CONTROVERSIAL VOTE | 

Eviction ban to end as Government defeat Sinn Féin motion by 83 to 68

Homelessness campaigners voiced dismay at the outcome of the vote, saying that services are already at “full capacity”.

Stock photo (Niall Carson/PA)© Niall Carson

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar© Niall Carson

Gabija Gataveckaite and Seoirse MulgrewIndependent.ie

The Government has won a Sinn Féin motion on extending the eviction ban by a margin of 15, with Green rebel TD Neasa Hourigan not voting with the Government four times this evening.

A total of 83 TDs voted in favour of the Government’s counter motion to the Sinn Féin proposal to extend the eviction ban until January 31, with 68 against.

Dublin Central TD Ms Hourigan did not vote with Government TDs four times, twice on the key Government amendment itself and she abstained twice on other amendments.

She voted against the Government amendment, which included measures agreed by the Regional Independent TD grouping, and she voted against the Government motion ratifying this motion.

She abstained on the two amendments from Regional Independents and Aontú, while Government colleagues voted against these amendments.

Ms Hourigan now faces being sanctioned by her own party for voting against the Government. Another rebel Green TD Patrick Costello, who voted against the Government previously, did not do so this time.

Independent.ie reported last week he would not vote against the Government.

Neasa Hourigan

Homelessness campaigners voiced dismay at the outcome of the vote, saying that services are already at “full capacity”.

Following the vote, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said new housing and rental measures announced in the Government's counter-motion against extending the eviction ban are "affordable".

Paschal Donohoe said he did not have an exact cost, but added: "I'm very confident that the measures that are being discussed today are affordable within the budget of the Department of Housing."

He added there was a debate in Cabinet about the measures but the Government decided new measures on taxation and expenditure in the next Budget would "make a difference" for renters.

Labour TD Ged Nash intervened during one of the votes, asking how much it cost the Government to “buy” votes from regional Independent TDs.

He was referring to a series of policy changes which have been agreed between the Housing Minister and the TDs in recent days in order to secure their votes.

“Can I ask the Taoiseach how much it cost the Government to buy the votes of the Regional Independent Group to enable you to evict thousands of people from their homes?” Mr Nash asked.

Five members of the group - Sean Canney, Michael Lowry, Denis Naughten, Cathal Berry, and Matt Shanahan - voted with the Government.

The measures pushed for by the Regional Independent Group included an extension of the rent-a-room scheme to include people on social welfare payments and extend the Croi Conaithe scheme to include properties built before 2007.

Another member of the Regional Independents' group, Wexford TD Verona Murphy, voted against the Government.

She had requested a reduction in densities to allow for "viable" developments and to activate planning permissions.

The Ceann Comhairle said it was “not a point of order” and Mr Nash should change the rules if he doesn’t like them.

“The Dáil is entitled to adhere to the proper procedure. If you don’t like the procedure, change it,” he said.

Housing assistance charity Threshold has “implored” the Government to reinstate the eviction ban as it said record numbers of adults and children could face homelessness as a result of today’s decision.

Threshold CEO John-Mark McCafferty said that the organisation currently works with thousands of individuals with notices of termination, and the Coalition’s decision is “likely to exacerbate the concerns and situations these renters find themselves in”.

“Overall data from Threshold from November 1 to March 21 shows that Threshold advisors received queries from 1,853 renters who face eviction once the ban lifts,” he said.

“It is highly likely that this number will exceed 2,000 by the end of the month. The Government’s decision to end the ban at the end of the month is fueling a hopeless outlook for renters in Ireland.”

“It is disheartening to hear of the Government speaking of measures for Budget 2024. This is six months away. Renters need improved support now.”

Homeless charity Depaul said the focus now must “firmly centre” on the availability of temporary accommodation in each local authority area and the “efficient implementation of government measures”.

CEO David Carroll said the charity’s services are at full capacity and there is “little scope for us to increase bed numbers”.

“Temporary accommodation or the streets should not be seen as the inevitable destination for those facing eviction,” he said.

“With respect to the measures announced, the response from the local authorities will be critical; there needs to be uniform information available for tenants and landlords.”

The charity currently provides 626 temporary accommodation beds across Ireland.

Ahead of the vote, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the decision to lift the temporary prohibition as scheduled at the end of the month, insisting the coalition was "built to last" and would survive even if it lost its formal majority in the House.

The defeated Sinn Fein motion called for the ban to be extended until January next year.

The coalition's countermotion outlined a series of measures it is taking to support both renters and landlords amid intense housing shortages in Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar© Niall Carson

The temporary prohibition on no-fault evictions, which was introduced at the end of October last year as part of measures responding to the cost-of-living crisis, will run out at the end of March as originally intended.

While critics of the move claim it will result in the current record levels of homelessness soaring even higher, the Government insisted that prolonging the measure will see more landlords leave the rental market, reducing an already low supply of accommodation further.

Responding to another round of criticism from opposition TDs during Leaders' Questions in the Dail on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar highlighted that the last government he led had been a minority administration.

"It lasted for a lot longer than anyone thought it would," he said.

"And there have been times in this Dail where this Government didn't have a majority and yet we've won the votes and won them by clear margins and we will do so again today.

"So I can reassure you that this Government is built to last."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government was choosing to escalate the housing crisis and make people homeless.

"You say that nothing would change in the time that an extension to the eviction ban would buy," she said.

"In reality, is Government admitting that you won't tackle the housing emergency with the urgency it requires, you're conceding that you're out of ideas, that you've thrown in the towel?

"The policies of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have created and deepened the crisis. Tens of thousands trapped in a private rental nightmare living with crushing insecurity, with no hope of getting a deposit together and no real chance of buying their own place.

"A generation locked out of home ownership by the failures of government and people have lived with this crisis for far too long. They've had enough of the excuses.

"They know that housing can be fixed, but it will not be fixed by a tired, jaded Government that has thrown in the towel."

Mr Varadkar accused Mrs McDonald of deliberately "stoking up" fears among renters by suggesting all those served with an eviction notice would be unable to find alternative accommodation.

He added: "It is our view that extending the eviction moratorium to the end of January, the depths of winter, which is Sinn Fein policy, will just make things worse. That's not a solution."

The Taoiseach said Sinn Fein had supported the terms of the prohibition when it was debated in the Dail last October, noting that it had the March 31 cut-off date incorporated at that point.

He accused the party of changing its stance and putting down a motion that it knew was non-binding and could not achieve anything.

"It's a show motion from show boaters," he said.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns branded the decision to lift the ban as "cruel" and "inexplicable".

She said the housing crisis was a "societal catastrophe" in Ireland.

"Taoiseach, your decision to lift the eviction ban, the only protection for thousands of people against homelessness, seems inexplicable," she said.

"People do not understand why any Irish government would make a conscious and deliberate choice to vote for mass homelessness.

"But, placed in the context of so many years of Fine Gael's bad decision-making, perhaps it's not so surprising.

"You've never made the right decisions on housing, why would we expect you to start now?"

More to follow...


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