Greens shaken as Joe O’Brien abstains and Hourigan votes against Government

Concern within Government circles after Minister of State fails to support legislation

 

The Green Party is scrambling to respond this evening after one of their TDs voted against a Government Bill while one of their Ministers of State abstained.

The future of TD Neasa Hourigan within the party appears to be in the balance after she resigned her position as party chief whip after voting against the Government on a new Bill dealing with tenants’ rights.

However, she has stated she wishes to remain within the parliamentary party.

Ms Hourigan voted against four amendments and then voted against the Bill in its entirety. Minister of State Joe O’Brien supported the Government on the amendments but abstained on the overall Bill.

In a statement this evening Mr O’Brien said the issue of homelessness was “extremely important” for him.

“I’m elected in part to be a legislator in terms of preventing and reducing homelessness. Mr O’Brien said while he knew his vote would not defeat the Bill he felt he had to signal that not enough time had been dedicated to the legislation.

Within Government circles the decision by Mr O’Brien to abstain on the vote on the same Bill is seen as a far more serious issue.

A Minister, who spoke on a background basis, said the Residential Tenancies and Evaluation Bill was Government legislation and not a private members’ Bill from the Opposition.

For a Minister of State to abstain was a “serious issue” as there was a culture of collective responsibility, they added.

“It is disappointing at such an early stage. This was a Bill which, while not perfect, gave further protection to people renting during the Pandemic.”

A key part of the Bill involves a ban on evictions until January for those unable to pay their rent because of the Covid-19 pandemic which can be availed of if they make a declaration to the Residential Tenancies Board.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the legislation would help tenants in arrears and those on a Covid-19 welfare payment, on housing assistance payment or who have lost their job because of the crisis caused by the virus.

A Government source said in the context of future legislative challenges facing the coalition this autumn, this Bill was a relatively small hurdle.

“The Government is going to have to take some very difficult decisions in the autumn on the economy and on issues like health,” said the source, saying the decision did not bode well for the long run.

Green Party deputies who spoke to The Irish Times were unsure as to what would happen next, or if there was disciplinary process, or sanctions, for TDs who defy the Government whip.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was not present in the Convention Centre for the series of votes but was seen speaking to Ms Hourigan later in the evening.

No spokesperson or official from the Green Party was available for comment.

Ms Hourigan voted against the Government on a Labour amendment to the Bill which would give Government the power to extend the ban on evictions and rent increases across the board again should it need to.

In a statement Ms Hourigan said: “this afternoon I decided to support non-government amendments proposed to the Residential Tenancies and Evaluation Bill and ultimately voted against the bill itself.

“I did this because I hold significant concerns as to the impact of the government legislation on people living in precarious tenancies.”

Ms Hourigan said in her view the legislation does “not offer enough protection for renters on eviction due to sale, recognised as a driver of homelessness, nor does it sufficiently recognise the risks posed by the rent arrears accrued during the pandemic.”

Ms Hourigan said her vote was “in line with Green Party policy and the legislation in question was not contained within the agreements made in the Programme for Government.”

“While I accept that this stance may lead to negative repercussion for me personally, I wish to remain an active member of this government and a Green Party parliamentarian.”