Government rejects Commission of Inquiry over Irish housing
Church Street: the site of the horrific tenement collapse in early September Photo: Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives

Government rejects Commission of Inquiry over Irish housing

Widespread criticism over failure to deal with housing crisis

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Published: 5 November 1913

The British government has rejected demands that a Viceregal Commission be established to inquire into the issue of housing in Ireland.

Resisting appeals from a range of deputations to open a high-level investigation of the causes, scale and potential solution of the crisis, the government instead announced that a smaller departmental inquiry will take place.

Today’s newspapers carry advertisements from the Local Government Board stating that four of its officials will begin an inquiry into the housing conditions of the working class in Dublin on 18 November 1913.

Widespread disappointment has been expressed at the latest response of the government, with the Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell accused of merely nibbling at the problem.

Deputations to the Lord Lieutenant and to the Chief Secretary, last week, had stressed the vital importance of establishing a commission of inquiry. One such deputation was the Women’s National Health Association.

'A Disaster waiting to happen': Dr. Jacinta Prunty discusses the the Church Street tenement collapse of September 1913, which galvanised efforts to address the crisis in Dublin's housing

The Association noted that the Town Planning Act of 1909 had not been made applicable to Ireland, but that through its operation 46,000 homes had been made habitable across Great Britain during 1912. 

Other schemes in cities such as New York and Paris had run schemes which had demanded of owners the improvement of houses which were deemed inhabitable – or, failing that, their demolition. In Paris, a scheme undertaken seven years previously had improved the living conditions of 250,000 people.

One of the members of the delegation, Lady Emly, said in the course of the meeting in the Privy Council Chamber in Dublin Castle that the overcrowding in Limerick was very great and that this was related to the extent of TB in the city.

The deputation also referred to the condition of houses in the small towns of Ireland. In the town of Athy, Co. Kildare, for example, it was noted that labourers lived in shocking, unsanitary conditions.

Further deputations from the Housing and Town Planning Association, and from the Dublin Citizens’ Association, also pushed for decisive action on housing. The latter Association said that what they wanted was a city that would no longer be a reproach to humanity, no longer a reproach to civic government.

Their ambition, they said, was to give ordinary people a reasonable hope of a life unaffected by illnesses which could be avoided, but from which they suffered because they lived in houses unfit for human habitation.

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