Green Party suspends Neasa Hourigan for 15 months over Dáil eviction ban vote

Homelessness campaigners voiced dismay at the outcome of the vote, saying that services are already at ‘full capacity’

Neasa Hourigan. Photo: Mark Condren

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

thumbnail: Neasa Hourigan. Photo: Mark Condren
thumbnail: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Gabija Gataveckaite, Seoirse Mulgrew and Philip Ryan

THE Green Party has suspended rebel TD Neasa Hourigan for 15 months and stripped her of her role as Oireachtas budgetary committee chair.

Ms Hourigan has also been removed from all Oireachtas committees after she voted against the Government over the eviction ban, which expires in just over a week's time.

Ms Hourigan was, ironically, chairing a meeting of the Oireachtas budgetary oversight committee when she was informed of the sanction via a text from a colleague.

The suspension means she will be outside the parliamentary party until June 2024 and it will cast significant doubt over Ms Hourigan's long-term future in the party.

The news comes after a lengthy meeting of the Green parliamentary party in Leinster House on Wednesday evening.

In a statement, the party said: “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.

“It will be open to her to apply for readmission after this period. Deputy Hourigan will also lose her Oireachtas committee positions.

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

Ms Hourigan had earlier voted against the Government in a Dáil vote on the future of the eviction ban after Sinn Féin tabled a motion to extend the moratorium until next year.

She did not vote with Government TDs four times, twice on the key Government amendment itself and she abstained twice on other amendments.

It was the third time Ms Hourigan had defied the Government whip since the Greens entered government nearly three years and the second time in less than a year.

The Dublin Central TD was suspended from the Green parliamentary party for six months last year after voting against the Coalition on a motion concerning the location of the National Maternity Hospital.

She also voted against the whip on housing legislation in 2020 which saw her lose her position as party whip and stripped of Dáil speaking rights for a short period.

The Government won the Sinn Féin motion on extending the eviction ban by a margin of 15.

A total of 83 TDs voted in favour of the Government’s counter motion to the Sinn Féin proposal to extend the eviction ban until January 31, with 68 against.

Speaking at the Sinn Féin parliamentary party meeting, Mary Lou McDonald said the Government may have won the Dáil vote but they have “categorically lost the argument” on the eviction ban.

“It is a pyrrhic victory. The consequences of their actions for workers and families will be catastrophic. Government and Independent TDs voted to make more people homeless. It is a despicable decision,” Ms McDonald said.

The party said there was “lots of anger and real concern for renters expressed by Sinn Féin TDs” at the meeting.

Dublin Central TD Ms Hourigan did not vote with Government TDs four times, twice on the key Government amendment itself and she abstained twice on other amendments.

She voted against the Government amendment, which included measures agreed by the Regional Independent TD grouping, and she voted against the Government motion ratifying this motion.

She abstained on the two amendments from Regional Independents and Aontú, while Government colleagues voted against these amendments.

Another rebel Green TD Patrick Costello, who voted against the Government previously, did not do so this time.

Homelessness campaigners voiced dismay at the outcome of the vote, saying that services are already at “full capacity”.

Following the vote, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said new housing and rental measures announced in the government's counter-motion against extending the eviction ban are "affordable".

Paschal Donohoe said he did not have an exact cost, but added: "I'm very confident that the measures that are being discussed today are affordable within the budget of the Department of Housing."

He added there was a debate in Cabinet about the measures but the government decided new measures on taxation and expenditure in the next Budget would "make a difference" for renters.

Labour TD Ged Nash intervened during one of the votes, asking how much it cost the Government to “buy” votes from regional Independent TDs.

He was referring to a series of policy changes which have been agreed between the Housing Minister and the TDs in recent days in order to secure their votes.

“Can I ask the Taoiseach how much it cost the Government to buy the votes of the Regional Independent Group to enable you to evict thousands of people from their homes?” Mr Nash asked.

Five members of the group - Sean Canney, Michael Lowry, Denis Naughten, Cathal Berry, and Matt Shanahan - voted with the Government.

The measures pushed for by the Regional Independent Group included an extension of the rent-a-room scheme to include people on social welfare payments and extend the Croi Conaithe scheme to include properties built before 2007.

Another member of the Regional Independents' group, Wexford TD Verona Murphy, voted against the Government.

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

The Ceann Comhairle said it was “not a point of order” and Mr Nash should change the rules if he doesn’t like them.

“The Dáil is entitled to adhere to the proper procedure. If you don’t like the procedure, change it,” he said.

Housing assistance charity Threshold has “implored” the Government to reinstate the eviction ban as it said record numbers of adults and children could face homelessness as a result of today’s decision.

Threshold CEO John-Mark McCafferty said that the organisation currently works with thousands of individuals with notices of termination, and the Coalition’s decision is “likely to exacerbate the concerns and situations these renters find themselves in”.

“Overall data from Threshold from November 1 to March 21 shows that Threshold advisors received queries from 1,853 renters who face eviction once the ban lifts,” he said.

“It is highly likely that this number will exceed 2,000 by the end of the month. The Government’s decision to end the ban at the end of the month is fueling a hopeless outlook for renters in Ireland.”

“It is disheartening to hear of the Government speaking of measures for Budget 2024. This is six months away. Renters need improved support now.”

Homeless charity Depaul said the focus now must “firmly centre” on the availability of temporary accommodation in each local authority area and the “efficient implementation of government measures”.

CEO David Carroll said the charity’s services are at full capacity and there is “little scope for us to increase bed numbers”.

“Temporary accommodation or the streets should not be seen as the inevitable destination for those facing eviction,” he said.

“With respect to the measures announced, the response from the local authorities will be critical; there needs to be uniform information available for tenants and landlords.”

The charity currently provides 626 temporary accommodation beds across Ireland.

Ahead of the vote, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the decision to lift the temporary prohibition as scheduled at the end of the month, insisting the coalition was "built to last" and would survive even if it lost its formal majority in the House.

The defeated Sinn Fein motion called for the ban to be extended until January next year.

The coalition's countermotion outlined a series of measures it is taking to support both renters and landlords amid intense housing shortages in Ireland.

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.

While critics of the move claimed it will result in the current record levels of homelessness soaring even higher, the Government has insisted that prolonging the measure will see more landlords leave the rental market, reducing an already low supply of accommodation further.

Sinn Féin and People Before Profit voted against a Regional Independent TD amendment to the Sinn Féin motion.

The vote passed by 93 votes to 56 with Government support.

A roll call vote was held for an Aontú amendment to the Sinn Féin motion, where Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats voted in favour. However, the motion did not pass.

Lastly, a Government amendment, which featured some of the measures suggested by the Regional Independent TDs, was later passed and ratified.

The chair of the Irish Property Owners Association welcomed the Government’s decision and referred to the Sinn Féin motion to extend the eviction ban as a “failed policy”.

Mary Conway said the eviction ban was always an “inadequate policy response”.

“Four versions of it have been in existence over the past number of years, and it has had no discernible impact on homelessness figures - in fact the opposite is true,” she said.

She welcomed the Government’s countermotion and said it represented the “first meaningful effort by politicians to recognise the strategic importance of landlords in solving the rental crisis”.

Ms Conway said the introduction of a tax relief for landlords and the changes to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) are “important and positive signals for those landlords contemplating leaving the sector”.

“Amid one of the worst rental crises on record, there is no doubt that measures that encourage the participation of landlords in the market will have a positive impact on supply,” she said.

Ms Conway added that the Government must now focus on “retaining existing landlords and encouraging new landlords to participate in the sector”.

“Private landlords are of strategic importance to the Government in solving the housing supply issue,” she said.

The Institute of Professional Auctioneers & Valuers (IPAV), welcomed the passing of the Government’s counter motion, saying it displays “more concrete understanding for the first time of market realities”, and that the measures, once implemented, would help both tenants and private landlords.

IPAV chief executive Pat Davitt said the ban should never have been introduced.

“It simply builds up the number of evictions taking place around the same time and increases the desire of private landlords, already reeling from an avalanche of regulation of recent years, and the threat of further legislation to come, to leave the market.”

He said if the ban had been extended it “would likely have created a situation so deteriorated that the government could not have ended it at all. The decision was a brave one by government and is in the interest of both tenants and landlords.”

Earlier, Green junior minister Ossian Smyth warned TDs considering voting against the Government on the eviction ban motion: “I think it’s a very serious matter, it destabilises the Government if party members are voting against the Government.

“We have a programme to implement and if people vote against the Government, everybody knows what the sanction is."

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

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

"And 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?

"The policies of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have created and deepened the crisis. Tens of thousands trapped in a private rental nightmare living with crushing insecurity, with no hope of getting a deposit together and no real chance of buying their own place.

"A generation locked out of home ownership by the failures of government and people have lived with this crisis for far too long. They've had enough of the excuses.

"They know that housing can be fixed, but it will not be fixed by a tired, jaded Government that has 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.

He added: "It is our view that extending the eviction moratorium to the end of January, the depths of winter, which is Sinn Fein policy, will just make things worse. That's not a solution."

The Taoiseach said Sinn Fein had supported the terms of the prohibition when it was debated in the Dail last October, noting that it had the March 31 cut-off date incorporated at that point.

He accused the party of changing its stance and putting down a motion that it knew was non-binding and could not achieve anything.

"It's a show motion from showboaters," he said.

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

She said the housing crisis was a "societal catastrophe" in Ireland.

"Taoiseach, your decision to lift the eviction ban, the only protection for thousands of people against homelessness, seems inexplicable," she said.

"People do not understand why any Irish government would make a conscious and deliberate choice to vote for mass homelessness.

"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?"

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on housing Eoin Ó Broin said the Government’s decision will lead to levels of homelessness “never before thought possible”.

Deputy Ó Broin said “shame” on the Coalition who “knowingly chose to make ordinary people in their communities homeless”.

“Residential Tenancies Board figures tell us that 3,000 families, single people, couples, families with children and pensioners have eviction notices that will fall due in April,” he said.

“Many of these people will be forced to move in with family and friends, others will be forced to emigrate because they will be unable to find alternative accommodation.

“But worse, many men, women and children with eviction notices will seek emergency accommodation, which is already at capacity in many local authorities across the state.

“This means people will be forced to sleep rough, while families with children will be referred to Garda stations for a safe place to sleep.

“That is the shameful legacy of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, and all those who supported their decision today.

“I once again call on the government to reverse its decision, to extend the emergency ban on evictions and, crucially, to put in place the emergency measures we have been screaming for them to put in place.”

More to follow...