EU leaders in Brussels to talk Brexit, Belarus and banking as evictions ban controversy rumbles on

Inside Politics Digest: Coalition will try to move the agenda on from eviction ban, but issue will roll into another week

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is in Brussels this morning for a European Council summit, with a packed agenda. EU leaders will discuss Ukraine, the Windsor Framework, the economy, energy and migration.

They will also discuss the continuing threat to democracy in Belarus, and condemn what happened in the case of exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who was handed a 15-year jail term after being convicted in absentia for treason. She said this was punishment for her efforts to promote democracy.

There’s another reason why Belarus may rise to near the top of the agenda. Today’s meeting will kick off with an exchange with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. According to Politico, Guterres will have the following message for EU leaders: Stop world hunger.

And how might this be done? By allowing Russian and Belarusian fertilisers into developing countries despite sanctions against the two countries. The ever-pressing reality is the full-blown food crisis in Africa. The EU will have decide how to approach any such call by Guterres, both pragmatically and politically.


Also up for discussion will be the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which confirmed that rising emissions are pushing the world to the brink of irrevocable damage. Guterres is pushing for a global climate solidarity pact, whereby all big carbon emitters scale up efforts to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

EU leaders will also speak about the wider situation in Ukraine, and it is expected that President Zelenskiy will join this discussion via video link.

On Friday, the conversation will move on to all things financial, with the recent banking anxieties taking centre stage. Leaders will meet in Euro Summit format with president of the Eurogroup Paschal Donohoe and president of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde present. Recent developments in the banking sector, inflation and interest rates are all up for discussion.

And after a week in which the Windsor Framework dominated British politics, expect to hear updates around what happens next. UK prime minister Rishi Sunak had the numbers to vote it through at Westminster yesterday with the support of the Labour Party, but DUP opposition creates problems, and they are now making more pessimistic sounds about a return to Stormont.

Here is The Irish Times view on the DUP vote on the Stormont Brake: “In the uncompromising political arena in which the DUP exists, any rule applying to the North and not to the rest of the UK is unacceptable.”

Keep your eyes on today for rolling coverage from the two-day meeting as well as updates on the fallout from the Framework.

A pyrrhic victory Government

Politics is a numbers game, and yesterday the Government proved it could cobble the votes together when it needs to.

In a relatively comfortable win, the Government defeated Sinn Féin’s motion calling for the eviction ban to be extended, securing a majority of 83 votes to 68.

It did not come without a cost, however. As we report this morning, Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan has been suspended from the party for 15 months after voting against the Government. If that doesn’t sound like a hint about the timing of the next general election to you, then may we suggest another cup of coffee.

It’s a hefty sanction and it dents the Coalition’s majority, leaving them with a bare majority in the Dáil. The truth of the matter is that this Government is heavily reliant on the tremulous votes of Independents, a situation which effectively precipitated the last general election in 2020.

At the end of 2019, a group of rural independent TDs said they intended to put down a motion of no confidence in Simon Harris, who was minister for health at the time. As a growing number of Independents deserted Fine Gael, the Government realised it was reliant on the support of Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten and Michael Lowry for survival. Then taoiseach Varadkar, who insisted he had the numbers despite mounting speculation that he did not, never let it get that far, and called an election in January 2020.

Could history repeat itself? The three-party Coalition will drive on, for now. But as Jack Horgan Jones, Cormac McQuinn and Sarah Burns report this morning, 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. The Labour Party will seek a no-confidence vote, and Sinn Féin will table fresh legislation to extend the eviction ban.

Further talks with Independent TDs will continue over the weekend about their housing demands, proving once again how the balance of power is shifting for this Government.

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Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin will take questions on his brief at 9am. This will be followed by questions to the Minister for Education Norma Foley at 10.30am, and then Leaders’ Questions at noon. Around a half an hour later, politicians will grill the Government on the status of outstanding legislation.

Government business will be taken at 1.44pm, with the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2023 up. This is an interesting Bill that seeks to improve the oversight and governance of An Garda Síochána. There will then be statements on safe staffing levels in hospitals followed by Topical Issues at 5.39pm.

A Private Members’ Bill will then be taken on the standards of rented houses. The Dáil adjourns at 7.42pm.

In the Seanad, proceedings kick off at 9.30am with commencement matters. The Order of Business will be taken at 11am. At 12.15pm , the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021 will be discussed. This Bill provides the power to gardaí to disclose information about a sex offender’s previous convictions to a member or members of the public where the person poses a risk of causing harm.

There’s plenty happening in the committee rooms today.

The Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action will hear from Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan at 9.30am on the Government’s plan to tackle climate change. The Public Accounts Committee meets at the same time to discuss the Enterprise Ireland financial statements.

The Joint Committee on Disability Matters will also discuss inadequate personal assistance supports, while the Joint Committee on Public Petitions will hear from European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly. The full schedule can be found here.