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The Candidate: Rent freeze not off the table, rent hike reforms and a fiver for pensioners - Micheál's manifesto promises

Micheál Martin told The Candidate Podcast that he will reduce the rate rents rise in rent pressure zones.

Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin says he wants to reduce the amount peoples' rents can rise in rent pressure zones.
Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin says he wants to reduce the amount peoples' rents can rise in rent pressure zones.

FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin has said he is not “instinctively against” the idea of a rent freeze. 

Answering questions sent via Whatsapp for TheJournal.ie’s general election podcast, The Candidate, Martin agreed that the proposal of a rent freeze will be examined if he gets into government. 

The party leader has also committed to an extra €5 for the pension, each year for five years, if Fianna Fáil get into government. 

Currently, a tenant living in a rent pressure zone can only have their rent increased by 4% every two years under laws first introduced in December 2016 by then-Housing Minister Simon Coveney in order to tackle spiralling rents.

Under the legislation, annual rent rises are capped at 4% in certain areas.

RPZs are located in areas of the country where rents are highest and where households have the greatest difficulty finding affordable accommodation. 

Martin said he will reduce the amount peoples’ rents can rise in rent pressure zones, reducing the 4% increase cap. 

All these promises come as Fianna Fáil launch its election manifesto today.

His comments on a rent freeze come one day after his party decided against supporting such a move, with the party’s housing spokesperson stating that Fianna Fáil had been advised against “a flat rent freeze”. 

The party said it had been advised that a rent freeze would be unconstitutional, something legal minds have been questioning this week.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Martin said: 

I think what we can do, you’re correct, we can examine it in its full breadth, once we get into the Dáil, and it should be examined. Because I’m not instinctively against it. I think something has to happen in relation to rents.

He added:

“Obviously if we are in government we will have an Attorney General where we can get other reassessments in terms of the legal implications of it and also perhaps in the new Dáil have a proper teasing out of the issues, which we didn’t have this time.”

Martin said his party voted for Sinn Féin’s rent freeze Bill to progress to the next stage as he wanted the details of the proposal to be teased out. 

“We had asked the government for its legal advice at the time, and they didn’t release it. But no one thought there was going to be an election in February, if we’re honest, people thought this would go to committee… where all the implications of this could have been examined,” he said. 

WhatsApp Video 2020-01-23 at 17.47.51.00_00_36_27.Still001

On the legal advice the party received in relation to the constitution and a rent freeze, Martin said barrister Darren Lehane’s legal opinion is “a very substantial opinion”. 

“It is a legal opinion you have to take on board, any legal opinion isn’t fact, but it is a very strong legal opinion which should govern your decision of whether to make a commitment to people,” said. 

When put to him that other legal opinions, such as that of David Kenny, Professor of Law at Trinity College, suggest that there is a good chance the courts could uphold such a move to freeze rents, Martin said he could not make election promises on possibilities.

“These are solemn election commitments people want from us, we can’t go on a wing and a prayer,” he said. 

He added:

I am very conscious I am in a general election, I don’t want to make false promises, I don’t want to make commitments that wont be realised when the general election is over. 

Rising rents 

On the matter of Rent Pressure Zones, Martin has been on the campaign trail stating that he wants them strengthened.

When asked what that means, the Fianna Fáil leader said he wants to see the percentage at which someone’s rent can be increased reduced. 

When asked for further details about the reforms, he said: 

I am not going to get into specifics, but we’re going to see what’s possible. 

When asked if it would be lower than 4%, and perhaps as low as 2%, Martin replied: “Yes.”

general-election-ireland-2020 Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin and party candidate Catherine Ardagh hold her four week old twins Sean (left) and Darragh during a canvass in Dublin South Central. Source: Niall Carson

A fiver for pensioners every year 

The other issue that has dominated this general election campaign so far is the pension age. Members of the public have also raised concerns about the number of over-65s having to sign on the dole. 

The issue has caught all the main political parties off-guard due to the pension policy being in the works for ten years. 

The pension age is to increase to 67 from 1 January next year, so there will be a gap between the retirement age in people’s contracts, and the age at which they can receive a State pension.

Today, the Taoiseach confirmed that the transitional pensions Fine Gael are offering to bridge the gap between retirement age and the pension age won’t apply to 65-year-olds.

“There will be no change for people who are currently 65,” the Taoiseach said on Thursday, but added that the transitional pension was “quite a substantial change in policy”. 

He confirmed that 65 year olds will have to sign on under the new plans. 

There had been confusion on whether the transitional payment would apply to 65 year olds as well as those aged 66 after the press release sent out by Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty only mentioned 66 year olds.

No signing on the dole 

Martin confirmed to TheJournal.ie that they too plan to bring back the transitional pension payment which was scrapped back in 2014. 

However, Fianna Fáil plans to bring this transitional payment in for 65 year olds upwards, with Martin confirming that 65 year olds will not have to sign on under his party’s plan. 

“First of all we are going to make sure that people who are 65 don’t have to sign on the dole,” he said.

“There will be a transition payment brought in to cover that and also… we won’t be going ahead with the 67 extension,” said Martin. 

“The most important thing with pensions is that into the future, as the country develops, that we have  sustainable pensions system that people will get their pensions.” 

What many will see as a bid to chase the older peoples’ vote, he added that under Fianna Fáil, the pension payment will be increased

We want people to get pensions when they retire and we will be increasing that pension on an annual basis by €5 a year over the next five years and that is our commitment.

However, there will have to be an examination of the overall issue, he said, adding: 

“I actually think there has to be fairness too, between private and public sector workers – I don’t think you can have one rule for one and another rule for others.

“It is an issue for people, and we have to respond to it,” said Martin. 

When asked about politicians’ gold-plated pensions that they receive before the turn 65, Martin said there has been reforms in recent years to TDs’ pensions, stating that some “people get into politics, lose out and then they are left in limbo again – there are many complexities to pensions”. 

TheJournal.ie’s Election 2020 series of The Candidate will sit down with each party leader and put your questions, recorded by you, to them, to help you decide who to vote for on 8 February.

Subscribe to The Candidate now to catch our full interview with Michéal Martin later today. 

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