The big view on Ireland's property market
On Sunday afternoon, as the first election results began to filter in, RTÉ revealed the findings of one exit poll in which voters were asked to cite their single most important voting issue.
At 32pc, health was the keystone issue for almost a third of voters. Next came housing at 26pc, cited by over a quarter. The issue in third place was that of pensions. This was raised by eight per cent of voters. Other bogey issues the main parties had deemed to be priorities were somewhere else, lost, off in the ether.
That poll provided the only answer stunned politicians need regarding the outcome of Election 2020. Health and housing: 58pc. Nothing else was even at the races. The voting population didn't undergo a Road to Damascus conversion to republican/socialist ideals. They had two big issues festering and saw Sinn Féin as the only party which (a) grasped their importance and (b) seem to be the only party which might address them in a serious enough manner (Sinn Féin addresses everything in a serious manner).
Brexit was nowhere. It definitely wasn't the economy stupid. Nor fears of what a vote for Sinn Féin might do to it.
But Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil (in confidence and supply) hadn't listened to voters over four years during which health and housing came up again and again. Regarding health, they weren't listening way back in the days when Leo Varadkar and, before him, Micheál Martin were ministers supervising rapid decline while telling us otherwise.
The insulatative Twitteratti bubbles in which modern politics has been living may have helped prevented them from seeing. All adrift in Brexit. Otherwise the two parties would have approached the election very differently.
Tellingly, in a general absence of door-to-door canvassing (the point at which those seeking election get a last gasp to discern exactly what concerns their constituents most), Sinn Féin at least admitted to conducting a deep root and branch inquiry among its voters as to why the party had failed so miserably in the recent local elections. They kept hearing health and housing. Housing and health. So they listened. And they built a campaign on what they heard.
They eased off on that Border poll.
Because when we reach a situation in which candidates who couldn't get a seat in a local election have topped the poll, we know it's the message that counts, not the cut and gib of the standard bearer carrying it.
Once again, the exit poll makes it crystal clear: health and housing. Thousands of elderly mothers, fathers and young children have, over the years, been forced to spend undignified days on trolleys in third-world hospital conditions. For years, treated like dirt.
Thousands who are unable to start a family, get married, have a life because they can't buy a home or because it costs them too much to rent one. But they watched the Government change the rules and the laws to aid big funds to cash in and hoover up those vital homes instead. They saw health and housing putrefy, while their politicians told them bare-faced that they were on it: "We are solving these problems."
They saw Fianna Fáil supporting the lie under confidence and supply. And recently they saw Labour, as it has done in the past, lepping about with its tongue out, eager to attach itself to whatever leg of the trousers came off best. That's why these parties lost out.
However, on the healthcare front, it could be argued that the inter-party Sláintecare agreement meant the election wasn't ever going to change its outcome going forward, no matter who was elected. There's a slow-burning plan in place, as agreed by all parties, and we'll all just have to wait for it to take hold. Fait accompli. It still counted for 32pc.
In contrast, plenty could have been done and can be done to sort housing.
But right up until the end, it was painfully obvious that, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar just didn't get 'it'. They stuck to their sticky wickets reiterating their busy-ness fixing the crisis. But everyone else could plainly see that this argument had no clothes. Like health, the crisis was getting worse, despite their efforts.
It was plain that they did 'get' a version of the housing crisis, but not the version every one else was living with. The 'Rome wasn't built in a day' line was churned out over and over. And during the campaign we heard Fine Gael trying to wind back the clock with its assertion that it only just got around to addressing the housing crisis in 2016, only after sorting the mess left by Fianna Fáil.
But two years before that in 2014, the housing crisis made itself glaringly apparent with the death of Jonathan Corrie outside Leinster House, highlighting a problem which, even by then had been developing over years. Two years ago this column wrote that the next election would be decided on health and housing. Voters knew that back in 2018. Six years ago in 2014 this column ran a headline: "By Jove Enda, We Think You've Got It!" in reaction to the first signs the FG leadership was acknowledging a problem even existed.
Then FG's front bench had denied the crisis consistently amidst input from advisers/experts of the sort who dismissed it as a cynical panic pitch from property developers. These happily proclaimed to the public that they'd be renting happily forever and would never be a slave to a mortgage again. Rents rose about 10pc each year on average for the next three years until rent caps landed. Housing Minister Coveney gave hope with Rebuilding Ireland in 2016, albeit a blueprint toploaded with private sector solutions. But almost immediately he walked away and handed the reins to Mr Murphy. From the voter's perspective he fiddled while Rome burned. Then two weeks before the election, Fianna Fáil suddenly got 'it'. The party sprung a sun, moon and stars loan scheme for everyone in the audience.
In this electoral valley of the blind, Sinn Féin's Eoin O Broin (long the most adept on housing) was king. He summed up his party's success thus: "The people said: 'We want change but don't let us down. Because we won't forgive you if you do." And we wont.