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O'Brien says 'blanket' eviction ban to take effect while government will engage with banks on mortgage breaks

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said today that engaging with the banks on mortgage breaks is the “least the minister of finance should do”.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien
Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

A MEMO WILL be brought to Cabinet today to ban evictions for the six-week period of Level 5 restrictions due to kick in later this week, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has said.

The legislation that will go before TDs and Senators will allow for a reactivation of the evictions ban if restrictions come into effect again in the future. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, O’Brien also said his colleagues Ministers Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath will be engaging with the main retail banks amid calls for a reintroduction of payment breaks on mortgages during the period of restrictions.

Last night, the government announced that the whole country will be move to the most stringent Level 5 of restrictions – with much of the restrictions similar to the first lockdown earlier in the year.

A 5km travel limit will be in place under Level 5, and people will only be allowed travel further for essential reasons. There will be a penalty, expected to be a fine, for those who move outside their 5km limit.

In a divergence from what was originally contained in the Living with Covid roadmap, a household can meet with one other household if it is outside, and away from their home.

‘Support bubbles’ will also be introduced for lone parents, senior citizens, and vulnerable people; this will mean a household can pair up with one other household to form one household unit.

Only essential retailers and essential services will be allowed to stay open and the government is to “improve” the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.

Another provision within it is the reintroduction of the ban on evictions that was originally put into effect at the onset of the first lockdown.

Minister O’Brien said today that measures he brought in to support renters at risk in August – when the eviction ban was lifted – were “very targeted” but the new measures today represented a “blanket ban” for the period of the restrictions.

The government had been criticised by the opposition for removing the eviction ban during the summer. 

After bringing a memo to Cabinet today, he said that legislation would go before the Dáil and Seanad before the end of the week that would allow a ban on evictions to kick in “automatically” if similar restrictions were introduced again.

When asked about mortgage breaks for those who will now find themselves out of work due to the new restrictions, O’Brien said that the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform would be engaging further with the banks in the coming days.

On the same programme earlier, Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said that Minister Paschal Donohoe must “call in the banks” to support people and provide breaks on mortgage payments during the period of restrictions.

“The reality here is that people this morning are waking up full of anxiety,” Doherty said. 

He said that, particularly when the Irish State has a significant stake in a number of the main banks, “it’s the least the minister for finance should be doing”. 

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Doherty also called for a rent freeze to be introduced to support those facing financial difficulties in the coming months. 

“Of course a rent freeze should be introduced, if there was ever an argument for it, it is now,” he said.

Speaking about people in certain sectors who’ll now be out of work, Minister O’Brien said that “no decision is taken by government to shut down a sector for the sake of it”. 

“If the virus continued unchecked, we would not be recovering those jobs,” he said, adding that six weeks was the “optimum time frame” for these new restrictions. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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