Sunday 23 April 2017

Coveney takes a risk - but it has him back in running to be next FG leader

By refusing to offer any substantial compromise on his plan during negotiations with Fianna Fáil, Mr Coveney took a huge political risk but senior party sources were last night claiming 'a major victory'. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
By refusing to offer any substantial compromise on his plan during negotiations with Fianna Fáil, Mr Coveney took a huge political risk but senior party sources were last night claiming 'a major victory'. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has catapulted himself back to the forefront of the Fine Gael leadership race after facing down Fianna Fáil to secure the passing of his rent strategy.

By refusing to offer any substantial compromise on his plan during negotiations with Fianna Fáil, Mr Coveney took a huge political risk but senior party sources were last night claiming "a major victory".

The long-awaited plan, which includes a rent cap limiting price increases to 4pc annually in Dublin and Cork city, is expected to be approved by the Dáil today.

It comes after a tense 48 hours that saw the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led minority Government test its 'confidence and supply' arrangement to the limit.

Eventually, Micheál Martin's party backed down completely on their demand that the cap be halved to 2pc, and accepted that commuter-belt towns and other cities will not be immediately designated as 'Rent Pressure Zones' (RPZs).

Instead, Mr Coveney committed to prioritising research on whether parts of Meath, Kildare, Wicklow, Louth and the cities of Waterford, Limerick and Galway should become RPZs in the new year.

"We will make decisions on the basis of independent analysis and data through the Residential Tenancies Board. I think that is the only credible and legally sound way to do it," Mr Coveney said.

Fianna Fáil's housing spokesman Barry Cowen accepted they had "not achieved everything we sought", but claimed credit for the "immediate examination of the market conditions" in these areas.

However, senior sources in Fianna Fáil last night said that they were outfoxed by the Government on this issue.

The win for Fine Gael is being viewed by TDs and ministers as the "first real time" that they have stood up to Fianna Fáil since forming a minority government in May.

Mr Coveney had initially faced resistance from within his own party, including Finance Minister Michael Noonan, whose department objected to any intervention in the market.

At Tuesday's Cabinet meeting his leadership rival Leo Varadkar criticised Mr Coveney for a lack of consultation prior to the plan's publication.

"We've got a good outcome. Nobody said it was going to be easy but we're in a good place now," a source close to the Housing Minister said.

Supporters of Mr Varadkar pointed to the fact that they went head-to-head with Fine Gael over social welfare payments during the budget negotiations but conceded that Mr Coveney had "a good day".

Two other Fine Gael Cabinet ministers told the Irish Independent they were "delighted" with Mr Coveney's performance.

However, Mr Coveney's legislation did hit a technical hitch last night that dominated much of the Dáil debate.

Sinn Fein housing spokesman Eoin O Broin found a flaw in the text of the draft law which meant that people who had benefitted from a two-year rent freeze under the previous law, could find themselves open to a double-rent increase of 8pc in total in the first year of the new rent control regime.

Amid much protestations from the Opposition benches the minister admitted there was a "mistake".

"I think my intentions were clear here," Mr Coveney said.

However, the error led to calls for more time to securitise the rest of the legislation for unintended consequences.

The minister also rejected Opposition assertions that by allowing annual 4pc rises, the Government was effectively handing landlords a guaranteed 12pc over the next three years.

"It is not accurate to say that everybody will be asked to pay a 12pc increase or 12.25pc increase, if it is compounded, in rent," he said.

Irish Independent

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