The Irish Times view on the looming byelection: the housing effect

For those trapped paying exorbitant rents with no route to home ownership or on local authority waiting lists, the problems of supply and affordability remain

The failure of his mentor Leo Varadkar to appoint him to any Ministerial position after last year’s election clearly rankled with outgoing Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The failure of his mentor Leo Varadkar to appoint him to any Ministerial position after last year’s election clearly rankled with outgoing Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The departure of Eoghan Murphy from politics at the age of 39, after 10 years in the Dáil, is probably a reflection of how difficult the lives of politicians have become in the digital age. But is is also an acknowledgment that his failure to make progress as Minister for Housing effectively put paid to his long-term political ambitions and it is a reminder to the Coalition of how its electoral fortunes may be influenced by the same issue.

Murphy says he hopes to pursue a career in the international arena and it is reasonable to assume he has a specific path in mind. But he also seems to have concluded anything is better than continuing as a TD. The failure of his mentor Leo Varadkar to appoint him to any ministerial position after last year’s election must have rankled. Still, Murphy’s decision to walk away, little more than a year after holding his seat against the tide, came as a surprise. It has left Fine Gael with a challenge in the Dublin Bay South constituency where Murphy was once a formidable vote-winner.

The outcome of the byelection, which is expected to take place in the autumn, will be a litmus test of the state of politics as the pandemic eases and other concerns, such as housing and unemployment, come to the fore. Dublin Bay South has long been a Fine Gael stronghold and it was still the biggest party there in last year’s election, despite losing one of its seats. It was one of the few constituencies where Sinn Féin did not top the poll. That honour went to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan while Fianna Fáil leadership hopeful Jim O’Callaghan scraped home. The byelection will be an indicator of any significant change in the standing of the parties since then.

The Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic will be one of the yardsticks on which its candidates may be judged. A big question is whether Sinn Féin will succeed again in making housing the dominant issue. For those trapped paying exorbitant rents with no route to home ownership or on local authority waiting lists, the problems of supply and affordability remain. Eoghan Murphy personifies the political stakes.

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