An upcoming by-election in Dublin is set to be dominated by the escalating cost and scarcity of housing in the city.
Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin characterised the upcoming ballot in Dublin Bay South as “a referendum on the government’s failure to tackle the housing crisis”.
Formerly known as Dublin South-East and historically a wealthy Fine Gael heartland, the constituency includes Rathmines, Terenure, Harold’s Cross, Rathfarnham, Ballsbridge, Donnybrook, Sandymount, Ranelagh, Ringsend, and the south inner city of Dublin.
Housing led the agenda during Leaders’ Questions in the Dublin parliament in recent weeks and the level of pressure on the government doesn’t appear to be dissipating, and this part of Dublin is no different.
“Look at the price of renting in the west of the constituency, in your Ranelaghs and Rathmines,” Ó Broin said.
“Look at the cost of buying a home in the east of the constituency, where there are more owner-occupiers — in Donnybrook, or Sandymount, and Irishtown.”
Referring to one planned development, he said: “Right in the middle of that constituency we have a major development of 3,000 homes. And the problem is the developers and financiers want to have 3,000 high-end, build-to-rent apartments.
“But that’s not what working people of Dublin Bay South and the wider city need. What they need is Poolbeg to be a mixed-income, mixed-use community where the young can afford to rent or buy, and families can take root and settle.”
A new wave of emigration is underway by young Irish people who see no prospect of owning their own home here.
Foreign-owned ‘vulture’ and ‘cuckoo’ investment funds have been exposed as buying up almost entire housing estates and hoarding properties. These funds, as well as Irish retail banks, have been leaving properties half empty while ramping up rents, all with the aim of driving up house prices to even more outrageous levels, and with the apparent connivance of the government.
The government’s response has so far been mediocre and tokenistic, guided by Fine Gael’s historic links to landlordism.
In response to a week-long scandal over entire housing estates being taken off the market in Maynooth, County Kildare, the government vowed only that purchases of more than 10 houses at once will attract a stamp duty (tax) of 10 per cent. However, this will not apply to blocks of apartments.
On the issue of vacant homes, the government commissioned a report into the feasibility of a vacant property tax three years ago, but to date nothing has been done.
Darragh O’Brien, the housing minister, has announced that councils will be able to insist that up to 50% of certain new developments are sold to owner-occupiers. However, that plan will have no impact for up to three years –– meanwhile, up to €1bn worth of homes have been pre-sold to cuckoo funds, meaning the crisis will continue for years to come.
Recent polls indicate the public have greater confidence in the capacity of Sinn Féin to resolve the housing crisis than the government. But the government is still set to make it the main issue of the by-election, and Fine Gael are understood to have prepared a range of dubious counter-attacks.
One Fine Gael official warned: ‘We are going to turn the heat right up on Sinn Féin. We are going to terrify the Dowagers of Bushy Park [a wealthy area of Terenure] with visions of thousands of social houses descending upon them.’
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar discounted Fianna Fáil candidate Deirdre Conroy and Labour’s Ivana Bacik as he declared that the election will be a ‘battle’ between his party and Sinn Féin.
Varadkar said Sinn Féin “always have a reason to be against housing. They’re for housing as a right but not for housing in practice,” he said.
Sinn Féin have selected Mr Ó Broin’s partner, Senator Lynn Boylan for the contest.
Ms Boylan has built a reputation for campaigning on women’s rights, climate change and local issues such as the Stardust disaster. A former MEP for the Dublin area, who won a historic Sinn Féin vote of 24% in the capital in 2014 before missing out in 2019, she is undoubtedly the main competition to Fine Gael’s James Geoghegan.
“Nowhere is the crisis in housing more evident than in Dublin Bay South,” she said.
“Workers and families are saddled with out of control rents and a whole generation are locked out of home ownership. That must change.
“We need a new approach to tackling the crisis created by ten years of Fine Gael in government. Sinn Féin have a real plan to cut rents, to ban rent increases and to increase the supply of affordable homes for workers and families.
“This election is a clear choice between endorsing the government’s record or voting for a new approach - that is the choice facing the people of Dublin Bay South.”
The by-election, for which a date has not yet been set, is being held to replace Eoghan Murphy, the former Fine Gael Minister who resigned his seat in April.
Other candidates in the election announced so far include Aontú’s Mairéad Tóibín, Brigid Purcell of People before Profit, Independent Mannix Flynn and Claire Byrne of the Green Party.