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Murphy claims bill 'unconstitutional' as Dáil debates Sinn Féin's rent freeze legislation

The bill would see rents frozen for the next three years.

Updated Dec 10th 2019, 10:53 PM

MINISTER FOR HOUSING Eoghan Murphy has said a Sinn Féin bill proposing a rent freeze is “unconstitutional”. 

The bill, which was debated this evening, would put a freeze on rents for the next three years. 

Moving the motion, Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said this legislation was needed as it was clear “rents are completely out of control”.

“It it time to give renters a break,” he said. “The Bill before us tonight does just that. It seeks to put a months rent back in every renters pocket through a refundable tax credit and to stop rents from increasing. Fine Gael have given tax breaks to just about everybody else.

The private sector can not and will not deliver affordable rental accommodation. This can only be done with public housing on public land… So let’s roll up out sleeves, work together and give renters the early Christmas present they rightly deserve.

Murphy attacked Fianna Fáil for backing Sinn Féin’s bill, describing it as “reckless” and said there was no evidence it would succeed.

He said an opening of the bill shows it was “immediately unconstitutional”. 

“Where is the evidence it would work? Where is the evidence it is constitutional?” he asked. 

It does nothing but negative to what tenants actually need.

He said experts had warned against rent freezes in Berlin and those warnings were borne out. Murphy said experts here also warned against the freeze. 

The minister did acknowledge, however, that rents are still “too high” and “unsustainably high”. 

Despite the minister’s claims it would be unconstitutional, the bill has gained support with other parties indicating they would back Sinn Féin’s proposals. 

TDs are expected to vote on the bill this Thursday. 

Fianna Fáil backing

Fianna Fáin had said earlier today it would back Sinn Féin’s legislation.

The party met to discuss the bill this morning, with members agreeing to back the proposals by Sinn Féin, allowing the bill to proceed to the next stage.

Fianna Fáil party leader Micheál Martin recently told the Dáil that he also supports a rent freeze. 

After the meeting today, the party’s spokesperson tweeted: 

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly told reporters today that he believes the idea would provide a workable short-term solution.

“In an emergency you have to look at a lot of different options”.

Donnelly said the country has transitioned under Fine Gael from one of home ownership to a country where ‘we are tenants of’ foreign investors and vulture funds who pay little or no tax.

His party colleague John Curran also said he believes rental prices should be frozen “for a period of time”.

This would not be the first time Fianna Fáil supported Sinn Féin in a Dáil vote. In July, for example, they voted against the government on a Sinn Féin motion calling for a rejection of the Mercosur deal.

Last week Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said this was the Fianna Fáil leader’s chance to “put his money where his mouth is and decide if his party is willing to support renters”.

A government spokesperson said the government would be opposing the Bill, stating that while it is “open to all good ideas” a freeze would “keep people out of the market”. 

He said such a move would mean the government would face legal challenges, and would have a detrimental effect on housing and rental supply. 

It was not clarified by the spokesperson whether the government plants to place a money message over the Bill. A money message can be placed on an opposition bill that has financial implications on the State Exchequer, and essentially blocks the bill from progressing any further.

With reporting by Christina Finn, Seán Murray

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