Home Sweet Home? Housing Activism and Political Commemoration in Sixties Ireland

McEneaney, Sinead (2019). Home Sweet Home? Housing Activism and Political Commemoration in Sixties Ireland. History Workshop Journal, 87(1) pp. 5–26.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/dbz015

Abstract

This paper examines the explosion of activism around housing in Ireland in the late Sixties. At a time of political commemoration around the anniversaries of the 1916 Rising, and the establishment of the first revolutionary independent parliament (Dáil) in 1919, a group of activists calling themselves the Dublin Housing Action Committee sought to disrupt political consensus and ask serious questions about the priorities of the Irish state. The group began through cooperation between homeless people in the city, but soon garnered support from anti-establishment agitators within the republican party, Sinn Féin. By 1969, the group was pressing government for response to the acute housing crisis in the city. The significance of the DHAC was threefold. In the first instance, it sheds light on a local political problem, challenging the consensus of an Irish ‘success’ narrative, and putting the spotlight on the failure of the state to deliver on its promise to its citizens at exactly the time when this ‘success’ was being celebrated. The strategies of the DHAC demonstrated how the wider national question of Irish unity could be fused with local issues in order to successfully build alliances beyond its organic political base. Secondly, it sought to exploit a rights-based language placing socio-political protest in Ireland within a much broader international context. Thirdly, the case of the DHAC prompts us to rethink the position of Ireland within the global ‘sixties’, beyond the dominant narrative of civil rights activism in Northern Ireland. The actions of this housing movement indicate that the struggles of a small modernizing economy on the fringes of Europe produced the same kinds of protest as were evident in urban unrest in Britain, the US and other parts of Europe.

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