It was billed as the Housing Showdown the country was waiting for. Fianna Fáil Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien would take the stage for the first time against his Opposition counterpart Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin. RTÉ’s Prime Time studio was the venue and broadcaster Fran McNulty was the moderator.
The debate followed long running demands from Ó Broin for O’Brien to face him in public where they would both lay their housing polices on the table and let the voters decide.
It wasn’t a particularly long debate, at little more than 20 minutes, but it did give the politicians an opportunity to present their proposals and show off their debating skills for those who don’t watch the Dáíl every week.
O’Brien kicked off with commitments to build more affordable housing and said he believes 2022 will be the year when construction properly kicks off. The minister gave a big push to his shared equity affordable housing scheme. But he was on the back foot when pushed by McNulty on the lack of new supply in the market when compared with other years.
Ó Broin was strangely opaque when asked what he would do to stop international investors from snapping up new rental accommodation, before saying he would give local authorities and approved housing bodies more funding to buy them.
He also revealed he “absolutely” meets with developers and said it was to discuss planning and zoning issues. Ó Broin had a pop at Taoiseach Micheál Martin over his comments about Sinn Féin saying one thing to developers in private and another thing in public.
O’Brien came back strongly at the Sinn Féin TD over his commitments to build 40,000 homes a year, which he said is not achievable.
The Fianna Fáil minister predictably brought up Sinn Féin councillors voting against housing developments. He listed off various developments and Ó Broin insisted Sinn Féin were not against new housing but rather oppose local authorities gifting land to developers. O’Brien laughed off these suggestions and insisted his counterpart doesn’t like when the truth about local housing developments is discussed.
Ó Broin was strong when attacking the Government affordable housing proposals, which he said would involve homes still costing up to €400,000, asking: “On what planet is that affordable?”
O’Brien continuously interjected and needled Ó Broin over his figures and seemed to get under his skin. At one point, the minister started probing the Sinn Féin TD on his plans for vacant properties. Ó Broin didn’t come back strongly on O’Brien when his comments were questioned or dismissed by the minister.
Despite calling for the debate for so long, Ó Broin did not seem as prepared as he regularly is during media appearances and O’Brien was able to talk him down throughout the debate.
O’Brien seemed more comfortable with the one-on-one studio setting and got the better of his opposite number in most of the exchanges. Ó Broin’s Sinn Féin colleagues complained about the minister’s interjections but that’s political debating, and the Fianna Fáil TD won this round.