The housing market in Ireland has never felt less accessible, as soaring costs, in both property and rent, has left thousands wondering how, if ever, they will be able to afford a place to call their own. This is an issue felt most acutely by young people.

Recently published figures from the EU agency Eurofound show that 84% of young people aged 18-24 in Ireland still live with at least one parent, whilst the proportion for those aged 25-29 is 47%. These figures are among the highest in Europe, demonstrating how difficult it is for young people in Ireland to get on the housing ladder. 

Young people are not the only victims of the rising costs of property. According to the Central Statistics Office, in 2016, almost 30% of occupied dwellings were those renting accommodation, marking an upward trend away from homeownership since 2011. Furthermore, the charity Focus Ireland has identified that homelessness itself has increased 232% since July 2014, and state that it is primarily caused by a lack of affordable housing. Clearly, this is an issue affecting a broad spectrum of Irish society, and one which has divided Irish politics on how to resolve it.

All of the major parties have successfully identified these issues within the housing sector, and have proposed their own solutions. Fine Gael, which is broadly on the centre-right of the Irish political spectrum, describe themselves as “the party of homeownership”, and aim to translate this belief into reality by ensuring that more houses are built, particularly in urban areas to facilitate greater density in cities and towns. The aim of 25000 houses built in 2020 would consist of a combination of private dwellings and social housing and aim to provide affordable housing for both those aiming to purchase and for those looking to rent.

Their governing partners, Fianna Fail, advocate a similar approach, aiming to expand social housing provision by increasing the transfer of housing from NAMA (National Asset Management Agency), alongside revitalising private construction with part of the €7bn Strategic Investment Fund, enabled by easing restrictions on planning permission.

The main two parties on the left of the Irish political divide, Sinn Fein and to a lesser extent the Green Party, believe this does not go far enough. The Greens, as a third partner in government, have advocated solutions calling for a much larger increase in social housing provision, alongside reducing the cost of homeownership so that it is equal to no more than 30% of net income. For those renting, rent controls and longer leases have been suggested as resolutions to ensure security for those in rental accommodation.

Sinn Fein, as the main opposition party, has set out an ambitious construction plan of a 100,000 new social and affordable homes, alongside provisions that 20% of new these builds should consist of social housing, to ensure affordability and suitability for all. In addition, €30 million extra would be made available for emergency housing.

Clearly, the issue of housing has caused a great divide in Irish politics. We have seen this, both in parliamentary sessions between politicians, but also within the general polity alike. It is a key issue which has become increasingly polarised – even since the most recent election where we saw a huge push to the left.

A timely, but tricky issue for the government to tackle, the housing problem is still one of the main issues for many, many people. What this means for the political system if a quick solution is not found is relatively unknown. However, based on the results of the 2020 General Election, it is not remiss to say that if swift action is not taken, ever more people will consider mobilising toward the left.

Stephen Corr – Politics Writer