Miriam Lord: Two parties circle each other to square rent issue

Party leaders resolutely stand by their respective men Simon Coveney and Barry Cowen

Another chapter unfolds in the tempestuous affair between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Oh, the drama of it. They need each other. They want the same things, yet they want different things.

In many ways they are so alike, but mistrust always comes between them. Yet for now they cannot live without each other. It’s a strange chemistry.

This, they know. It places a burden on the fragile political heart.

The latest twist involves a wilful Fine Gael Minister determined to get his own way and a brooding Fianna Fáil opposition with the power to stop him.


They will indulge him for the sake of the relationship, but only if he makes some changes. He’s not inclined to do so, being the headstrong type.

But the pair of them really need to get it together, and fast. At stake is the Christmas cheer of the poor benighted occupiers of rented dwellings who face a grim festive season if the star-crossed couple can’t agree on legislation to make their tenancies a little more secure.

Time is of the essence. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil must be reconciled by tomorrow or Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin will turn into pumpkins by midnight. How will it all end?

Yesterday in Leinster House, despite negative signals coming from the principals involved, the general view was that some sort of agreement would be reached to keep both parties happy. Neither party would want to upset tenants who dearly wish, and deserve, to see some calming measures in the rental market, and neither wants to be blamed by the electorate for the scuppering of these plans.

So they circled each other all day.

Property zones

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney held firm to his proposed 4 per cent rent cap in the property zones of Dublin and Cork. This after Barry Cowen, his opposite number in Fianna Fáil, sent a billet doux the night before spurning his proposals.

In the meantime their leaders debated the issue in the Dáil. Both of them resolutely standing by their respective man.

It would seem like Martin and Fianna Fáil have the upper hand. They want the limit on annual rent increases cut to 2 per cent, and strongly argue that applying the cap in just two urban zones is not fair to people coping with rising rents in many other parts of the country.

“The geography issue is far too restricted,” said Micheál, wondering about the “suburban conurbations contiguous” to the our main cities.

His argument should go down well with all the tenants outside Dublin and Cork, while cutting the cap which Coveney wants to retain would give Fianna Fáilers the chance to tell voters they aren’t as concerned about landlords’ margins.

The Taoiseach was counselled by Coveney before he made his replies. As the Fianna Fáil leader asked his two questions, Kenny sat back in his seat, listening intently to whispered instructions from his Housing Minister. He did the same when Gerry Adams came in with similar queries, nodding silently as he absorbed the information.

He was a study in concentration, eyes and ears on Simon. And then, seconds out, he gathered himself and rose to respond.


It was like watching a boxer between rounds. The only thing Coveney didn’t do was stick a gumshield in Enda’s mouth and slap him on the behind before he spoke.

Kenny and Martin – whom may be in a shaky relationship but have no desire to give up on it for the foreseeable future – gave no quarter to each other in this argument over rent. It has to be settled tonight.

Fianna Fáil was feeling pressurised by its senior partner. “You’ve left it very late in terms of the consultation and the publication of the amendments. I think they have to be in by one o’clock,” tut-tutted Micheál.

“In the last week of the Dáil it is incredible that we are where we are in terms of proposals of this gravity and importance, but we are here, and we don’t want to render tenants more vulnerable now given that the proposals have been announced.”

Very determined

He was intimating that Fianna Fáil would do its best to support them, but not in their present form. He needed something in return from Fine Gael.

Enda sounded like he wanted to reach out a little. But Simon was beside him, looking very determined that there was going to be no trifling with his plans. He’d been working on them for months.

After Leaders’ Questions, the question of whether or not Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could patch up their differences for the sake of the tenants remained unresolved. TDs on both sides thought they might find common ground over the geographical issue.

But on the 4 per cent, Coveney was not budging. He would abandon the entire scheme if necessary.

“Won’t somebody think of the landlords?” chuckled a Fianna Fáiler in the canteen.

But there can always be compromise. And guess what. After night fell, what did Coveney and Cowen do? They got a room.

Talks are ongoing.