Green Party TD suspended after voting against lifting of eviction ban

The Government won the non-binding vote comfortably after striking a deal with a group of independents.

(left to right) Nessan Vaughan and TD Neasa Hourigan speaking at the launch of the St Vincent De Paul “Warm, Safe, Connected” report in Buswells Hotel in Dublin. Picture date: Wednesday March 1, 2023.

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, David Young and Cillian Sherlock, PA

A Green Party TD has been suspended for 15 months and removed from her role as chair of the Budgetary Oversight committee after voting against the Government in a Dail vote.

“The Green Party parliamentary party has agreed to remove the party whip and suspend Deputy Neasa Hourigan from the parliamentary party for not less than 15 months after she voted against the Government earlier this evening… Deputy Hourigan will also lose her Oireachtas committee positions,” the party said in a statement.

Ms Hourigan had the whip restored in November after it was removed for six months when she voted against the Government over the ownership structure of the new site of the National Maternity Hospital.

The Dublin Central TD will have to apply for readmission after the suspension period.

“The parliamentary party regrets having to take these steps but believes that effectiveness in government relies on unity in every vote.”

It comes after the Government won a Dail vote on ending the eviction ban at the end of March following a deal with a group of independents.

A motion tabled by Sinn Fein had called for the ban to be extended until January next year, as the chronic shortage of housing continues to pose a challenge for the three coalition parties.

The Government’s countermotion, which outlined schemes and policies to support both renters and landlords, was backed by 83 TDs, with 68 voting against.

There were no abstentions.

It is not an action we take lightly, but we are in a situation where the Government has announced a decision at the last minute, and contrary to what it had indicated

Ivana Bacik on motion of no confidence

The symbolic victory comes after the Government supported the Regional Independents’ amendment to its countermotion.

The measures pushed for by the Regional Independent Group included the removal of barriers for older people in long-term care who wish to lease out their homes, the extension of the rent-a-room scheme to include people on social welfare payments and a tax relief scheme for small landlords to be introduced as part of Budget 2024.

Ahead of the vote on the Regional Independents’ amendment, Labour TD Ged Nash asked: “How much has it cost the Taoiseach to buy the votes of the Regional Independent Group?”

“The Dail is entitled to know what this will cost the taxpayer.”

Ahead of the vote, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien confirmed that one of the measures would be the reform of the Fair Deal Scheme to allow people in nursing homes to retain 100% of their income from renting their home instead of 60%, in an effort to encourage supply in the rental market.

Five members of the regional group – Michael Lowry, Denis Naughten, Cathal Berry, Sean Canney and Matt Shanahan – voted with the Government, as well as Rural Independent Group TD Danny Healy-Rae.

Another member of the Regional Independents’ Group, Wexford TD Verona Murphy, voted against the Government.

She had requested a reduction in housing densities to allow for “viable” developments and to activate planning permissions.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government is ‘built to last’ (Niall Carson/PA)

An amendment tabled by Aontu TD Peadar Toibin, which called for evictions to be prohibited if a tenant is pregnant, has a terminal illness or has a disability, was defeated by 72 votes to 78, with one abstention from Ms Hourigan.

In the wake of the Government’s win, Labour confirmed that it would table a motion of no confidence in the Government next Wednesday.

“It is not an action we take lightly, but we are in a situation where the Government has announced a decision at the last minute, and contrary to what it had indicated, which will have devastating consequences for households around the country,” party leader Ivana Bacik said.

“It is being done without any contingency, except a series of last-minute measures which could, and should, have been taken months ago.”

The temporary prohibition on no-fault evictions, which was introduced at the end of October last year as part of measures responding to the cost-of-living crisis, will run out at the end of March as originally intended.

Critics of the decision to end the eviction moratorium claim it will result in the current record levels of homelessness soaring even higher, while the Government has insisted that prolonging the measure will see more landlords leave the rental market, reducing an already low supply of accommodation further.

Responding to another round of criticism from opposition TDs during Leaders’ Questions in the Dail on Wednesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar highlighted the last government he led had been a minority administration.

“It lasted for a lot longer than anyone thought it would,” he said.

Holly Cairns said lifting the ban was inexplicable (Brian Lawless/PA)

“There have been times in this Dail where this Government didn’t have a majority and yet we’ve won the votes, and won them by clear margins, and we will do so again today.

“So, I can reassure you that this Government is built to last.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government was choosing to escalate the housing crisis and make people homeless.

“You say that nothing would change in the time that an extension to the eviction ban would buy,” she said.

“In reality, is Government admitting that you won’t tackle the housing emergency with the urgency it requires, you’re conceding that you’re out of ideas, that you’ve thrown in the towel?”

Mr Varadkar accused Mrs McDonald of deliberately “stoking up” fears among renters by suggesting all those served with an eviction notice would be unable to find alternative accommodation.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns branded the decision to lift the ban as “cruel” and “inexplicable”.

“But, placed in the context of so many years of Fine Gael’s bad decision-making, perhaps it’s not so surprising.

“You’ve never made the right decisions on housing, why would we expect you to start now?”