Increased support for Sinn Fein and the smaller opposition parties must be due in large part to the failure of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to display urgency about unaffordable housing. There is little evidence that voters perceived much difference in party policies about health, since all chose to endorse the Slaintecare aspirations. But the voters have rewarded Sinn Fein for according housing affordability the priority it merits, rather than for the details of its policy proposals, some of which read like a transition-year project.
In fairness they did have the candour to mention the desirability of lower house prices, a prospect which appeals to Irish politicians like a clove of garlic to Count Dracula. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have offered nothing more coherent, just tortured iterations on the policies which have delivered the current crisis, including flippant demand-side subsidies which would make things worse.
In a thinly populated country with a small capital city, there is no excuse for unaffordable housing. China alone has 100 cities with population equal to, or greater than, the population of Dublin. A map of the city is adorned with an archipelago of derelict sites on which developers struggle to secure planning permission even for low-rise apartments.
The outskirts are surrounded to the far horizon with rolling prairies of undeveloped land zoned for agriculture, worth €10,000 per acre in its only alternative use. Small pockets with zoning sell for prices equivalent to €100,000 and upwards per site, the handiwork of a political generation of all parties which has pandered relentlessly to the Nimby vote.
Harassed commuters toil daily through the empty prairies and are offered uncosted promises of electric railways by politicians directly responsible for the commuters' purgatory. They travel for hours through the places where they should be living.
The developer Marlet finally got the go-ahead last week for its long-delayed scheme of 657 apartments in Raheny, but only from An Bord Pleanala. Next stop the High Court, when objectors can expect sympathetic coverage from newspapers which struggle to recruit readers from the younger generation. Wonder why. Two days later another developer, Johnny Ronan, lost out at the High Court for a development in the docklands and must recommence the Bord Pleanala process.
In most of these cases the media focus is on the plight of victimised local residents, threatened with the horror of new neighbours, offering no voice to the tens of thousands of Dubliners saddled with unaffordable rents and zero prospect of buying a home this side of Portlaoise. An entire generation is negotiating with Mum and Dad the terms of engagement for moving back home with the fiancee in tow. The politicians have created entirely new forms of homelessness, including homelessness for the prosperous.
It is forgotten that unaffordable housing in the Dublin area is a relatively new phenomenon. Until the planning system began to bite in the 1970s, houses in Dublin, whose population was growing rapidly, were provided, in the private market, at prices that people in their 20s on everyday incomes could afford. These houses were built on the city's outskirts. The de facto green belt which now surrounds Dublin is a creature of the 1963 Planning and Development Act and the way local and national politicians have chosen to implement its provisions. It was not titled the Prevention of Housing Act but that has been the consequence of this well-intentioned piece of legislation and its successors.
Dublin is not the only city in the world to have inflicted unaffordable housing on its citizens, with the by-products of generational inequity and a new social stratification. London has the same problem, as do several coastal cities in the USA, notably San Francisco, where only high earners can contemplate life in the central areas and inner suburbs.
A similar pattern is causing alarm in Amsterdam and should be doing so in Dublin, where the social composition of the inner areas, on both sides of the Liffey, has already been altered. The dramatic fall in home ownership is a time-bomb for the retirement income system, since so many people will see rents gobble their pensions.
Whatever government is formed will need to level with the electorate about the nature of the housing crisis and the implications of dealing with it decisively. Housing becomes affordable when people on everyday incomes can aspire to home ownership or can afford private rent levels, as they are able to do today in many parts of provincial Ireland but no longer in Dublin. That means lower house prices, which means unrestricted re-zoning and the end of the unlegislated green belt.
Every politician subscribes, or pretends to subscribe, to more compact development, but feels free to mobilise against each specific proposal to bring it about. There needs to be an explicit objective of lowering the ratio of house prices to income in Dublin to the figures prevailing elsewhere. Zone land on the outskirts until the price premium on zoned land is eliminated, fund adequately the servicing of zoned land from public resources and give planning permission freely to developers public and private.
There is a silver lining even for the Nimby homeowner - lower property taxes - and no risk that the house will become less useful to its occupants as the price falls. The house I bought in the south Dublin suburbs 30 years ago is now 'worth' some ludicrous multiple of what I paid for it, but it has not sprouted extra bedrooms.
The notion that the household wealth of Ireland benefits from insane house valuations is a delusion, a trick we have chosen to play on ourselves. For the Exchequer there are multiple silver linings, including lower expenditure on the Housing Assistance Payment as rents moderate, reduced demand for council housing and fewer impecunious pensioners down the road. For climate policy, city dwellers own fewer cars and drive less. Adoption of electric cars internationally has been fastest in cities.
There is one serious headache for policy and that is in the area of housing finance. Most home purchasers take out long-dated mortgages and mortgage loans constitute up to half the assets of the major banks. A sudden drop in prices would devastate their balance sheets all over again and the policy shift would need to be gradual. But if nominal incomes improve by just 3pc per annum, a price target of static prices would avoid negative equity (mortgage debt is in nominal terms) and would halve the house price to income ratio in about 24 years, less time than it took to screw things up in the first place.
People should be told that their €500,000 house is not going to be worth €600,000 in a few years' time, or ever. It would reinforce the message if the exemption of residential property from capital gains tax was withdrawn.
If recent policy has had a successful component, it has been the Central Bank's restrictions on mortgage lending, especially the loan-to-income cap, introduced to encourage prudent lending rather than to contain house price inflation. It has worked on prices too, if inadvertently. House prices would be even more ridiculous today had the Central Bank neglected its responsibilities.