The Labour Party says questions remain unanswered as to why figures on eviction notices from the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) were issued up to two weeks after their planned publication date, claiming political pressure “was clearly applied”.
Correspondence obtained by the party under the Freedom of Information Act, and seen by The Irish Times, shows the RTB told the Department of Housing on March 10th last that notice of termination data for the fourth quarter of 2022 – showing the scale of impending evictions following the lifting of the eviction ban – would be published in the week beginning March 20th.
A follow-up email from the department on March 23rd asked whether the statistics had been finalised and querying would they be published the following day.
There is no explanation in the documents as to why the RTB delayed publication but on March 30th the RTB wrote to the department with details of the Q4 2022 data, adding that the plan was now to publish the figures the following Monday, April 3rd. The figures were released on this date, two days after the eviction ban had been lifted and more than a week after contentious Dáil motions from Sinn Féin and the Labour Party targeting the Government’s housing policy.
The RTB figures showed more than 4,300 notices to quit were served to tenants in the final quarter of last year, which was about 350 per cent higher than the 958 notices that were issued during the same period in 2021.
On Saturday, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said: “I have called for the publication of the full suite of advice received by Government so the public can have a clear understanding of what evidence was relied upon by Government in making the decision to lift the eviction ban. A key question remains whether political pressure was in fact applied to the RTB to delay the release of Q4 figures from 2022 on notices to quit received by renters just to save Government’s skin.”
She said “it is evident that more clarity will be needed from Minister O’Brien and his department”, claiming the Government “attempted to pull the wool over the eyes of the Opposition and public” by keeping eviction notice figures to itself.
When the controversy first arose earlier this month, Tánaiste Micheál Martin rejected any suggestion the Government suppressed or delayed the publication of RTB data, describing the claim as outrageous.
Rejecting Ms Bacik’s claims on Saturday, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing said the publication and timing of RTB data was a decision to which it had no input.
“The Residential Tenancies Board [RTB] is a key stakeholder for the department and we engage with them on an ongoing basis. It is not uncommon for the RTB to share preliminary data at official level which is then subject to further analysis and verification. This data would not have been shared with the Minister. The publication and timing of publication of RTB data is a matter for the RTB,” the spokesperson said.
The RTB has been contacted for comment on the newly released correspondence. It has yet to offer an explanation for the unscheduled delay in releasing the figures, other than saying it was committed to publishing data in a timely and accurate fashion.