Housing crisis emerges as single biggest election issue
Half of the candidates listed a local issue as a top three priority
Housing issues are a priority for a significant proportion of candidates from all the left-wing parties and Fianna Fáil
Housing and health are the issues most frequently cited as priorities by election candidates, according to a new survey.
Candidates from all parties and Independents were asked to list their top three election priorities, and 47 per cent of respondents listed a housing-related issue, while 45 per cent mentioned health.
Half of all respondents also mentioned a local issue as one of their election priorities.
Other commonly mentioned issues include education, water charges, jobs and abortion.
Candidates’ responses are publicly available on the website WhichCandidate.ie (run by the University of Limerick in partnership with The Irish Times), where each candidate is given an individual profile page.
Closer to the election candidates will also be asked to indicate where they stand on a range of issues. So far 185 candidates (representing over 40 per cent of candidates selected or declared to date) have participated.
There are significant differences across parties in the types of issues prioritised by candidates. This should be an important consideration for voters as the outcome of the election will determine where government resources are targeted.
The main exception to this is health, which is listed as a priority by a substantial proportion of candidates from all the main parties but interestingly not by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, who identifies employment, tax and economic recovery as his main concerns.
Housing issues are a priority for a significant proportion of candidates from all the left-wing parties and Fianna Fáil.
For example, Paul Murphy (Anti-Austerity Alliance) lists rent controls and social housing as his top priority;
Michael McGrath (Fianna Fáil) refers to the need to tackle high mortgage interest rates; while Oliver Moran (Green Party) calls for a referendum on the right to housing.
Labour candidatesThe issue is a priority for almost half of Labour candidates, but surprisingly not for Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, who identifies job creation, health and education as key electoral issues.
Very few Fine Gael candidates mention housing, tending instead to focus on employment issues.
Water charges and Irish Water are also listed as a priority by the majority of candidates from the left-wing Opposition parties (including Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, and the Anti-Austerity Alliance).
Naturally, this is not an issue raised by Government party candidates, but neither is it listed as a priority by many candidates from Fianna Fáil or the Social Democrats, despite both of these parties having declared their opposition to the current system.
Crime is a more important issue for Fianna Fáil candidates (listed by almost 33 per cent of respondents from that party), and this issue is also mentioned by a significant number of Renua candidates and Independents.
In contrast to previous elections, abortion appears to be an important issue for some parties.
The campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution is mentioned by 11 per cent of respondents, including the majority of Anti-Austerity Alliance and Workers Party candidates.
In contrast, the issue is not mentioned by any candidates from Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin. The issue does not emerge as an important one for Renua, either even though several of its members originally left Fine Gael over this issue.
ResponsesPerhaps the most striking feature of the candidates’ responses is that so many mention local issues. Half of the candidates who responded listed a local issue as one of their top three priorities.
Naturally, local issues are to the fore for many Independents, but this is also true of a large number of candidates from the bigger parties such as Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, including candidates from both urban and rural constituencies.
For example, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams lists Louth County Hospital as one of his top three priorities; while in Dublin Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White includes Stepaside Garda station among her election priorities.
Local issues will clearly play a huge role in the “ground war” in this campaign, as has always been the case in Irish elections.
All of the individual candidates’ priorities and their main message can be found at www.whichcandidate.ie
Rory Costello is a lecturer in politics at the University of Limerick