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Sinn Féin's housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin speaking during this evening's debate. Oireachtas TV
Debate

Ending eviction ban will see 'levels of homelessness nobody thought possible', Dáil told

The Dáil is debating a Sinn Féin motion which is calling for the eviction ban to be extended until January next year.

SINN FÉIN HAS told the Government that the decision to end the ban on evictions at the end of the month will lead to “levels of homelessness that nobody ever thought was possible”.

The Dáil is debating a Sinn Féin motion which is calling for the eviction ban to be extended until January next year. 

The motion states that Ireland “remains in the midst of a housing emergency” and will call for the eviction ban to be extended until January 2024.

The motion adds that by choosing to end the eviction ban on 31 March, the government has “increased the stress and insecurity experienced by the 750,000 people, including working families, living in private rented accommodation”.

Cabinet this afternoon finalised the government’s counter-motion to Sinn Féin’s proposal, which includes several support measures for people affected by the ending of the ban. 

A vote on Sinn Féin’s motion will come before the Dáil tomorrow evening.

Government has indicated that it will accept all eight of the Rural Independent group’s amendments, which is understood to have shored up their support for the vote tomorrow night. 

If the Independent Rural group of TDs give their support, Government should have enough numbers to carry their countermotion. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this afternoon that the Government had accepted all eight ideas put forward by the group, stating he though they “made sense” and were “very much solution driven”. 

He added that they were good ideas and are not ideas that had come from their own parliamentary party.  

The amendments, which Varadkar said were being worked on by the housing minister ahead of tomorrow include:

  • removing barriers to older people in long-term nursing home care who wish to lease out their homes
  • increasing the grant rates for the Croí Cónaithe refurbishment scheme
  • Budget 2024 tax relief measures that would be retrospective and would take in the current tax year for small landlords.

The independent TDs also want the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) to be amended to guarantee payment to landlords where the tenant defaults on payment of contribution to HAP effective from the 1 May 2023. 

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Independent TD for Wexford Verona Murphy said the group welcomes the “epiphany the government has had in accepting the significant amendments proposed by the group today”. 

“I would caution government that we require an undertaking not to merely accept our amendment, but to have them implemented,” Murphy said.

She added that the group was awaiting further clarification “on the immediacy of the government’s actions” before committing to supporting them in tomorrow’s vote.

Neasa Hourigan

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan has already stated her intention to vote against the government on the motion, while a number of Independent TDs have also indicated that they will do the same.

During the debate, Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin told Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien that the country is going to see ”levels of homeless that nobody ever thought was possible”.

“And I have to say, Minister, you are responsible. You and your Cabinet colleagues have made this decision, but more importantly, the reason why we’re in this crisis is because you failed to deliver an adequate supply of social affordable homes since taking office.

“Not only are your targets too low, but year after year, you’ve missed them. You’ve also failed to respond to what has been a shrinking private rental sector over six or seven years, something that was happening when you were in opposition.”

Ó Broin said “the worst decision of all” is the decision to end the ban on evictions.

He said that as a consequence, we are going to have “a government decision that willingly, consciously and knowingly will lead to ever increasing levels of homelessness”.

Decision ‘not taken lightly’

The Housing Minister said the decision to end the eviction ban on 31 March “was not one that we took lightly”, but he said the Government believe it is the correct decision to take.

“We know there are people facing very significant challenges, renters who are in receipt of state assistance while waiting for a transfer to more a secure social home, renters and tenants where the landlord is considering leaving the market, renters who want more than anything than to buy their own home and this government are and will do everything we can to help these people,” O’Brien said.

At the crux of everything we do is the need to increase supply of housing. Extending the eviction ban would not do that.

He said that if the Government were to extend the moratorium until the end of January, “we would only serve to shrink the number of homes available to rent”.

“If we were to do what [Sinn Féin] are asking, we would only be having this very same debate in the middle of winter, and if we were to do as you are asking, there would be no phasing out period, rather a hard cliff edge of evictions in the weeks after Christmas.

“The opposition know this, but they’re more interested in politicising the housing crisis rather than putting forward pragmatic solutions.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik called the eviction motion by Sinn Fein “compassionate”, and said that there was “no evidence” that an extension of the eviction ban would result in a reduction in supply of private rental accommodation.

She added: “But there’s nothing there from April 1. And we’re all hearing this minister, we’re all hearing this from families, from individuals in our own constituencies. You’re hearing it, I know. The homeless agencies are hearing it, local authorities are hearing it – there is no emergency accommodation available.”

She confirmed again to the Dáil that Labour would put down a motion of no confidence next week if the Government refuses to change course.

The legislation would indefinitely extend the ban, which could be lifted by order of the minister if homelessness figures fall for four months in a row.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the “cold, hard, cruel truth” was that the government was making a decision “to allow thousands of families, individuals and most of all children, to end up homeless when there is nowhere for them to go”. 

“No social housing, no affordable rental accommodation, no affordable accommodation to purchase and no emergency accommodation.

Even the horror of ending up in emergency accommodation, which is too awful to comprehend, is terrifying for people. They don’t even have that assurance.

Mick Barry said it was a “shameless decision by a shameless government that must be reversed”.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said that while TDs were debating, “many thousands of families are living on the edge of eviction”.

“They are petrified of the thoughts that the last protection is about to evaporate from them, and the numbers are stark,” he said.

‘Empty boasting’

“Even in my own constituency right now, there are 127 eviction notices in Meath, there are 35 rental properties available in the whole of County Meath and there are zero emergency accommodation beds in the local authority in County Meath at the moment.”

Independent Galway TD Catherine Connolly accused the Government of “empty boasting” on housing schemes it introduces.

“We have 11,754 people homeless and you’re planning to lift the moratorium on evictions coming into effect on Lá na nAmadán – April Fool’s Day – and you don’t even see the lack of humour in that,” she said.

They have no place to go, and we’ve asked you repeatedly where will they go, and you have no answer.

Ó Broin concluded the debate by telling O’Brien that he would be remembered as “the minister who deliberately increased homelessness”, comparing him to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

“There is nothing in what I’ve heard from the government today that gives me any confidence that month after month after month, we won’t be here with rising homelessness figures,” he said. 

Additional reporting from Christina Finn and Press Association

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