Sunday 8 December 2019

Government scrapes victory as Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy survives no confidence vote

  • Motion defeated by 56 votes to 53
  • 35 TDs abstained
  • Former minister Denis Naughten supported government
  • Scathing criticism ahead of vote
  • Housing crisis described as 'grimmer than ever'
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a visit to Kilkenny (Niall Carson/PA)
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a visit to Kilkenny (Niall Carson/PA)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

THE government has scraped a victory in the Dáil vote of no confidence in housing minister Eoghan Murphy.

The motion was defeated by 56 votes to 53 in the initial electronic vote.

A total of 35 TDs abstained.

Sinn Féin sought a subsequent walk-through vote.

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The government got over the line with support from controversial independent TDs Michael Lowry and Noel Grealish.

Earlier it was claimed they pair amounted to a “rogues gallery” of TDs that the government were relying on to stay in power.

Former government minister Denis Naughten also supported the government.

The Housing Minister was earlier accused of "utterly failing" in his job as the Dáil debates a motion of no confidence in him as housing minister.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy made the claim before tonight's vote.

Ms Murphy was scathing in her criticism of the government's efforts to tackle the housing crisis outlining the pressure on people struggling to afford rents and how so-called cuckoo funds are buying up blocks of housing.

TD Catherine Murphy
TD Catherine Murphy

She outlined how people are approaching politicians in tears saying "I never thought homelessness was something that happens to people like us".

Ms Murphy said solving the problem "requires a vision" and she told the minister: "I don’t believe it’s a vision you or your Fine Gael government have".

She said the Social Democrats have put forward solutions to the housing crisis including calling for a national rent freeze.

Ms Murphy accused Fianna Fáil of "hot air" on the housing crisis as Micheál Martin's party decided to abstain from tonight's vote.

She said the Social Democrats made no apology for tabling the motion.

Ms Murphy addressed the housing minister saying he had "utterly failed" in his job adding: "we have no confidence in your ability to solve this emergency." She said "We absolutely have no confidence in you… our society can no longer afford you.

"Indeed our society can no longer afford Fine Gael," she added.

Minister Murphy hit back at the Social Democrats saying that “not once” had their TDs questioning him on the government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan at the housing committee.

He said the government’s challenge on housing is a “serious one”.

He said: “I know all too well people are hurting in this crisis… it’s my determination as minister to seem them through and see them right at the end of this crisis.”

He said the Rebuilding Ireland plan is constantly being reformed and improved.

Mr Murphy said the housing sector was “broken in the past”

He said in 2013 just 4,500 homes were built in Ireland.

He said there’s still two years to go in Rebuilding Ireland but “already we have delivered 64,000 new places to live.”

Mr Murphy said 26,000 homes have started under construction in the last 12 months.

He said more social housing units will be build next year than have been built in two decades.

He said the Help-to-Buy scheme has helped 15,000 first-time buyers.

He insisted Rebuilding Ireland is working and "our work isn't finished but we are making progress".

Mr Murphy said he is answerable in relation to the increase in the number of people in emergency accommodation to 10,514.

But he said he is also answerable for the "more than 12,000 people that have left homelessness" since he came into office in 2017.

Taosieach Leo Varadkar said the motion was "a stunt to gain publicity".

He said the housing crisis was "not caused by any one party ideology or person. It owes its roots in the economic crisis and crash that occurred ten years ago."

Mr Varadkar said the government was broke and couldn't afford to build houses for years and the banks and construction industry went bust.

He said "while 10,000 people are living in emergency accommodation tonight and that is terrible and shameful, let's not forget that we lifted 14,000 people out of homelessness and provided them with secure housing,"

Mr Varadkar said "we're three and a half years into a five-year housing plan.

"It's got off to a slow start. That was always going to be the case but we're now making real and measurable progress and when you're doing that you don't abandon it. you see it through and allow the next government which I hope we're part of to build on it".

The government is expected may rely on the votes of non-aligned independents for Mr Murphy to survive the vote later this evening.

This includes convicted tax offender Michael Lowry and Galway West TD Noel Grealish who has been criticised for recent controversial remarks about immigrants who often vote with the government in the Dáil.

Rise TD Paul Murphy claimed Minister Murphy was relying on a "rogues gallery" to make it through the vote.

Paul Murphy. Photo: Collins Courts

He said: "By their friends shall you know them. And look at the friends that Minister Murphy and the government are relying on tonight to maintain their pro-landlord, pro-developer policies in power.

"It’s a verifiable rogues gallery – a liar and a convicted tax cheat, Michael Lowry..."

Leas Ceann Comhairle Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher intervened to warn Paul Muprhy "not to use unparliamnetary language".

Mr Murphy said "cheating on taxes is fairly unparliamentary".

And he added that the minister is also relying on "A landlord who has used dog whistling of a racist kind", in an apparent a reference to Mr Grealish.

Later Mr Lowry addressed the Dáil and said: “I am not a convicted tax cheat, I am not a convicted tax dodger.

"And in fact when I was brought to court the main charges were withdrawn and the only mark against my reputation in relation to taxation was that in the year 2006 my company filed an incorrect corporation tax return.

"And it was incorrect because we had overpaid tax... in fact the judge went on to comment on the fact that I was a very conscientious tax payer and I would like the comments that were made in this house tonight to be withdrawn.”

Earlier in the Dáil Mr Varadkar claimed that the government's Rebuilding Ireland programme was 'delivering' after Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the housing crisis to 'grimmer than ever'.

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