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FACTCHECK

FactCheck: Has Sinn Féin objected to the construction of 6,000 houses?

The claim has repeatedly been made by the Taoiseach.

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IN RECENT MONTHS, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has claimed on multiple occasions that Sinn Féin has objected to the construction of 6,000 new homes across the country.

The claim provoked a war of words in the Dáil last week when, in an exchange with Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, there was a heated dispute during Leaders’ Questions on the issue of housing.

Martin accused Sinn Féin of “‘objecting to various projects on an ongoing basis” before citing the 6,000 figure, prompting accusations (later withdrawn) from Ó Broin that the Taoiseach was “lying” and that what he was saying was “not true”.

However, it wasn’t the first time the figure was cited by the Taoiseach in Leinster House.

In another exchange with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald last September, Martin claimed Sinn Féin had opposed housing developments that contain affordable units in many areas.

Given its repeated airing in parliamentary debates between the Dáil’s two largest parties, let’s examine the claim and see if it’s true.

The Claim

Taoiseach Micheál Martin claims that Sinn Féin have objected to around 6,000 houses being built in Dublin. 

Speaking in the Dáil last Wednesday, he told Eoin Ó Broin:

Your party have, from Tallaght to Donabate – right across – you have objected to about 6,000 houses. Sinn Féin have objected to them. And voted against them happening. Now that, to me, is hypocrisy when put in contrast with the huge crisis that we have in terms of housing.

Taoiseach doorstep 003 The Taoiseach has made the claim on more than one occasion in the Dáil Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie / RollingNews.ie

The Evidence

First it’s important to find out where the figure of 6,000 housing units comes from.

The Journal contacted both the Government Information Service, which includes the press office for the Taoiseach, and Fianna Fáil to ask for evidence supporting Micheál Martin’s claim.

No response was received from the Government Information Service, but a spokesperson for Fianna Fáil provided a list of 24 housing motions voted on by councillors across five different local authorities since 2019.

It states that Sinn Féin councillors opposed 5,121 units of housing in 18 votes at Dublin City Council, including:

  • On 4 November 2019: they voted against a recommendation to accept Bartra Capital’s tender to redevelop O’Devaney Gardens in Stoneybatter (768 units);
  • On 10 March 2020: they voted against 13 motions to rezone lands for residential use at Cork Street, Brickfield House, South Circular Road, Clearwater Retail Park, Greenmount, Goldenbridge, Glenview and White Heather industrial estates, Seville Place, Davitt Road, Harmonstown Road, Malahide Road and Esmond Avenue (said to be 3,500 units in total);
  • On 22 November 2021: another vote against a motion to sell the site at the Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock to Glenveagh Living to build new homes (as above).

The list also alleges that Sinn Féin councillors opposed 1,478 units of housing in two votes at Fingal County Council, including:

  • On 8 March 2021: support for a motion which called for the council to appeal planning permission awarded to a development at Fosterstown North and Cremona (278 units);

The list further claims that Sinn Féin councillors opposed 527 units during two votes of South Dublin County Council, including:

The list from Fianna Fáil also says that Sinn Féin councillors in Mayo voted on 4 November 2020 to delay a mixed-unit development on Cloonkeadagh Road in Kiltimagh comprising 21 units.

Finally, the list claims that Sinn Féin councillors in Wicklow also voted against 18 social housing units in Kilbride Lodge in Bray on 6 July 2021.

In the document provided to The Journal, Fianna Fáil allege that, in total, Sinn Féin councillors opposed 7,165 units of housing since May 2019 – around 1,000 more units than the amount cited by the Taoiseach in the Dáil.

Let’s take a look at these votes in more detail.

Rezoning of industrial lands – 3,500 units

The largest number of new homes objected to by Sinn Féin, according to Fianna Fáil, came in a series of votes about the rezoning of industrial lands across Dublin city.

In March 2020, Dublin City councillors heard proposals which sought to allow houses to be built on 20 different brownfield sites earmarked for industrial use only.

A report by DCC Chief Executive Owen Keegan outlined some general details about each site, such as what could be built there and information about the surrounding area. No specific housing target was linked to any individual site.

Instead, the report explained that the combined area of the sites was 55 hectares and estimated that 3,000 to 3,500 homes could be built on all of that space, based on rough calculations regarding density and land use.

In other words, it said that 3,500 homes was the maximum number of new houses that could be built on all 20 sites.

Sinn Féin councillors voted against rezoning 13 out of the 20 sites.

Some Fianna Fáil councillors voted the same way as Sinn Féin councillors in a number of these votes, including the motions on Davitt Road, Brickfield House, Harmonstown Road and Greenmount Industrial estate.  

Oscar Traynor Road - 853 units

According to Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin also objected to 853 new homes at a site on the Oscar Traynor Road during three motions at Dublin City Council.  

The motions, voted on between between November 2020 and November 2021, proposed to either transfer the land to private developer Glenveagh Living, to defer that decision to a later date, and to sell off the land.

Sinn Féin councillors rejected all three motions.

It is also notable that one of the three votes cited by Fianna Fáil was not passed after six of its councillors voted the same way as Sinn Féin.

O’Devaney Gardens - 768 units

Fianna Fáil also claims that Sinn Féin councillors objected to the development of 768 homes at the O’Devaney Gardens site in Stoneybatter.

It says Sinn Féin did this when voting against two Dublin City Council motions in late 2019.

In the first motion, Sinn Féin councillors sought not to approve a tender submitted by Bartra to redevelop the former social housing complex.

The plans would have seen 247 new affordable-rental homes, 165 new affordable-purchase homes, 192 new units of social housing and another 164 homes to be sold on the private market.

The tender would also have seen the disposal of the council-owned site to Bartra to redevelop the land.

It was initially intended that half of the units would be sold by Bartra on the private market, but councillors said on the day of the motion that they had agreed a deal to buy back 30% of the units.

Concerns were subsequently raised by the Minister for Housing about this agreement, including that the deal had no legal basis.

A second motion – supported by Sinn Féin – called for the rejection of the plans approved a month previously because councillors had been misinformed about the agreement.

(For context outside the scope of this FactCheck, the current plan for the site is for over 1,000 units made up of 30% social housing, 22% affordable homes and 48% private housing.)

90425906 Flats in O'Devaney Gardens before their demolition (file photo) RollingNews.ie RollingNews.ie

Fingal County Council – 1,478 units

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil also claims that Sinn Féin councillors opposed almost 1,500 units of housing in votes at Fingal County Council meetings held last March and May.

In the first, the party supported a motion at the council’s monthly meeting which called for the local authority to seek a judicial review against An Bord Pleanála’s decision to grant planning permission to a 278-unit development in Swords. 

The motion was submitted by independent councillor Joe Newman and supported by three Sinn Féin councillors (a fourth was not present), but ultimately rejected by the council.

The motion referred to overdevelopment due to the density of the site, as well as issues with building heights and a primary school not being secured as a condition for approval.

In a second vote in May 2021, the party’s councillors also voted against the disposal of a site at Ballymastone in Donabate to Glenveagh Living so the developer could build 1,200 new homes there.

The motion passed despite Sinn Féin’s four councillors voting against the proposal.

South Dublin County Council – 527 units

According to Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin also objected to more than 500 new homes in two different votes in 2019 and 2020.

The first was a vote against a motion to built 27 houses on football pitches used by Knocklyon United, which took place during a monthly council meeting in July 2019.

Despite being recommended by the council, the proposals were scrapped after 27 councillors voted against the motion.

Minutes of the meeting show that three Sinn Féin councillors (including one no longer a member of the party) voted in favour of the motion, while two voted against. 

Six Fianna Fáil councillors also voted against the proposal; none of the party’s councillors voted in favour.

In March 2020, South Dublin councillors voted on the disposal of land in Killinarden in Tallaght to a private developer to build 500 social, affordable and private homes.

Minutes from that meeting show that three Sinn Féin councillors opposed the motion.

Mayo County Council – 21 units

In Mayo, Fianna Fáil claims that Sinn Féin voted to delay a development which comprised 21 new social housing units in Kiltimagh on 4 November, 2020.

The proposed development comprised eight two-bed units, seven three-bed units and six two-bed apartments.

At a local area meeting of the district of Claremorris-Swinford – the area where the development would be built – in October 2020, councillors raised concerns about the sewerage system around the new development.

However, a motion to send the proposed development to a full council meeting was passed without opposition.

One Sinn Féin councillor, Gerry Murray, sat on the local area committee at the time and chaired the meeting.

Another vote was then held at the district of Claremorris-Swinford area meeting in November, also attended and chaired by Murray.

Minutes from that meeting show that a motion to approve the development, subject to a number of conditions, was passed by councillors including Murray.

Those conditions included a call for Mayo County Council to initiate an investigation or complaint about excess stormwater or flooding issues in an area beside the proposed site, which must be rectified before any house in the development could be allocated. 

Another condition called for the council to make an application to Irish Water for stormwater and sewage infrastructure in the area beside the site, essentially so that the new houses would not be flooded.

The motion was passed after being approved by six councillors, including Murray and three from Fianna Fáil. The three councillors who opposed the motion were all from Fine Gael.

Wicklow County Council – 18 units

According to Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin councillors in Wicklow also voted against 18 social housing units in Bray during a council meeting last July.

The council proposed to construct four one-bed apartments and 14 two-bed apartments in a four-storey complex on a site in the centre of the town.

Minutes from a Bray local area meeting on 6 July last year show that councillors voted on whether the development should go ahead.

A number of councillors raised concerns about the height of the proposed development, the impact on nearby properties and local traffic, and the potential disruption caused by construction.

The same minutes show that two Sinn Féin councillors voted against the proposals, alongside one other independent councillor.

Sinn Fein plinth 002 Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said the Taoiseach's claims were not accurate Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Analysis

As we can see, Fianna Fáil’s claim is based on a broad range of votes held across five local authorities in three different years.

But while each of the 24 motions were ultimately tied to the construction of new homes, most of the things councillors voted were not directly about the provision of housing.

More than half of these were about the rezoning of industrial land around Dublin; Sinn Féin councillors voted down 13 such motions in March 2020.

However, Fianna Fáil’s claim here is misleading for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the 13 votes related specifically to the rezoning of land, as opposed to votes on new homes. None of the land banks identified in the vote had any specific housing target attached to them.

It is debatable whether a vote against the rezoning of land is the same as a vote against housing. If land is rezoned for residential use, new homes can be built on it – so even indirectly, a vote against this is arguably a vote against housing.

But while rezoning eventually leads to housing, concerns about how land will be developed are not the same as an outright objection to new homes.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson explained that councillors voted against the proposals because there were no conditions attached to the rezoning, such as a higher percentage of social and affordable homes.

“Without such conditions there was no guarantee that the owners wouldn’t simply sell the land to speculative developers who would in turn hoard it rather than developing it,” the spokesperson said.

A motion to reject Keegan’s report was also held the same day that the rezoning votes took place.

Sinn Féin councillors (along with those in Fianna Fáil and other parties) voted against that motion; in other words, they voted in favour of Keegan’s report, which could arguably be seen as supporting the proposed 3,500 homes.

More importantly, Fianna Fáil’s claim overstates the 3,500 figure.

Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan’s report said that 3,500 was the maximum number of units that could be built across 20 sites.

However, Sinn Féin councillors actually supported rezoning a number of sites.

A majority of Sinn Féin counillors voted in favour of rezoning Ballyfermot RoadParkgate Street and Esmond Avenue (although some Sinn Féin councillors also voted against).

In addition to these, more Sinn Féin councillors voted in favour of than against rezoning Seville Place, cited in Fianna Fáil’s document.

Even if votes against rezoning can be considered an ‘objection’ to housing, it is not logically possible that the party could have opposed all 3,500 homes when it voted in favour of allowing housing to be built on some of the brownfield sites.

A similar issue about how many Sinn Féin councillors voted against a motion arises with Fianna Fáil’s claim about the 27 new homes proposed on pitches used by Knocklyon United.

Three Sinn Féin councillors (including one who is no longer a member of the party) voted in favour of the motion to construct the new homes in South Dublin, as opposed to two against. 

This makes Fianna Fáil’s claim misleading: while it is true that some Sinn Féin councillors voted against new homes, it is not true that all of them did.

Another vote cited by Fianna Fáil, on a proposal to build 21 homes in Kiltimagh in Co Mayo, is simply false.

The party alleges that Sinn Féin voted to delay the construction of housing – but this is not the same as an objection to housing. In fact, the Sinn Féin councillor on the area committee where the vote took place actually voted in favour of the 21 new homes.

Furthermore, the suggestion that this councillor voted to delay the development is misleading: along with Fianna Fáil councillors, he instead voted to attach a condition to the development to ensure that the new homes would not be flooded.

The nature of other votes are more complicated.

Motions relating to the Oscar Traynor Road and O’Devaney Gardens in Dublin City, Killinarden in South Dublin and Ballymastone in Donabate were voted down by Sinn Féin, but the party also supported housing in a different form on those sites.

As with the rezoning proposals, the motions were not specifically about the construction of housing but proposed to either transfer or sell lands at each site to private developers.

One could again argue that voting against these land transfers prevented the development of 3,321 new homes, even if indirectly.

But while this might be true in relation to Fianna Fáil’s claim about Sinn Féin ‘objections’, it is missing significant context.

In each case, Sinn Féin said that it wanted the lands at O’Devaney Gardens, Oscar Traynor Road, Killinarden and Ballymastone to be developed for 100% social and affordable housing.

The party’s opposition was to proposals that would have allowed developers to sell some of the homes built on the private market, and that developers would be sold the land or given it for free.

Motions at Fingal County Council and Wicklow County Council are less complicated.

The former, relating to lands at Fosterstown Road and Cremona in Swords, saw Sinn Féin councillors call for the local authority to initiate a judicial review of planning approval for 278 homes.

Once again, this was not a direct vote on the construction of 278 new homes – but the motion was tabled because there was opposition to the homes in the first place.

The vote by Wicklow County councillors on 18 units of housing in Bray was a direct vote on the provision of housing.

Fianna Fáil’s claim in relation to this case is therefore true in that instance.

However, most of the party’s other claims about how Sinn Féin voted on housing are either misleading or missing significant context.

By claiming that Sinn Féin voted against 6,000 units of housing, it bulked together 24 different motions across five local authorities – losing the intricacies of each vote.

In some cases, what was being objected to was transfer of public land to private developers and permission for developers to sell off private homes. In others, Sinn Féin objected to the lack of conditions attached to the rezoning of industrial land.

Whether each of these is valid is open to interpretation, but Fianna Fáil’s claim suggests that all of these objections represented a position whereby Sinn Féin was against the construction of new homes.

This was only the case in Wicklow, the Fingal vote on lands at Fosterstown Road and Cremona and the South Dublin County Council vote on Knocklyon (which more Sinn Féin councillors approved). These proposals related to a combined 333 new homes.

It is also notable that in some cases, Fianna Fáil councillors voted the same way as Sinn Féin in the motions cited.

The Journal requested a comment from Fianna Fáil about whether the party viewed these votes as ‘objections’ to housing.

“The Taoiseach has said very clearly that housing is one of the biggest issues facing the country and we need to build more homes,” a spokesperson said.

“The best way is for planning to be worked out at a local level, to resolve issues with stakeholders, then once zoning decisions are complete, there shouldn’t be objections for the sake of it.” 

Verdict

The Taoiseach has claimed in the Dáil multiple times that Sinn Féin has objected to the construction of 6,000 new homes.

Evidence for this claim provided to The Journal by Fianna Fáil suggested that the figure was actually over 7,000 homes.

In a small number of cases, such as in Wicklow, Fingal and South Dublin, Sinn Féin councillors did oppose the development of new homes.

But Fianna Fáil also counted a vote by a Sinn Féin councillor in Mayo in favour of housing as an ‘objection’, claiming they “delayed” the provision of new homes because the councillor approved them on condition that flooding could be prevented nearby.

Almost all of the motions provided by the party as evidence were not specifically about the construction of new homes.

It is debatable whether votes against these motions, such as proposals to rezone land or to dispose of or sell off land to private developers, constitute votes against housing.

On the one hand, such votes were on motions that could have lead to the development of houses, and were therefore indirect votes on housing.

But Sinn Féin did not vote against those motions because it opposed the developments; the party’s councillors did so because they supported other types of housing, or the attachment of conditions to the land they would be built on.

This is not the same as an outright objection to the construction of homes, like the Taoiseach suggested. Bundling together the party’s opposition to different motions overlooks the nuanced reasons why Sinn Féin councillors voted the way they did.

In a number of cases, such as in votes on the rezoning of land in Dublin City and a vote on homes to be built on football pitches in South Dublin, Fianna Fáil also omitted the fact that some Sinn Féin councillors actually voted in favour of the proposals.

The party’s evidence about Sinn Féin’s objections to housing is therefore missing significant context, though it is occasionally both accurate and inaccurate.

As a result, we rate the Taoiseach’s claim: MISLEADING.

As per our verdict guide, this means the claim either intentionally or unintentionally misleads readers.

TheJournal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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