The central part of the Cromwellian conquest of the mid-17th century was the scheme to allow people invest in the expropriation of the land of Ireland. That involved the transfer of over two million acres to a ragtag of English soldiers, settlers and speculators.
This was codified in the 1652 Act of Settlement which was meant to consummate the physical annihilation of the population through murder and starvation, or their expulsion including through transportation of thousands of the dispossessed to the Caribbean as indentured servants.
The bottom line was that any of the thousands of soldiers who took part in the slaughter here could exchange their wages for land. Others then bought the land from them if they didn’t fancy their chances among the surviving natives, and those with wealth and the right progressive connections with the Cromwellian Republic could also wet their beaks.
It would be invidious to compare that to the current hoovering up of property here by non-Irish investors. At the same time, it is an unhealthy economic model and especially where a key sector like housing is increasingly in the hands of people with no interest in the country other than making money out of it.
It is clear that the interests of corporate capital can in many instances be opposed to those of the local population. With the virtual abolition of constraints on the “free movement of capital and labour” a small country like Ireland becomes little more than part of someone’s portfolio. It is especially not healthy that the housing sector is increasingly being driven by build to rent which entails the replacement of actual houses with high rise apartments.
There are already billions of Euro invested in property by overseas funds here, with a seeming backlog of those waiting to get their hands on build to rent property or accommodation designated to be “social housing.” According to the housing sector journal Eolas almost 80% of that investment capital was already in the hands of north American and European companies by 2019.
Eolas pretty much summed up the apathy towards “quality of life” issues on the part of those targeting the sector in declaring that they are increasingly “looking for opportunities to invest in micro-living and co-living concepts.” Of course they are.
Alongside the desire to get in on the private rental sector, capital funds have identified “social housing” as a lucrative and secure source of money, especially as it comes with public guarantees. Not only does the tax system encourage such investment, but the state is providing a safety net by effectively taking on the responsibility for the payment of the rents and maintenance of any property they put on their “social housing” lists.
In some ways, it is the prefect model of what constitutes late capitalism in Ireland. There is no risk when your tax overheads are minimal and where the state is going to pick up the tab for any hiccups that might occur. As was classically illustrated of course by the bailout of the cowboy Irish financial sector which had about as much interest in the country as the London spivs who bought land in Tipperary in the 1650s.
Aithníonn ciaróg, ciaróg eile, so the Irish elite has no difficulties in attracting fellow souls who recognise a good thing and a safe bet when they see one. They may make a hames of it, but sure they won’t be the ones stumping up. Neither will they be living in a city that is rapidly turning into just another anonymous, hostile crime-ridden spot, seemingly there for the benefit of low wage employers, landlords and their array of political and NGO pathics who can justify any sort of change once it comes with a diversity tag and they collect some of the crumbs.
An article by Killian Woods published on January 2 provides some insight into how “social housing” is coming to be subject to the same takeover as the rest of the property sector. The Immigrant Investor Programme – which we have referred to previously in the context of wealthy Chinese people effectively buying visas – has alone accounted for over €300 million in “social housing” investment. 20% of that was invested in the month of November 2021 alone.
Woods notes that those selling this type of investment like Arena, and the Chinese real estate business Vanke, are pitching it on the basis that it is a virtually zero risk gambit, given the length of the leases, the fact that local authorities are responsible for looking after the property, and that there is no danger of the property ever being vacant.
Apparently, the EU has indicated to the Irish state that this form of leasing “social housing” is possibly in contravention of investment guidelines. It is a rare occasion when the Irish elite does not see eye to eye with their Brussels overlords, and it is no coincidence that this is invariably when it has something to do with their clients avoiding having to pay tax and other irritants that interfere with turning a bob and augmenting the greasy till for all with an astute enough snout.
There is the argument that Ireland has no choice but to prostitute itself to all manner of entities wishing to use it to make money with no regard to its consequences. At one time, some of the people who helped to found the state cared somewhat for such matters. But enough of that. Their successors are just happy enough that they have a country to sell.