Gerard Howlin: The younger generation are screwed, and the system is stacked against them

Expediency drives decisions on issues such as increased pension age and wealth tax, all of which would benefit the young

The younger generation are screwed, and the system is stacked against them. The brouhaha in the Dáil about housing may be potent politics but there is little at stake in terms of serious policy changes. Generation rent may be the preferred political football, but with friends like Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats, Greens and PBP, younger people don’t need enemies.

As the monolith of Irish politics of the 20th century dissipates into ever more factions and the noise of political debate surges, there is ever less at stake. At the core of a grand alliance of nearly all Dáil parties is a soggy social democratic consensus of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The political potency of housing and the tactical mishandling by the Government of the eviction ban issue means Sinn Féin is currently strapped into the driving seat. They have a mortgage on key words including “eviction”, “cruel” and importantly “change”. It may end in Government for them. For now, and the life of this Government, they are setting the pace on policy. A conspicuous exception is climate change, on which the Greens retain clear ownership and Sinn Féin’s footprint is negligible.

But the parties of the grand alliance are, by conviction or expediency, committed to structures and systems that actually undermine the larger State they promise.


The irony is clear in housing policy. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says we need an extra 250,000 homes. Last weekend Labour leader Ivana Bacik promised to build 1 million. In a country struggling to meet Government targets of 29,000 new homes this year, these levels of blather show a withering contempt for the facts. But it is not the extravagance of the language that matters most. It is the insidiousness with which resources to fund what is promised are squandered that is the cruellest blow for the young.

For Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, all that remains is staying in office but not exercising power

Labour’s only significant impact on economic policy since it left Government in 2016 was to jump start the Stop67 campaign in the 2020 general election campaign. It could have made Ireland fairer for the fewer younger workers who must bear an ever-greater burden, by increasing the qualifying age for an old-age pension to 67, but now it won’t. Houseless, pension poor and precarious, the young are pack animals and voting fodder.

Has housing 'turned a corner'?

Listen | 38:16

A plan to increase the age of eligibility had been in place for a decade. It was the policy in Government of first Fianna Fáil and then Fine Gael and Labour. It combusted instantly under political pressure. Sinn Féin had the last laugh and reaped the electoral harvest. But it is a cost that will bear heavily on the young all their working lives, have an impact on their old age and on the capacity of the State to provide for them. But that’s just politics. It is not meant to be personal.

Right2Water, which politically crystallised in the Dublin South-West byelection of 2014 when socialist Paul Murphy was elected, and subsequently Stop67, bookend the stunted ambitions for a larger State. Water charges were finally abandoned in the debris of the 2016 election.

As you listen to political debate this week, think not on what they say, but on what they do. Two specific attacks on the prospects of young voters are the failure to increase the age of eligibility for an old-age pension and the refusal to countenance a property tax or a wealth tax based on property to fund local Government and redistribute advantage from the older generation to the younger.

In the absence of any appetite to structurally change the systems that led to a chronic housing shortage that is a crisis for the houseless and homeless, housing policy is play-acting and palaver.

What is ideological yoga for politicians is a fly trap for younger voters. Alienated from the formerly big parties of the 20th century, they understandably want change. The change on offer is one that ensures things stay the same.

It is hard to say to what extent Sinn Féin is a flag of convenience or the object of credible belief. Economically the party is about where Fianna Fáil was under Jack Lynch in the 1977 election, ebullient but oblivious to a changing economic order.

What matters in the row over the eviction ban is that it is a rare example of political debate going beyond the Leinster House bubble. It underlines the fact that for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, all that remains is staying in office but not exercising power. Sinn Féin has done well and today it repurposes what is claims is a previous Government Bill to end the eviction ban. The lamentable state of public administration which is at the heart of policy failure is hardly mentioned. Generation Rent is spoken of and screwed with equal insincerity by all.