The Government will be forced to regroup for two high-stakes Dáil votes on the eviction ban next week, as the Opposition seeks to maintain the pressure over the controversial decision to allow it to expire.
The Coalition prevailed by 83 votes to 68 on a Government countermotion to a Sinn Féin motion to extend the ban to the end of January – but the margin was buttressed by support from Independents after the Government accommodated a range of demands made before the vote.
Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism confirmed that changes to legislation to restrict Airbnb tenancies are to be delayed after the European Commission extended a “standstill period” for another nine months while the new law is considered until December 22nd.
[ Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan suspended from parliamentary party for 15 months after voting against Government ]
[ Eviction ban: Five key concessions made by Coalition to secure Independent support ]
Strengthened regulations, the Government believes, could cause 12,000 homes to come back into the rental market.
Elements of the deal with Independents set off sniping within the Coalition. Plans to allow nursing home residents keep all rental income from their homes led to an intervention from Minister for Older People Mary Butler, who said she did not support the move, raised concerns and said it should not go ahead.
She said her party colleague, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien had not flagged the move with her in advance.
[ Miriam Lord: No skin off Leo’s nose if a few Coalition TDs jump ship rather than vote to end eviction ban ]
The Coalition continues to work on mitigation measures announced in tandem with the decision to lift the ban, such as the “first refusal” and “backstop” options to increase purchases of rental properties with tenants in place.
Government sources said the intention, based on the French model, is that negotiations will be enabled between landlords and tenants or local authorities looking to buy. Under these plans – which are subject to change – both parties will be able to get valuations and, if they differ, they can negotiate a price.
After the vote Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told her parliamentary party meeting: “The Government may have won their vote this evening, but they have categorically lost the argument.”
Sinn Féin will now introduce legislation to be voted on next week extending the ban which is a near-exact replica of the Government’s own original legislation to introduce it – which will force TDs to choose which way to vote on a law extending the ban. The Labour Party will seek a no-confidence vote on the basis that the Coalition has “made a deliberate and conscious decision to expose thousands of people to the risk of immediate homelessness,” with sources saying it will target the Independents who voted with the Government.
[ Eviction ban vote shows why Government is more stable than it may appear ]
In the end, the winning margin was more comfortable than insiders initially predicted. However, it came at a cost – down one Dáil deputy and facing more votes, the Coalition also relied on a deal struck with the Regional Independent Group which may represent an important precedent.
One Government source said: “We’ve paid a high price for support from the Independent benches. Now they have got a taste for it, they’ll be back again at budget time”, adding that some demands at that stage may prove to be more “problematic”. Another said a “bridge was crossed today”.
Last night, Green Party TD for Dublin Central Neasa Hourigan voted against the Government and was suspended for 15 months, reducing the Government’s majority to a single vote, and stripped of her place on Oireachtas committees and her €10,082 a year role as Oireachtas budgetary oversight committee chair.
There is growing pressure on the Government to deliver key housing policies – but it has emerged that a key reform to the short-term letting market the Coalition had hoped would be in place before the end of the month could be delayed until Christmas.