Government survives motion of confidence over eviction ban

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Philip Ryan and Senan Molony

The Government has survived its motion of confidence, replacing one of no confidence, by 86 votes to 67 in the Dáil.

Green TD Neasa Hourigan voted confidence in the Government, as did former Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry.

Independents who voted with the Government included Cathal Berry, Sean Canney, Noel Grealish. Denis Naughten, Michael Lowry and Joe McHugh.

Earlier Taoiseach Leo Varadkar branded the Labour Party’s motion of no confidence as “political theatre” and “performance art” by party leader Ivana Bacik, ahead of the vote today.

Mr Varadkar said it was “profoundly disingenuous” for Ms Bacik to table a motion over the eviction ban ending in this month when she already voted in favour of it coming to an end on March 31.

Speaking in the Dáil, the Fine Gael leader said the motion was about “competition for attention on the opposition benches”.

There is also a vote on a Sinn Féin bill that would extend the eviction ban this evening.

He said Labour is “caught in a trap of its own making” and noted the party held the housing and the public expenditure brief in government for five of the past 12 years.

“Four parties trying to outdo each other to come up with new, more dramatic language to describe the housing situation as though somehow that would actually help anyone,” he said.

“When it comes to solutions, we get utopian populist ones,” he added.

Mr Varadkar highlighted Ms Bacik’s claim at her national conference that Labour could provide a million homes in ten years.

“When asked how the number was arrived at or how it would be realised, the leader of the Labour Party had no answers. When pressed, she took a page straight out of the President of Sinn Féin’s book – ‘sure aren’t the Irish great at building things,’” Mr Varadkar said.

“We all know where the figure of 1 million promised new homes came from. It’s a round number. That’s all. And there was a conference speech to be made,” he added.

Mr Varadkar said if the motion of no confidence passed the Dáil would dissolve on Wednesday night and an election would be held in April. He said it would be “well into the summer” before a Government would be elected.

“The eviction moratorium would lapse on March 31st anyway and no new primary legislation could be passed to deal with the housing crisis for several months,” he said.

“Knowing this, it is profoundly disingenuous to claim that the Labour motion was about renters’ rights or people facing homelessness,” he added.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said she was forced to table the motion of confidence because of the “scale of the catastrophe” facing people due to the housing crisis.

“Your conservative coalition is not working,” she told the Taoiseach before adding: “It's all spin, no substance and it’s failing the people of Ireland.”

“This catastrophic failure in housing delivery is the fault of government and it is a failure of ideology, not of the economy, because we are running a €5.3bn budget surplus - the highest in Europe,” she added.

She insisted Labour’s plans to build one million homes in ten years is achievable and insisted the Government lacked the ambition to address the housing crisis.

Labour’s finance spokesperson Ged Nash said he would not be “patronised by Fine Gael” and accused the Taoiseach of “arrogance” and “sounding entitled”.

Mr Nash said the Taoiseach is not kept awake at night due to the “precarious housing situation” but is instead he is concerned with the “precarious Dáil arithmetic”.

He also took aim at Independent TDs who supported the Government last week during a Sinn Féin motion on the eviction ban

“The last week has been a week of shame, and embarrassment for this house,” he said.

He said “decent politics and good governance were brought into disrepute” by the Government though “grubby little side deals and cheap dates with the so called independent”.

“Are you with the people who elected you to work on behalf of the public good, and the common interest, or are you fully paid off members of this conservative coalition's second term,” he asked Independent TDs.

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys praised the Labour Party for their work in the 2011 Coalition with Fine Gael. She said the house had enough populist parties and hoped Ms Bacik would not got down that route.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s policies on housing as failing people seeking accommodation.

She said Fine Gael seized on austerity and cut capital budgets for housing and even when the economy bounced back they did not invest in building new homes.

Fianna Fáil backed every Fine Gael budget since 2016, Ms McDonald said.

She named Phil Hogan, Alan Kelly, Eoghan Murphy and Darragh O’Brien as refusing to change direction even though their policies were failing.

She said Fine Gael poured billions into the private rental market rather than build houses.

She said the decision by former Finance Minister Michael Noonan to “roll out the red carpet for cuckoo and vulture funds” will “go down in history as disastrous policy”.

Ms McDonald said the Government doesn’t deserve the confidence of the Dáil because it doesn’t serve the people. “Nero fiddles as Rome burns,” she said.

She said children facing eviction are asking if their friends will be able to find them if leave their home or asking if they can go to school or where they will have their birthday party.

She said the longer Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael remain in government the “more damage they will do” and the “time for change has come”.

Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said the Government’s targets were “laughable”.

He said Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is the “minister for homelessness” adding: “shame on him”.

Sinn Féin enterprise spokesperson Louise O’Reilly asked her Dublin Fingal colleagues Ministers Darragh O’Brien and Joe O’Brien about a widowed mother of four who is about to be evicted in May.

“Where is she going to go, Joe,” she repeatedly asked the Green Party Minister.

“Is she going into a hostel? Where’s she going Joe? She’s your neighbour

"Unless you have an answer for that woman, you must vote no confidence in this government and you must support the Sinn Féin motion [this evening] which is the only bloody safety net for these people,” she added.

People Before Profit TD Mick Barry said the Government’s decision to end the eviction ban was their “Will Smith moment” in reference to the actor slapping comedian Chris Rock.

Mr Barry said Will Smith was in some good movies but will be remembered for slapping Mr Rock at the Academy Awards and in the same way the Government will be remembered for lifting the eviction moratorium.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil leader and Tánaiste Micheál Martin rounded on Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik.

He said her promise last weekend of a million new homes “lacked any credibility and very quickly was qualified by the leader of the Labour Party.”

He said the Opposition was often silent about the position of workers, whereas the Government had shown real leadership in saving lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.

He said there were over 400,000 people in new jobs in Ireland since the Government took office, unemployment was at only 4pc, and this country had the lowest level of youth unemployment in the European Union.

The coalition was determined to make “a step change” in housing provision, he added. Home completions, planning permissions and first time buyers were at their highest levels since 2008, Mr Martin said, thanks to Government supports. There were 40,000 more people working in construction than in 2021.

The vote on the motion began at noon.