Credit: Gript

Labour TD: Owning a house might make you a bad citizen

Watch the whole video here, so you can be sure that we’re not being unfair to Aodhán O’Riordáin, Labour TD, and, apparently, staunch opponent of owning your own home:

To summarise his argument: When you invest in a home, he says, you gain a stake in defending that home from other people, and things that might undermine your investment. So, you become more likely to object to planning permissions if new structures might undermine the value of your own home. You start objecting to things like “HSE facilities” (by which, in context, he means Heroin injection centres like the one causing a row in central Dublin at the moment) and “social housing”, because they are perceived as threats to the value of a person’s home.

He’s probably right, of course. The issue is that he sees this as an unquestionably bad thing, when, in fact, it is an unquestionably good thing.

For the alternative viewpoint, you do not even have to pick up the writings of Margaret Thatcher. It was provided, just this week, by the left-leaning actor and writer Mark O’Halloran, in an article for, on the perils of a lifetime as a renter:

I’m one of those people doomed to live amongst other people’s furniture. The type of guy who has to ask, at the age of 51, for permission to own a cat. It’s sort of funny really. Except it’s not, ’cause now I’m afraid for the future. And with good cause…..

…. For people essentially locked out of the housing market, what happens when we get too old or infirm or can no longer work (because make no bones about it – people in my position can never plan a retirement)?

What happens when we, in our dotage, are priced out of the rental market? Because this is the future for a hell of a lot of us. It’s a fact that’s never talked about, though. It seems unworthy of official policy position or future planning. People like me will have to face this alone. That is the reality.

O’Halloran, of course, should be comforted: Not owning a home is probably what makes him a better, more socially conscious citizen, in O’Riordáin’s analysis. But his situation also betrays O’Riordáin’s argument. Because a home is not simply a “castle” to be defended: It also provides economic security, personal freedom, and, crucially, a degree of independence from the state. The reason people defend them so vigorously is because they provide all those things, and most of us value them more than we value some mythical notion of “social cohesion”.

And where, in fact, is this “social cohesion”, anyway? O’Riordáin actually uses an example which betrays his own argument, when he points to objections to “HSE facilities”. Is a community with a drug problem and an injection centre really better, and more attractive, than one without one? Do most of us aspire to live amongst acres of social housing, rather than in settled communities, with settled (in the sense of living their permanently) neighbours? And what happens to renters, and people without homes, when they hit their dotage, as O’Halloran asks? What assets do they have to secure their comfort in retirement? What do they posess, of substance, to pass on to their children?

Because, like it or not, that is what most of us aspire to do: To be able to leave something behind for our heirs and successors. That is another reason why we defend what he sniffily calls “our castles”. His position doesn’t just attack people for wanting better for themselves, it also attacks people for wanting better for their children.

And, it’s worth repeating, for what? The vision he paints in this speech is not exactly enticing, because it is a picture of a society where people are more or less apathetic about what the Government does in their community to “make it better”. He is openly arguing that if only people did not care about things that might impact the value of their property, for example, communities would be better. But isn’t the value of a property actually a really good measure of how desirable a community is to live in? There is a reason, after all, why homes in Foxrock are worth more than homes in places with more crime and social disorder. If you are putting in place things which reduce the value of people’s homes, it is highly unlikely that you are doing something which most people feel makes a community better. If it was making the community better, after all, more people would want to live in it, and house prices would rise.

But O’Riordáin is a member of the Labour Party, so the very concept of how prices measure sentiment, as well as pure value, is alien to him. His view, and the view of his ideological forebears, has always been that Government knows better than people do what is good for them. And if he thinks it is good for you, and you object because it would devalue your home, then you are obviously motivated by selfishness, and not the common good. It is an insulting, and backwards argument. Which is, of course, an O’Riordáin trademark.




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