The story of a Cork musician's year-long protest against the housing crisis
Musician Martin Leahy has been singing outside the gates of Leinster House every Thursday for one year.
The nation's capital has seen its fair share of housing protests in recent months, particularly in the wake of last month's contentious lifting of the eviction ban. But none have been as unique as Martin Leahy's weekly sojourn to the gates of Leinster House.
The Cork musician has been making the trip up to Dublin each Thursday since early May of last year, with today being the year-long anniversary of his eccentric form of protest.
Detailing how he originally set out on this campaign, Martin recalled; "So I wrote a song called 'Everyone Should Own a Home' and I recorded it around this time last year. Then I went up one day to sing it outside the Dáil in what was kind of an act of desperation, and just a feeling of helplessness with everything that surrounded the housing crisis".
"So when I went up there it felt very useful and very worthwhile when I did do it, and I got a great reaction on social media so I've continued to do it every week since and now it's been a year".
When asked why the topic of housing struck such a chord with him, Martin talked about his own experiences with the housing crisis.
"I have an eviction notice looming because my landlord is selling the property I'm living in. I still haven't received the notice but I'm expecting to receive it soon, it's kind of been looming in the background for a while".
The government's response:
With homelessness figures soaring to record heights last month, as 11,988 people were recorded as having sought emergency accommodation, the coalition government has faced fierce criticism for its faltering housing policy.
From the failure of the tenant-in-situ scheme, to the spiralling homelessness situation, Martin offered his own thoughts on how the government can try and right its past failures on the housing front.
"In the long term, the government needs to start constructing public housing on public land. They need to build a lot more, way more even than the targets they are already missing. But the immediate thing is to reinstate the eviction ban. Every single charity that is working with homeless people has been screaming for them to reinstate the ban and this situation according to the likes of Focus Ireland, Peter McVerry and the SVP is only going to get worse".
The societal malaise induced by the housing crisis is another topic which Martin spoke to, discussing the general sense that the housing crisis appears to have reached an incurable crescendo.
"It feels unfixable, for the last number of years the homeless figures have been rising every single month so it seems like a change of government is the only thing that can make a difference, and certainly needs some form of radical action".
In terms of a direct response to his protestations though, only opposition party politicians have acknowledged his weekly presence outside of Leinster House.
"No politicians in power have reached out. I've received a lot of support from opposition parties and I've spoken to a lot of people like Eoin O'Broin, Richard Boyd Barrett and Holly Cairns but it hasn't ever been acknowledged by anybody in power".
A different approach to a countrywide issue:
When discussing the topic of the housing crisis, much of the media's coverage focuses on Dublin. However, Cork native Martin believes that his own plight highlights the ubiquitous nature of the nation's housing struggles.
"I was of course aware of the housing crisis but I didn't realise it was even impacting rural areas like where I live. Usually you'd be able to find some cheap house in the middle of nowhere but I can't even do that anymore. So there's a clear problem with availability and the places that are available are just so out of reach in terms of prices, no matter where you are in the country".
Remarking upon the medium of music as a form of protest, Martin reflected on how his performances have seen him gain traction on social media, and played a small role in keeping the issue of the housing crisis within the nation's zeitgeist.
"It's a different approach and the song kind of outlines what the problems concerning the housing crisis are. It seems to kind of have a momentum and an impact in that way through music. All my heroes are the likes of Christy Moore, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan so I've always believed in the power of song or music to have an impact".
"I'm just a small voice adding to all the other voices that are talking about this inhumane crisis, we're all part of adding into that, and I think that my protest has helped create vibrations and contributed, so I'm remaining positive in that way", Martin added.
Week 52 tomorrow. Spread the word. I never had a plan but all of a sudden it's a year. It's just another one of the many miserable and depressing housing crisis milestones that we're marking all the time. 11,988 homeless. Shame on our Government. #everyoneshouldhaveahome pic.twitter.com/wk2UHMn29C
— Martin Leahy (@TheNewReview2) May 3, 2023
When asked as to how long he saw himself continuing the weekly pilgrimage from rural Cork to Kildare Street, the musician was adamant that he would continue on " as long as I feel it's worthwhile".
And on the topic of the year anniversary of his protestations, Martin stated how he felt more annoyed than anything else with having reached the milestone.
"I think I'm more annoyed. It's hard to be in any way celebratory about it. It feels like the crisis is worsening and I've played at other housing protests and people have said 'I really hope you can stop singing that song soon', and I know what they meant, I do too! It's just terrible that its gotten to the extent that it has".
The musician's parting plea was a simple message to the government; "Reinstate the eviction ban. That's the most immediate thing, the most crucial thing you can do to take pressure of the country's homelessness services".
Moreover, Martin's anniversary protest later today outside the Dáil will be supported by Raise the Roof and The Cost of Living Crisis Coalition, with other artists and protestors set to join the Cork musician from 1pm.
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