Photo credit: Sinn Féin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0

HOUSE OF CARDS: Sinn Féin’s climate conundrum

I think it’s fair to say that housing is the single issue upon which Sinn Féin stands or falls as a party.

Of course, there are other topics which matter to the voting public – Irish Unity, abortion, law and order, and so on. And all of these have their place in the national conversation.

But with the possible exception of healthcare, housing has been by far the single biggest issue for voters for years now, and is seen as the primary indicator of a government’s success or failure. It is the issue for any party that takes power in the Republic. Very little matters more to Joe and Mary Soap, and the opinion polls bear this out.

Realising this, Sinn Fein has spent years carefully and successfully cultivating a brand which portrays them as the “party of housing.” And that’s why in an Ireland Thinks poll last year, when asked “Which of the three largest parties is best places to tackle the housing crisis?”, Sinn Féin won by a large margin.

No doubt this perception in the minds of the public is part of why the party has done so well in recent polling, and they owe much of their recent success to it.

However, before Mary Lou and the gang start cheering and breaking out the party hats, it’s worth noting that housing is not the only issue Sinn Féin has a policy on. And some of these policies are on a high-speed collision course which could prove catastrophic for the party’s electoral dreams.

This week, if you read the Irish Times, you will have seen an article about an NGO called the Irish Green Building Council, which says that the State may need to limit home-building to just 21,000 units per year to meet our climate targets – even despite the housing crisis.

Now, why does it matter what this random environmentalist NGO has to say, you might ask?

Well, because they are closely associated with Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, who is actually an ambassador for one of the group’s campaigns as of last year.

“To tackle climate change, we must address the environmental impacts of buildings across their entire life cycle,” said Ó Broin at the time.

“Government must lead by example and invest in high-quality, low carbon public housing. I am joining #BuildingLife to drive this change.”

Ó Broin has also spoken strongly about how passionate he is regarding the “climate crisis,” claiming that “The narrow window for meaningful action on the climate & biodiversity crisis is rapidly closing.”

And so, Ó Broin is closely aligned with a group which claims that Ireland cannot exceed 21,000 houses a year without falling short on the climate issue. And this figure of 21,000 a year is roughly in line with Sinn Féin’s stated policy of building 20,000 homes per year if in government.

And yet, 21,000 houses are vastly less than the 50,000 units per year needed to keep up with the country’s demographics, according to expert property economists in the industry.

What this effectively means is that Sinn Féin, by buying wholesale into the green climate agenda, have painted themselves into a corner in a major way. They are now forced to choose between tackling the housing crisis, but falling woefully short of Ireland’s carbon emissions targets, which will certainly alienate a decent chunk of their base. Or alternatively, it will mean them meeting the green targets, but failing on housing, dooming the party to electoral destruction.

A key part of this problem is the fact that Sinn Féin has managed to win over the middle class in recent years, many members of whom tend to be more liberal than their working class counterparts.

Of course these groups are not a monolith and there is a great variation of views within each social class – each person is an individual with their own perspectives and beliefs. But by and large, more affluent people tend to be more liberal – that’s just a statistical fact.

And these new, liberal, middle-class voters are deeply concerned about issues like climate change, and will hold Sinn Féin’s feet to the fire on it. Failing on climate change could prove to create a big dent in the party’s support among devoted Leftwingers.

And similarly, if they fail on housing, the working class will metaphorically lynch them.

Here at Gript we actually emailed Ó Broin’s office outlining the above facts to ask which he thought was the bigger priority – housing, or climate targets. We didn’t get a response, which in and of itself speaks volumes.

By bringing so many different groups with radically different priorities into the one tent, a large part of the party’s electoral strategy is now simply juggling all the different concerns and coddling all of their new supporters, while trying not to say anything controversial in one direction or another. Because by coming down on one side or another, they’re bound to infuriate somebody.

For example, in their last manifesto the party was forced to say that “Sinn Féin does not want open borders” to calm down members of their base who want immigration control.

But then, to satiate the mass immigration wing of the party, they supported a scheme to give tens of thousands of illegal immigrants amnesty to stay in the country.

In other words, they’re trying to juggle people who both support and oppose mass immigration. They want both groups, and are just praying to God that neither finds out about the other before election day.

Similarly, people have highlighted how the party was radically pro-abortion in the Republic, but far less supportive of it in the North, where they know it’s less popular.

In a Trinity News article in 2020, former chair of Sinn Féin’s UCD Ógra wing, Christine O’Mahony, claimed that while she was in the party she spoke to an anonymous Sinn Féin councillor, who claimed that the party was attempting to walk a fine line and not upset anti-lockdown people:

“She complains that the party fears they would lose votes from conspiracy theorists and that is why they do nothing about their association with Yellow Vests, the racists, the Trumpism, anti-vaxxers, and anti-lockdown protestors.”

While I can’t confirm that this is true – I wasn’t part of the conversation, how would I know? – it certainly sounds believable based on the party’s prior conduct. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which they want to both win over pro-lockdown and anti-lockdown people, which may be why their silence was so deafening through most of the restrictions.

And the housing thing is no different – Sinn Féin wants the radical green vote, and they want to assure people they oppose carbon tax and are serious about housing as well.

While these conflicts between policies are only theoretical now while the party is in opposition, if they ever do come to power, they are going to have to hop down off the fence and make a decision one way or another. And on that day, there are going to be a lot of pissed off people who joined Sinn Féin under a false pretense.

The Shinners are like a guy who is trying to keep his 20 girlfriends from ever meeting each other, and coming up with creative excuses for why he can’t be with them on their birthday. But they can’t hide who they are forever. And when the truth comes out, it will be ugly – of that there is no doubt.





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