Sinn Féin brand Darragh O’Brien ‘Minister for Homelessness’ in heated Dáil debate

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Gabija Gataveckaite

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has been branded ‘Minister for Homelessness’ in a heated Dáil debate on the Sinn Féin motion to extend the eviction ban.

TDs will tomorrow vote on the motion, which seeks to extend the ban until January 31.

However, even if the motion passes the Dáil, it is not legally binding.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty branded Mr O’Brien as ‘Minister for Homelessness’ in the Dáil this evening.

Meanwhile fellow Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said the Government cares about “big landlords, big business and big speculators” in a passionate speech.

He said his party’s leader Mary Lou McDonald and housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin would not make “thousands of people homeless”.

“Anyone who supports this Government’s lifting of the eviction ban tomorrow is betraying people, because that’s what this is. A betrayal of ordinary, vulnerable people,” he said.

He said he was aware of seriously ill constituents, including one with cancer, who are being evicted.

Mr Ó Broin said the Government should be “ashamed” of itself.

“I have no hesitation in urging the Government to extend its ban on evictions and crucially, put in place emergency measures we have been screaming for you to do for almost a year,” he said.

“Because if you fail to do that, you will be responsible for increasing homelessness in the period ahead.”

His fellow party TD Reada Cronin said it was very difficult for households who may have to give up family pets as a result of becoming homeless.

“Imagine having to tell your child, one you’re going to be homeless, but two, you’re going to lose your favourite pet as well,” she told the Dáil.

“Are you really that indifferent to people’s suffering? Loss on loss, cruelty upon cruelty because of your laissez-faire housing policy?”

Mr O’Brien said the Government’s decision to end the eviction ban was “not one that we took lightly”.

He said an extension to the ban would “shrink” the number of homes available and the “very same debate” would be had in the middle of winter, with a “cliff edge” when the ban would end.

“The Opposition are more interested in politicising the housing crisis,” he said.

“This Government has been honest with people. We introduced the winter moratorium to mitigate the pressures faced by people during the winter period.”

He said Mr Ó Broin is “happy to mislead” the public on Dublin City Council (DCC) only purchasing seven homes through the tenant in situ scheme. Mr O’Brien said DCC is examining a further 382 homes for purchase.

He was heckled by Sinn Féin TDs and told to get his “head out of the sand”.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said there is “fake news” coming from the Government on their promises on housing.

He said the public is “sick and tired” of the “phoney debate” which is “playing politics with people’s lives”.

He said the “hard left” would take houses “off people” and leave them with nowhere to live.

Meanwhile, the tenant in situ schemes pose a “moral hazard” for city and county councils, TDs and senators have been told.

The schemes involve people who are eligible for social housing and face eviction because their landlord wants to sell seeing the local authority step in and purchase the property. The property then becomes social housing stock.

Assistant chief executive of (DCC) Coilín O’Reilly, who is also on the County and City Management Association, said councils face a decision where families who are on the council waiting list, but living in a property, getting the property ahead of somebody who’s been waiting for a council house longer.

“There could be somebody on the homeless list who is in the exact same need as the tenant in situ and now that person who is behind them on the list is getting housing,” he said.

“We’re just flagging the moral hazard of that situation.

“It’s incumbent on us as public officials to flag to yourselves that there is a moral hazard associated with the tenant in situ.”

He said councils go ahead with the tenant in situ scheme despite that “moral hazard”.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of their parliamentary party, Fianna Fáil members have called for “significant consequences” for TDs who vote against the Government counter motion on the Sinn Féin motion on the eviction ban.

TDs John Lahart and Éamon Ó Cuív, and senator Mary Fitzpatrick, told the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting they welcomed the progress on housing supply and underlined the need for all Government TDs to back the Government counter motion.

Elsewhere, a specialist intervention unit is being established by Mr O’Brien at the Department of Housing to drive local authority housing targets and overcome bottle necks.