had a crime rate of 2,571 offences per 10,000 population.
Dublin’s south inner city had the second highest rate at 1,585 crimes per 10,000 population; the country average is 900.

A report published last month, Debts, Threats, Distress and Hope: Towards Understanding DrugRelated Intimidation in Dublin’s North East Inner
City, said 23% of people here had experienced drug-related intimidation. More than 80 per cent saw it as an issue but less than one in five would
report it.

Of the 23 per cent, 67 per cent had been threatened with physical harm; 53 per cent had been followed or tracked; 45 per cent had been threatened with vandalism of their property – including with pipe bombs – and 12 per cent threatened with sexual violence.

The closure of schools and youth services has meant young people are hanging around, bored and ‘easy prey’ to older actors in the drug trade.

In the nine months since the report was commissioned, Sarah Kelleher chief executive of Lourdes Community Youth Services told the Irish Times, “things are absolutely worse “.


Here’s what the figures mean in practice: Eighteen months ago gardaí were forced to set up camp in an inner-city flat complex in south Dublin, as tensions boiled over on anti-social behaviour and drug issues.

Thugs attacking and intimidating residents, children as young as eight being used as drug runners by local dealers as well as one report of
a pair having sex on the stairwell, led to a huge influx of gardai into Pearse House.

A teen gang, from different areas between Ringsend and Cork St, had been gathering in the complex’s main square over the last month.

One resident said: “It had gotten out of hand, they were coming in and shouting and abusing us as we were going in and out of our homes. I’m
glad gardai are coming around now but a lot of the kids don’t care, they’re throwing eggs at them”.

A Dublin City Labour Councillor spoke recently of being told about car brake lines being cut and stones “constantly” being thrown at doors. “One
of the saddest aspects of being a councillor is seeing good families intimidated day in day out by gougers, and gougers who know they’re going
to get away with it”

The delinquency is not confined to Dublin’s Inner City. Some years ago it was reported that thugs as young as 12 on the east side of Galway
were setting up road blocks with mattresses and beds and extracting cash from unsuspecting victims at entrances to housing estates

With the housing crisis, Covid-19, lockdowns and cash shortages you’d think those with a roof over their heads would want to keep it that way but on 19 September last year, Oliver Bond flat complex was simply abandoned to mob rule for a cacophonous rave while Dublin City Council looked on from the comfort and safety of their CCTV Room. No contact was made with the
tenants to clean the flats days after though the common areas had been strewn with drug paraphernalia, broken glass and potential Covid19 contamination. Micheál Martin did visit a few days later to catch the Six One news, decant some gibberish and leg it. Same story.

Conditions Leading to Crime

But there’s a correlation between crime and conditions. Over at Pearse House and Markiewicz House things are grim. The tenants have been
told it will take 15 years of onsite works to fix dilapidations. At the moment the drains are constantly blocked, the stairwells are disgusting, some of the flats don’t even have hot water and there are intermittent rat infestations.

Many residents of Glovers Court on York St are even calling for their demolition: there’s endemic damp, leaks and flooding, the walls are rotten
behind the plasterboard, there’s just concrete under the Floor, they’re very cold, small, and noisy.

In one flat in Oliver Bond House I’m aware of, for example, there is no background ventilation in any of the rooms , the rainwater pipe located
on the uninsulated gable wall was broken approximately 2.5m above the external ground level and water was discharging directly onto the gable wall and saturating it. This took place 5 years ago and was only fixed 2 years ago. The repair work to the downpipe regularly requires ongoing work. In the front bedroom moisture readings of 50% were recorded in places. The water tank overflow was discharging onto the front of the property. A Council representative called out, looked at the tank and said, “what do you expect me to do”. This was in reference to the fact that there was very little room above the water tank in which to carry out any work.

Vermin is an ongoing problem generally in the complex, but also in the apartment block in which she is living. Rubbish is left on the bins and
seagulls are picking at it and dropping the rubbish on the ground and the rats are feeding on the remains. Apertures to the rear of the apartment are inadequately filled in and rats have access to historic drains. The heating system is not working. The radiators are only half heating up. There is no hot water or ability to wash or shower.

These places are not fit for purpose. Markiewicz House. Whitefriar Gardens. McDonagh House. The dilapidations are just shocking. It’s the same
for Traveller accommodation. It’s the same for so-called Emergency Accommodation for the homeless

he conditions are compounded by problems of enforcing common standards. At least to those in the flats – the Garda apologise and make
promises they can’t keep.

The City Council have admitted to me that they have lost control and that staff are terrified and that they can no longer manage many of their
estates flat complexes. Tenants feel the abandonment and react negatively. Good tenants leave. Meanwhile the lives of those left behind are being destroyed by gangs and thugs.

According to Michael Clarke, the Dublin area housing manager, who has responsibility for some 25,000 properties across the city, residents
in Council housing who sell drugs, dump waste illegally, and intimidate others tend to ignore multiple warnings from the Council and have to
be pursued through the courts.

Mind you he tellingly admitted to a Joint Policing Committee meeting “Our current policy seems to be a little bit lacklustre. It’s not threatening enough, to put it bluntly, because we’re not getting the right response to it”.

Evictions: Necessary but not the Solution

The City Council carried out nine evictions in 2018, but going to court is perceived as a complex process that could take many months due to
delays and appeals. However, perhaps this perception arises because the Council is not acting carefully enough. Last year the Supreme Court ruled against the Council after a tenant was evicted under suspicion of engaging in anti-social behaviour. It said “fairness would dictate some engagement at some level was necessary but that did not take place”.

An analysis of training for local authority staff dealing with anti-social behaviour, cited in a Community Mediation Works 2010 report, The
State Of ‘Anti-Social Behaviour’ In Working Class communities found that “training focused on ensuring that the correct legal procedures were

According to Caroline Hurley writing in Village magazine that approach is deficient: “Skills equipping for impartial investigations, community mediation and tenancy support were peripheral considerations. Bureaucratic rigidity seems still to prevail, though the rights emphasis
has changed”.

The 2010 report blamed the 1997 Housing Act for splitting anti-social behaviour into two categories: first, drug dealing, and then, serious
intimidation and threatening behaviour, thus hobbling commensurate responses. They often in practice overlap.

The 2003 Norris report faulted the Act for overreliance on eviction without due process as the solution of choice to anti-social behaviour.

So traditionally there was too much law, bureaucracy and eviction, not enough support and mediation.

There’s been a change: eviction is very rare now. But anti-social behaviour is not. And still no monitoring, support and mediation.

The official swing from unfair summary eviction to in effect unfairly permitting the torture of peace-loving citizens is no improvement.

Hurley notes that the Housing Agency, whose remit is to facilitate national housing policy, has published papers shedding light on approaches
taken internationally to ameliorate friction between neighbours. While taken for granted in many places, community safety is a new notion
for Ireland. Clearly there is much scope to learn from elsewhere.


Some models have not worked but there are in fact examples of success.

Some interventions have done more harm than good. The 2012 Dublin City Lord Mayor’s Commission on Anti-Social Behaviour came, ineptly, to hundreds of worthy conclusions, without providing an executive summary or list of priorities, and therefore remains scandalously under-implemented. Among the Report’s key recommendations are to prioritise early intervention programmes with parents and babies/very young children; to tackle the open drug dealing of prescription drugs on city streets and to encourage the use of Restorative Justice in our probation and criminal systems and Restorative Practice in our schools

Under ‘City Centre issues’, it came to the
following conclusions:

  • Methadone treatment access must be expanded to ensure that it is promptly available no matter where the user lives. Implement local services for local people in relation to methadone treatment in local
  • areas rather than forcing people to access services in the city centre (Drugs Task Forces and HSE).
  • Support the ongoing work of the Business Improvement District Ltd (BIDs) in significantly reducing graffiti levels.
  • Develop a pilot scheme to gather evidence as to the benefits of Graffiti walls.
  • Support the vision and sustainable and independent living policies contained in the Pathways to Home model (HSE and Dublin City Council).
  • Provide more housing units to implement the Pathway to Home Programme (Dublin City Council, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government).

Inevitably most of this remains unimplemented. In the case of providing methadone treatment access, I am long on record saying that it is a
recipe for disorder on our streets. But there are definitely lessons from

Approved Housing Bodies (AHB) report much higher levels of satisfaction than those living in either the Council or private sector.

Co-operative housing seems to give owners a sense of pride and control that affects behaviour. Approved Housing Bodies (AHB) report much higher levels of satisfaction than those living in either the Council or private sector.

A large 2017 survey by the Irish Council for Social Housing discovered that tenants of housing associations benefit from more regular property maintenance, reasonable hands-on management, tenant focus and a sense of community. AHBs tend to have strict anti-social policies implying fast effective action.

In terms of dealing with anti-social problems and mitigating their delinquency, the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme is a particularly
successful approach to working with young offenders. There are currently 105 GYDPs statewide. They are primarily targeted at 12-17 year old “at risk” youths in communities where a specific need has been identified and where
there is a risk of them remaining within the justice system.

The current default response to offending by children is diversion from the courts with a formal or informal caution. A Juvenile Liaison Officer
deals with each case and supervises the offender in the community in more serious cases. Cautions are given in the presence of family members and,
where appropriate, can involve other support persons as well as victims and community representatives. Individual or group plans can be
put in place aimed at ensuring no further offending. Plans often include elements such as reparation, voluntary curfews or involvement in
structured activities (such as sport or leisure). Such restorative cautions can be successful in dealing with antisocial behaviour. Programme A, a four-year intervention, was launched as a pilot programme in 2017 targeting young people who are no longer suitable for or refusing to engage
with the mainstream Garda Youth Diversion Programme, three quarters of whom are getting involved in organised crime.

A 2019 research report and connected strategy carried out by Dr Johnny Connolly of the University of Limerick proposes the following tools to
support and strengthen communities living with the impact of criminal and anti-social behaviour:

  1. Community Crime Impact Assessments:
    already proven to work, this allows the
    community itself to gather testimony as to the
    impact of criminal behaviour on those who
    live and work there. This data is then
    triangulated with Pulse data, with local
    authority complaints and other sources, and
    then responded to with appropriate
    interventions. Assessments are continuously
    taken to monitor the impact of these
    interventions – and to see if they are working for people.
  2. Problem oriented approaches to respond
    intensively to hotspots of criminal and antisocial behaviour.
  3. Develop an interagency response to the
    career criminals – the key leaders … one
    possibility is to use JARC – the Joint Agency
    Response to Crime – to manage the prolific
  4. Employ an intensive street level outreach
    model to target the young people involved at
    the middle tiers – those involved in street
    dealing networks, their families and those
    who are around them within the hotspots of
  5. Create specific interventions for the children
    who are identifiable as recruits before they
    are groomed, before they are taken up by the

Housing was a defining policy area of General Election 2020. The resulting Programme for Government mentions “housing”, “home” and “homes” 68, 35 and 29 times respectively but contains only a short section on anti-social
behaviour, most of which is obscure and not relevant to local authority housing in our big cities, as well as – focused on symptoms not causes:

Antisocial behaviour causes fear and insecurity to people and communities. We will tackle this by ensuring more visible community policing, in line with the Report of the Commission for the Future of Policing [There is no reference to the Mayor’s Commission on Anti-Social Housing]. This will significantly reduce antisocial behaviour and help make people feel safer in their communities. We will:

  • Set up a special expert forum on antisocial behaviour, to consider the effectiveness of existing legislation and propose new ways forward, including new powers for An Garda Síochána and additional interventions to support parenting of offenders.
  • Examine increasing the age limit for the application of the Garda Youth Diversion Programme to 24 years old.
  • Implement a new Youth Justice Strategy, drawing on learnings for the Icelandic model and emphasising prevention, early intervention, and inter-agency collaboration.
  • Criminalise adults who groom children to commit crimes.
  • Work with all criminal justice agencies to build capacity to deliver restorative justice, safely and effectively.
  • Extend the pilot schemes of the Joint Agency Response to Crime to more areas to target prolific repeat and vulnerable offenders aged 16 -21.
  • Enhance powers available to An Garda Síochána to limit the use of scramblers and quads by those engaged in antisocial behaviour and enact legislation to add to those powers, if needed”.

Damningly, there is no reference to improving the lot of people living in social housing sink estates.

When we don’t know how to manage existing stock, how can we talk about building new estates, 10,000 units in the next year, or spending the recent budget’s €65 million allocation for social housing retrofit?

We have to get over the guiding ethos that social housing is undeserved, a plague on the private-house dwellers who fund it.

In the face of a housing crisis we have been scandalously parsimonious, largely reflecting Fine Gael’s ideological squeamishness.

Late last year then Housing Minister, the unlamented Eoghan Murphy claimed ‘delivery’ of 64,000 new homes in the previous three years,
and said that 20,000 new homes would be built in 2019. That statistic is made up of 52,647 “brand new” completions, another 3,657 completed
homes in unfinished housing estates, and 8,291 more homes which were returned to use after they were deemed to have been vacant for at least two years. It was fanciful.

In June 2019 there were 68,693 people on social housing lists countrywide, admittedly a decline of 23,000 since 2016. More than 18,000 people have been on social housing waiting lists for more than seven years.

he unspoken official attitude is if you get social housing you should lump it.

Need to Sort Problems Now

The Government’s Rebuilding Ireland programme had set a construction target of 8,907 houses for 2021; Budget 2021 has upped that to 9,500.
Ludicrously, the target for 2020 was 7,736 social homes but in the first six months of 2020 just 725 were built, partly – allegedly – because of the

But the shock of Coronavirus, and the politicians’ fear of an electorate that has finally decided it wants housing including social housing, is likely to make a determining change

The Opportunity

Let’s do it: let’s build the highest-quality new social housing. Let’s commit that within five years all existing social housing, particularly the sink estates, are overhauled or rebuilt to the best international standards, in partnership with their beleaguered residents.

But since official attitudes are so unhelpful, it is easy to be cynical. If contempt continues to animate the attitude of those charged with responsibility for our inner city estate it is time for residents to take their spaces for themselves.

And whether or not the new plans for social housing are pie in the sky, the people in the flats have their rights. It’s time to assert them.