Election proves a win win for Eoin Ó Broin’s book sales

Sinn Féin poll topper is also a surprise bestseller with his book on housing policy

Sales of Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin’s book Home: Why Public Housing is the Answer, have doubled since the general election, his publisher has said.

The book, which was published last April, had sold 1,100 copies before the election. Since the election, it has sold another 1,100 and a reprint of 500 copies has been ordered.

Housing was the pre-eminent issue in the election for the younger generation and the second most important issue for the electorate in general, according to the exit poll. It was the most important issue for 38 per cent of those who voted for Sinn Féin and the most important issue for more than a quarter (26 per cent) of the electorate.

Among 18-24-year-olds, housing was cited by a third as the most important issue, while that rose to 38 per cent among the 25 to 34-year-olds who are most affected by the housing shortage.


Sinn Féin gained the highest number of first preference votes (25 per cent) in the elction. Much of its success has been attributed to the performance of its spokespeople in key portfolios, not least Ó Broin who is widely regarded as being in command of his brief.

Yet more people know that he has written a book than have actually read it.

Nielsen, which compiles sales from bookshops in the Republic, states that 444 copies were sold in the 10 months before the general election. Ó Broin’s publisher, Conor Graham of Merrion Press, said the book had sold more than twice that number between online, including Amazon, e-book and overseas sales, as well as promotional tour sales, before the election.

Sales had “exploded” on the Sunday morning after the election when it was clear that Sinn Féin had won more first preference votes than any other party, Graham said. “The orders coming through on the website have been constant. We are well over a hundred on our website since the election. That’s extraordinary.”

Home is hardly a conventional bestseller, but its sales are very respectable for a nonfiction title – five of last week’s paperback nonfiction top 10 titles sold fewer than 200 copies.

Graham said that the initial sales of the book were what he would have expected for a book on public policy. “It would have been politicos and political anoraks who would have bought it.”

Ó Broin is donating all royalties to a homeless charity. His book is a detailed exposition on the failures of the Irish housing market, both past and present.

“Our housing system never worked properly,” he writes. “My central argument is that our housing system is this way because it is designed so. People in positions of power took advice and made decisions which resulted in the dysfunction all around us.”

The root problem, he believes, is the “conception of housing as a social commodity rather than a social necessity”.

“Any alternative functioning housing system must reverse these trends and place the large-scale provision of public non-market housing at its very centre. Housing is too fundamental a need for human well-being to be left to the boom and bust cycle of the market.”

Ó Broin says the solution is to build more public housing – a pledge made in the Sinn Féin manifesto where the party sought to build 100,000 houses in five years.

Crucially, he does not necessarily see these houses as being for sale. The State, he says, must “end its privileging of owner-occupation” and he declares himself to be “tenure neutral” as some homes would be cost-rental.

He also believes that the model of social housing, where those on low incomes are clustered in housing estates, is outdated and that public housing should be available to everybody.

He cites as his hero the British Labour party politician Nye Bevan, best known as the architect of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), but also somebody who believed in building public housing to the highest possible standards.

“Today our public housing should not only meet Bevan’s high standards but exceed them. They should be built to the highest possible environmental standards, with the most efficient use of energy and the lowest possible carbon emissions”.

The book was reviewed in The Irish Times last August by Tony Fahey, professor emeritus of social policy in UCD. He described it as a "sober, thoughtful and complex read, justifiably so since no simple formula for success jumps out of history or current international experience".

Ó Broin is one of the few authors in Leinster House. He has written two other books, Matxinada, Basque Nationalism and the Radical Basque Youth Movements in 2003 and Sinn Féin and the Politics of Left Republicanism in 2009.

Unsurprisingly, given their subject matter, neither were bestsellers. Home has proven to be more of a bit but its importance could be out of all proportion to its sales.

Financier Dermot Desmond’s 5,000-word essay in The Irish Times last Saturday advocated for a right to housing and for the State to build more social housing, an intervention which was noted widely.

Ó Broin tweeted: “A right to housing/100,000 public homes in 5 years/ Affordable homes 4 working people/ Integrated housing, transport & amenities/Active land management. Clearly we have won the argument. Now we need a Govt to act!”

Even if Ó Broin, as seems likely, does not become the minister for housing in the next government, he has set the agenda for whoever will have this critical portfolio in the years ahead.
Home: Why Public Housing is the Answer is published by Merrion Press, at €14.95