Assessing 2023 in Irish politics – what to expect for the second half of the year

7 September 2023

Autumn Legislative Term is the Last Chance Saloon for Government on Housing

By Daniel O’Dowd – Account Manager

With the return of the Oireachtas on September 20th 2023, attention turns to what the Autumn legislative term has in store. This will mark the fourth of year of the coalition government, comprised of civil war rivals – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and the Green Party. However, public opinion is not with the government. A recent Ireland Thinks poll, estimated support for the main opposition party – Sinn Féin – at 34%, with the coalition parties being at 19% (Fine Gael), 18% (Fianna Fáil) and 5% (Green Party) respectively. Though the recent recommendations of the Electoral Commission make the path to government more difficult for Sinn Féin, the government faces a number of issues which may advantage Sinn Féin further in the run up to the next General Election. This is why the Autumn legislative term is the last chance saloon for government to enact impactful policy change on housing, before an election in Autumn 2024 or Spring 2025. 

The foremost political issue of the 2020 general election and a key pillar of Sinn Féin’s ascendancy, the housing crisis persists despite increasing intervention and management by the State. Minister O’Brien’s ambitious, flagship “Housing for All” programme has been faithfully pursued and touted by government. However, the programme suffers from perceived illegitimacy. Annual housing demand is calculated to be between 40,000 and 60,000 units per annum – notwithstanding the 250,000 existing deficit of housing within the Irish market. However, the existing “Housing for All” target – 29,000 for 2023 – are considered inadequate (including by government ministers). Furthermore, despite surpassing the 2022 HfA target, there is widespread fear that the 2023 HfA targets will be missed – compounding further the legitimacy of the programme. 

The question remains what policy levers remain for government to enact and effectuate change before election day? Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, much to the chagrin of the Green Party, have focused political capital upon planning reform to bolster capacity to deliver housing nationwide and to create difficulties for opposition political parties. Nevertheless, such is the depth of reform within the Planning & Development Bill, that the benefit of the legislation will not be felt within the lifetime of this government. Short term stimulus such as the waiver for development levies may serve to salvage existing levels of housing supply – but the government is left with precious little options to improve the housing crisis before the public next goes to ballot box.

Meanwhile, there are a number of ongoing crises within the housing sector ever eroding the government’s credibility on the issue. The expiration of the rental eviction ban has been linked in the public mind with an increase homelessness to a record high of 12,600 people in June 2023 (a 19% increase on June 2022). Meanwhile, the collapse of supply within the rental sector, has left the government facing unenviable demands for draconian rental controls and incentives to stem the exodus of landlords from the rental market. 

The pressure from the Opposition is for state intervention and management of the housing market – however, the government has already enacted on a temporary basis a number of these interventions to limited political or policy benefit. The Autumn legislative term is the last chance saloon for this government on housing – but for opposition parties, the question now is what would they differently that hasn’t been tried before?

Gambling regulation will be contentious as it proceeds through the Dáil

By Robert O’Donnell – Account Executive

The Dáil will reconvene in just under two weeks’ time after the summer recess and so begins a new parliamentary term.

Whilst Budget 2024 will dominate the agenda over the next two months, the government will also seek to advance other important pieces of legislation during this time, including the Gambling Regulation Bill. This Bill is currently at Report Stage in the Dáil and opposition to some of its provisions is growing amongst the industries impacted and TDs from across the political divide. One of the most contentions provisions in the Bill is the blanket ban on gambling advertising during the hours of 5.30am to 9pm.

The industry believes this provision will cause racing channels, unable to generate ad revenue amongst betting companies and the like, to pull out of Ireland, something Sky Racing has already hinted at. Such a development would disrupt the flow of investment from the channels into the industry in Ireland – think income from media rights at racecourses – impacting horseracing communities across the country. Minister of State James Browne appears determined to proceed with the gambling advertising ban, having recently referred to it as a “public health measure”.

The industry is often accused of having an outsized influence – along with greyhound racing, it received €1.5 billion in public funds over a 20-year period (2001-2021) and horseracing €73 million alone in 2022 – so the Minister is likely to have a tough fight on his hands as the industry mobilises and lobbies TDs hard to exempt the industry from the blanket ban.

Will Concrete Measures Follow a Summer of Discontent on Climate Action?

By Josh Byrne – Account Executive

The period between the end of the Tubridy saga and the Electoral Commission firing the opening shot in the general election campaign was exceedingly dull – or a welcome respite from the political hullabaloo – depending on your perspective. However, it was a summer of discontent towards the government’s performance on climate action. 

Earlier this week, Friends of the Earth furnished a C+ grade for the delivery of commitments in the Programme for Government and warned that overall performance on environmental issues has fallen short of the mark. Both Wind Energy Ireland and the Climate Change Advisory Council have implored that immediate action must be taken to safeguard plans to achieve a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. 

Much of the discussion around how to meet Ireland’s legally-binding climate targets has centred, understandably, on expediting the deployment of renewable energy infrastructure through reforms to the planning system. This is a political no-brainer and often offers temporary respite from conversations about unpalatable compromises, as demonstrated by the fractious debate over the EU’s Nature Restoration Law. 

However, with the landmark Planning and Development Bill languishing in legislative limbo – and the pressure mounting for climate targets to be met – all eyes turn to Budget 2024. Many will argue – and have argued – that there is an imperative to include unpopular measures geared towards incentivising more environmentally-friendly behaviours. Whether there is the political appetite to do so is another matter. 

Recent publications from the Department of Finance would suggest that what might fairly be described as radical options are indeed under consideration. In a report entitled the ‘potential fiscal impacts of the transition to a lower carbon economy’, it was noted that medium-term options to address decreased environmental tax revenues include the imposition of a “road user” charge. In July, however, Tánaiste Micheál Martin poured cold water on this proposal, stating unequivocally that charging drivers to use major roads “won’t be happening”. In the Budget and beyond, one of the central challenges for the government will be to ensure that Ireland’s targets are met, without alienating voters – especially in rural Ireland – who are disproportionately affected by measures such as excise increases on fuel. Those looking for signposting as to the government’s intentions on climate action for the remainder of its term should pay close attention to the inclusions and, perhaps more tellingly, the exclusions on October 10th