What has happened with the eviction ban, and what are the implications of today’s vote?
Earlier this month, the Government decided not to extend the eviction ban that has been in place since October 30th. The ban covered “the winter emergency period” and had a built-in expiry date of March 31st. The ban meant that if you were renting private rental accommodation from a landlord, you could not be evicted during that period, even if issued with a valid notice of termination. It caused a political controversy as the Government admitted it could lead to a spike in homelessness. The Opposition demanded that the Coalition perform a U-turn, which they have no intention of doing. Sinn Féin then decided to use their Dáil time to table a motion which seeks to extend the ban until 2024.
Will the vote pass, and if so, is it binding?
As it is a private members’ motion, it is non-binding and so even if it passed, there is no obligation on the Coalition to pay attention to it. The Dáil is also unlikely to vote directly on Sinn Féin’s proposal after the Government agreed a countermotion on Tuesday. Government sources believe they will win the vote by a margin of up to six votes.
So why is there trouble?
Sinn Féin know that the motion is not binding, but they also know that forcing a vote on such a contentious issue will make life very awkward for members of the Coalition who are fielding anxious calls from constituents who fear they will be evicted from their homes. It has created a particular problem for certain members of the Green Party.
What have the Greens said, and why does it matter?
Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan has already said she will vote with Sinn Féin against the Coalition. Such a move would be taken seriously internally, especially given the fact Hourigan has voted against the Government previously over the national maternity hospital controversy. She will likely lose the party whip once again at the very least. This has a damaging impact on the Government’s majority. It would bring the Government’s numbers down to 80, leaving it with an official majority of just one TD.
I’m renting the home of my emigrant brother. What are the tax implications if he signs it over to me?
Another Green TD, Patrick Costello, has within the last fortnight suggested that the eviction ban should continue. He is yet to declare publicly whether he will back the Government in Wednesday’s vote. If he also lost the party whip, the Coalition would lose its majority.
Can the Coalition govern without a majority?
Firstly, both Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello could still support the Government from the outside on other issues. Secondly, the Government can normally be assured of the support of a range of Independents. The difference this time is that the Independents are also aware of the exceptional political sensitivity around this issue, and many of them are still holding their cards close to their chest. This puts the Coalition on much shakier territory. Independents like Kerry’s Michael Healy-Rae have said they will vote against the Government on Wednesday.
TDs from the eight-member Regional Independent Group (RIG) – which contains high-profile deputies like Denis Naughten, Michael Lowry, Verona Murphy and Cathal Berry – have backed the Government in key Dáil votes in the past. The RIG compiled a list of “eight asks to Government on the housing issue” if their support is to be assured. This included changing the rules around letting those in nursing home care rent their home, increasing refurbishment grants, and introducing a tax relief scheme to take effect in the current tax year for small landlords. Many of these plans have been included in the countermotion.
The Government has also indicated a major change to Fair Deal rules, which was one of those big RIG asks. Effectively this would allow Fair Deal families keep all of their rental income. The timing of this change is unclear so far. But in doing this, the Government seems confident it has shored up at least some of those floating Independent votes.
So how will this play out, and will this motion be the end of it?
The motion was tabled on Tuesday. The vote will happen today when the Government tables its countermotion. If the Coalition gets its Independent votes together, it will muddle through. But that won’t be the end of the political difficulty. The Labour Party has indicated that it will table a motion of no confidence before the end of the month if the Coalition does not change course. This will heap pressure once again on those Green votes, and on the Independents. Sinn Féin may also table another motion in the coming weeks. The political pressure could be higher then, if there is a wave of evictions.