Scenes from the recent Mica protest in Dublin were stirring, with up to 30,000 of our citizens pouring from buses and cars onto the streets of Dublin. Much of the crowd travelled the long and winding roads from Donegal, with green and yellow jerseys standing out from the throng. But there were also families from Mayo, Clare and Limerick; the places where the sub-standard blocks used to build homes have wreaked the most devastating of consequences.
It was the second time that families travelled to the capital to protest, and the crowds this time had little patience for government parties and their speakers. Most public representatives received boos and chants during their time at the podium erected outside the Custom House, with one notable exception – Deputy Mary Lou MacDonald. She clearly and passionately called for 100% redress for every home that has been affected by mica and pyrite. “End of story, full stop”.
The masses roared their approval. It is what they wanted to hear. There can be no doubt how the people of Donegal will vote come the next General Election, with talk of a third seat out of five being targeted by Sinn Féin. But there is also a government commitment for a comprehensive redress scheme. A group set up specifically for this purpose has just reported, with proposals due before cabinet in the next fortnight.
Yet this message is not linked to the persisting narrative. And what Deputy MacDonald did not outline were the terms and conditions of the proposals her party are putting forward. There is no detail, no policy. Would the Sinn Féin scheme apply to private homes in the same manner as holiday homes? Would the scheme be exchequer funded or sourced from borrowings? How would the company who supplied the blocks be pursued? Which homes should be prioritised, and where will the builders be sourced from to complete up to 7,000 homes simultaneously? There are no easy answers to these questions, especially when you are dealing with defective blocks which are a very real danger to the families who live surrounded by them, terrorised by the cracks and the shifts which have plagued their lives for decades. End of story. Full Stop.
Sinn Féin late to the cause
If you look for previous Sinn Féin policy on this issue, you return a null finding; Sinn Féin, unlike the other main parties, did not mention the word mica or pyrite once in their 2020 Election manifesto. They do, however, briefly mention it in their Budget 2022 submission released last week: remediation costed at €200 million per annum. But with cost estimates varying between €1.8-€3.2 billion, this figure is an insult to homeowners, by a party who are woefully ignorant about the cost of paying for the commitments they make.
It’s not the first time Sinn Féin have been light on detail, and neither the general public nor the media have been seeking explanations. Insider understands that people are tired of the status quo, they are struggling to make progress in a world with sky high rents and an oversubscribed health system. Enter Sinn Féin, who in their recent budget submission, promised to deliver 20,000 social and affordable homes next year. Finally, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
Except, when you dig deeper, the policy again rings hollow. Sinn Féin say they can build these 20,000 homes at a cost of €3 billion. That’s €150,000 per house at a time of soaring material and labour costs. The average cost of building a social house nationally in 2019 was thought to be approximately €240,000. Furthermore, the cost of some building materials has increased by up to 35%. Anyone involved in the industry, or who has recently built a house, will tell you how far €150,000 will get you when constructing a new home.
Who will pay for all these promises?
But these negative unhelpful facts are not conducive to politics by soundbite, so they are happily discarded from the Sinn Féin policy narrative. Their reductive policy mantra at the last election was “build more houses” delivered in bold colours with relevant giphys on Instagram in February 2020. Sinn Féin policy via social media does not allow for elements as banal as rising building costs.
These major errors exist no matter what the policy area. Another example, Sinn Féin aim to decrease the pension age to 65, another noble aim, at a cost of €127 million. However, the Department of Social Welfare puts the cost at €450 million extra in the first year, €845 million extra in the second year, rising to over €1 billion extra in 2025, and this extra cost would continue to rise every year thereafter. Whether purposefully or not, they grossly underestimate the cost of proposals in a rush to promise everything to all people.
It begs the question; whose job is it to call them out? Who opposes the opposition? As the most popular party in the State, it’s clear that people are not aware of these issues, or else feel that they still would prefer an inexperienced, financially irresponsible party over the current administration.
Government needs to deliver on health and housing
Much of the blame for this can be put on the current Government. If the citizens of this country were not so fed up of the system, they may not be running so eagerly to the arms of the alternative party. If solutions put forward on issues such as health and housing were working better, then people would not need a change.
In one small way, Insider wants to give Sinn Féin a chance at the next election. What is there to lose? Will the party of protest be willing to work constructively for once, to put together a stable Government, to highlight workable solutions rather than constant critique? However, this writer would not be willing to put mica redress in the charge of a party who believes the cost to rebuild homes is €150,000 per unit.