Housing battleground looms large ahead of election

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil already trading blows in bitter exchanges over crisis

Fine Gael is likely to come under increasing attack with accusations from Fianna Fáil and Opposition parties that it has failed to deliver on tackling the housing crisis. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fine Gael is likely to come under increasing attack with accusations from Fianna Fáil and Opposition parties that it has failed to deliver on tackling the housing crisis. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The next government – even if it does not include Fine Gael – should stick with the party’s flagship Rebuilding Ireland policy because it is solving the housing crisis, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney first launched the plan as minister for housing in 2016 and has defended its progress against criticisms that it has failed.

Housing is likely to be one of the main battlegrounds of the general election campaign, with the Opposition consistently tackling the Government and Eoghan Murphy, the current Minister for Housing, on their record.

Recent days have seen a repeat of previous bitter exchanges between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, whose housing spokesman, Darragh O’Brien, accused Mr Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of living in a “parallel deluded universe”.

Mr O’Brien previously suggested the pair were failing to resolve the housing crisis because of their “elitist” and “cosseted” backgrounds and in recent days accused them of prioritising “their wealthy friends”. Sinn Féin and others have also identified housing as a weak spot for the Government and repeatedly raise it in the Dáil.

‘Out of touch’

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Coveney accused Fianna Fáil of “trying to create this narrative that Fine Gael is out of touch, it doesn’t care”.

He said “nothing could be further from the truth” and he will be challenging such claims during the election campaign.

Mr Coveney said the “Just Society” Fine Gael tradition he argued for when he ran for leadership of the party in 2017, when he lost out to Mr Varadkar, is “very much to the fore in both housing and healthcare”.

“We are incredibly focused on trying to resolve a housing crisis, which don’t forget happened because of Fianna Fáil’s complete mismanagement of the property market, the banking system and the housing market,” he said. “And people conveniently forget that this is a caring government. We’ll spend almost €2.7 billion next year on housing.”

“We had huge pressures coming out of the recession, while our population is increasing by about 70,000 a year. We simply need to catch up with an extraordinary increasing demand for housing over a relatively short period of time.

“If Fine Gael gets another term in government, you will see a significant increase in housing delivery, but you will see it done in a sustainable way that doesn’t lead to another property crash. I hope that if there is another government in place that doesn’t involved Fine Gael, that they will stick to the housing strategy that we’ve put in place because it’s working. What you have from Fianna Fáil is no idea, no policies, no proposals, even on housing.”

Stability

He said the Government had already considered proposals, such as that for a rent freeze put forward by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, although Mr O’Brien said his party is “not wedded” to the idea, but came to the conclusion they would not work.

“Rebuilding Ireland is working. Rebuilding Ireland has created confidence, stability and is delivering a lot more houses and will continue to deliver.

“Unfortunately for many people who are waiting or who are in emergency accommodation, it’s not quick enough. And I totally get that, which is why we need to keep housing as a big priority. But what we mustn’t allow is for Fianna Fáil to take charge of the country and to create effectively what they did in the past, which is an unregulated housing market, which is developer led and leads to another property bubble and property crash, which not only, you know, damages an economy but also devastates society.”