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Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael convey a collective tin ear on housing

Government’s seemingly laconic response to the ongoing crisis is facilitating the rise of Sinn Féin

The bleak midwinter lends the time to search the soul. The following scene offers a lodestar.

It’s a wild and windy Friday night and the sofa beckons for a night’s viewing. The Nine O’Clock News headlines an exchequer surplus of €12.1 billion – almost €5 billion of it from a corporation tax windfall in November alone.

The Taoiseach announces that the €12 billion-plus will be distributed to local authorities where elected members will expedite the building of affordable housing. At today’s prices that could mean around 40,000 houses.

The first part of that scenario happened last Friday. The second half is as dystopian as a Margaret Atwood novel. Nobody in Government makes a connection between exchequer surplus and the housing crisis. Or faces the psychic despair of younger generations over housing.


That field is left to Mary Lou McDonald who, on the Late Late Show which followed the bulletin, is cheered for her promise to build 100,000 houses in five years.

Sinn Féin makes 100,000 houses sound as revolutionary as the Shannon electrification scheme. But the Government’s target is actually greater than that. The difference is one of semantics: the Government gets bogged down in “social” versus “market” and undesirable “shortfalls”.

Sinn Féin shrewdly talks about “affordable” housing, built by the State. For that, they are rewarded with pole position by the electorate.

Of course, spending the entire exchequer surplus on housing is as fantastical as a united Ireland right now, and a responsible Finance Minister has to save for the rainy day.

But Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, despite their targets, convey a collective tin ear on housing. Which goes some way to explain the Late Late audience’s roar at the proposition of “government without Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael”.

“Hating on” Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has become something of a national pastime, more than the normal anti-government ritual. Take those online dating sites where one of the most commonly asked Same Page (compatibility) questions is: “Do you hate Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael?”

It could be having a laugh, like the literary minimalist’s summation of any novel by DH Lawrence – “Before we have sex, here are several of my opinions”. But there’s a fine line between “hate” jocularity and demonisation. And that’s a dangerous game to play.

Last weekend’s Ireland Thinks poll explains why. The poll probed a connection between gangland crime and Provisional republicanism and found that nearly two-thirds of those polled believe there is a connection. No surprises there – given the poll coincided with the allegations heard at the Hutch trial. What really matters, however, is what Sinn Féin supporters think: every insight into Sinn Féin opaqueness and preparation for government is valuable.

The result was compelling. Over a quarter (26 per cent) of Sinn Féin supporters believe there is a link. But among its core support – working class, aged 18 to 24 – this rises to between 40 per cent and 49 per cent. In short. almost half of Sinn Féin’s core support believes there is a connection between gangland crime and Provisional republicanism. And still continues to support it.

These findings are not merely disturbing. A warning to all who value the rule of law, they also flout the remarkable feat, 100 years ago, of our State’s founders. The focus of their Herculean endeavours, according to historian Tom Garvin, was ensuring the establishment and survival of democracy in the Free State against the will of a non-democratic and pre-political, localised revolutionary guerrilla army, the IRA.

Irish democracy, right now, seems caught in an epochal pincer movement. On the one hand is the wilful delinquency of certain elements of Sinn Féin core support; on the other an apparent death wish on the part of Government parties.

Sinn Féin, like all Opposition parties, is blame-thirsty. Its particular talent lies in fostering victimhood caused by the very real housing crisis. This is no country for young fathers and mothers who will never own a home of their own, will never know the joy of expansion, the sheer potential that having a secure home offers. Their trauma is incalculable.

But the response from Government remains laconic. Rightly or wrongly, the optics are of a responsibility vacuum which a quasi-populist party like Sinn Féin is ready to rush in and fill.

Why wasn’t everything in the Government’s arsenal of money and legislation thrown at the problem? Why did we not create a housing czar? Or a Cab-style Housing Emergency Bureau, which might call out the many objections to housing projects, some lodged by Sinn Féin itself.

Paralysis? Denial? Or both – that lethal combination which leads to self-destruction. There is something Faustian in the way a coterie of “radical chic,” middle-class voters flirt with Sinn Féin.

Bored by the sheer stability of our enduring State institutions and owning their own homes, they fancy a spot of rebellion. For a United Ireland. Against bicycle lanes. They know what Sinn Féin stands for because Sinn Féin tells us.

The prominent attendance of Sinn Féin’s president and vice-president at the paramilitary-style funeral of IRA leader Bobby Storey in Belfast in 2020 left no doubt. While the country, for the common good, stoically obeyed anti-Covid rules, Sinn Féin made their own rules. That spells contempt.

Those who signed our brave new constitution 100 years ago had physical, moral and intellectual courage. It’s buried somewhere in the DNA of their heirs. Go find.