Martin claims Ireland has ‘turned a corner’ on housing ahead of Sinn Féin motion on eviction ban

Little sign of backbenchers or Independents revolting against the Coalition

Micheál Martin said 9,000 houses were completed in the last quarter of 2022, and in January there were more than 2,000 commencements, the highest since records began. Photograph: iStock

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has insisted the State has “turned a corner” on housing as the Government prepares to face a Sinn Féin motion calling for the eviction ban to be extended into next year.

On Tuesday, Sinn Féin said it would target Government backbenchers and Independents before its motion is taken next week, saying there would be a “human catastrophe” arising from the end of the eviction ban.

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said “concrete proposals” were needed from the Government to ensure support from backbenches on the Sinn Féin motion, which she said was “correct” in that “it was the wrong decision to end the eviction ban with so little to no contingency plans in place to deal with the increase in homeless presentations”.

However, on Tuesday there was little immediate sign that other backbenchers or Independents who tend to vote with the Government were lining up against the Coalition.

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Patrick Costello, Green Party TD for Dublin South Central who has previously voted against the Government, refused to be drawn on his voting intent.

It is understood that Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness, TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, is likely to vote with the Government. He previously criticised the “quick” lifting of the ban.

Mr Martin accused Sinn Féin of “playing politics” with the housing issue by tabling the Dáil motion for next week, labelling it as “cynical and dishonest”. He said the homelessness crisis would have been made worse if the Government maintained the ban.

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The Tánaiste also said there will be no changes to the tax treatment of the rental sector before the budget. On Tuesday, The Irish Times reported that earlier moves were being considered, with some in the Coalition of the view that acting sooner would be preferable to waiting until October’s budget.

However, Mr Martin warned against “knee-jerk” responses, saying they have to “be fully fleshed through, and the budget is the proper context for doing that”. He emphasised the importance of collective Cabinet responsibility, saying it remained the position that there would be a package for the rental sector in the budget. Asked was he categorically ruling out earlier moves, he said the State had “turned the corner” on activity in the housing sector.

He said 9,000 houses were completed in the last quarter of 2022, and in January there were more than 2,000 commencements, the highest since records began. “All of that indicates that there is significant activity in the housing market and we have to build more, faster.”

Sinn Féin’s motion calls for the emergency ban to be extended until the end of January next year, as well as an overhaul of existing social housing schemes and the use of emergency planning powers to build and refurbish more homes.

Government sources said a counter-motion was likely but had not been discussed yet.

Ms Hourigan did not specifically address her own voting intentions. But said that concrete measures would include a proposal to “urgently bring forward a Bill next week that would protect tenants who have done nothing wrong from being evicted when their landlord wishes to sell”. A Coalition source suggested such a move, progressed through standalone legislation, would likely be unconstitutional.

The Labour Party and the Social Democrats indicated on Tuesday they would support the Sinn Féin motion. Cathal Berry, a Kildare South TD, said the regional independent group he is a member of would consider its own amendments, and would likely seek a meeting with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien next week.

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Clare Independent Michael McNamara said he was not minded to support the Sinn Féin motion as published, but called for owners of property to be allowed to serve a notice to quit to move in themselves.

Donegal TD Joe McHugh, who lost the Fine Gael whip over a vote on Mica compensation, said he was more interested in the amended Government motion, and would be examining proposed initiatives closely.

Paul McAuliffe, a Dublin North West TD who was among the first Government TDs to call for a ban last October, indicated he was satisfied with the mitigation measures announced by the Government. “There’s enough there to be able to offer people at my clinic, to be able to protect many of them.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times