The Government has only itself to blame for the pressure it is now under on the no-fault eviction ban, ahead of a vote on a Sinn Féin motion this evening. The ban is clearly not a viable long-term policy, but ending it in current circumstances requires detailed planning on how to deal with the consequences being undertaken in advance. Instead, the Government made the announcement first and has been scrambling ever since to come up with a response. This has put the Cabinet under pressure from its own backbenches and left it open to Opposition attack.
Ministers have argued that there was no alternative – that maintaining the ban would have further worsened the supply of rental homes and also left the State open to legal challenge. These things may both be true, but the Government now risks a surge in the already-high homeless figures without the resources in place to deal with this.
There is no easy solution here. And the claims from the Opposition benches that the situation could somehow be transformed over the course of this year are far from convincing, either. But surely the Government should have had its plan to deal with the immediate impact of the ending of the ban in place before pressing the button to go ahead? Emergency accommodation is full in many parts of the country and many families who are evicted may simply have nowhere to go. A chronic lack of properties on the market for renters and the high cost of new leases have been obvious now for many months.
Sinn Féin’s case is that there are things that can be achieved quickly, allowing the ban to end early next year. These include a step-up in the local authority purchase of homes being sold by landlords, quicker redevelopment of vacant properties and more modular housing. The Government is responding by promising to accelerate the local authorities’ purchase scheme and also give tenants first refusal to buy properties being sold by landlords, helped if needed by a shared equity scheme. These appear useful ideas – but much detail remains to be outlined. And care will be needed to avoid unintended consequences.
The politics are difficult for the Government. There is dissent on the Green Party benches where TD Neasa Hourigan has said she will vote with Sinn Féin. Independent TDs are assessing their positions and some are likely to vote against the Government. An outlining of the plans in the Government’s response to the Sinn Féin motion before the announcement of the ending of the eviction ban – and evidence that these could be implemented – would have avoided a lot of this political pressure. The Coalition is likely to win the vote this evening. But a Government with such a slim majority needs to be rather more careful with it.