TDs to vote on Labour no-confidence motion over eviction ban today after Taoiseach warns defeat could trigger election

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Senan Molony

An election could be called this evening if the Government loses a no-confidence vote today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

Several independent TDs are still deciding whether to vote with the Government ahead of the Labour Party motion on the eviction ban today.

Last week, Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan was suspended from the Green Party after failing to support the Government on a Sinn Féin motion on the same issue.

If the Labour Party motion were to pass then TDs would be quickly on the election trail.

It would mean an election in April, Leo Varadkar said yesterday, ratcheting up the stakes in a political poker game.

“You will have to fight for your seat,” he told Richard Boyd Barrett, adding that “most People Before Profit seats will be taken by Sinn Féin”.

The Dáil would be dissolved, but the Government would remain in office until a new administration is formed, he added. Mr Vardakar said he had no fears for his own seat in Dublin West, as he had increased his vote in every election.

After an election next month, if one was forced, the next Dáil wouldn’t meet until May, he said. “And the eviction ban will have lapsed in the meantime.”

That was a simple fact, the Taoiseach said. "So don't try to pretend that by voting no confidence in the Government tomorrow morning, that you're somehow going to stop the eviction ban from lapsing. In fact, you'll make it impossible for it not to lapse.”

Mr Boyd Barrett replied: “If this Government was dissolved, it would at last open up the possibility that we could take the sort of radical emergency measures that are necessary to address the housing crisis.

“We could finally depart from the failed strategy that successive Fine Gael governments have pursued in favouring the interests of speculators, developers, vulture funds and corporate landlords who are profiteering and benefiting from the housing misery that tens of thousands of people are suffering.”

The Taoiseach earlier denied that 4,000 notices to quit will result in the same number homeless or in emergency accommodation, insisting: “There were 50,000 new tenancies created last year in Ireland.”

He was reacting to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, saying the Government was opposing her party’s Bill to extend the eviction ban for another year.

“We're putting down a reasoned amendment setting out our plan, what we have done already, and what we're going to do in the months ahead,” the Taoiseach said.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said it was “like some kind of a sick joke” that it had taken the LDA five years to come up with an audit of State property, when the Taoiseach had said that it would be a “game-changer” and that it would “hit the ground running”.

The Taoiseach said the Government had built more social housing last year “than at any time in my lifetime or in yours”. The LDA was already building on public land, he said.

Mr Varadkar admitted: “It has got off to a slow start, but it is now getting things done.” He noted that the Social Democrats had opposed the LDA legislation and questioned whether her party would abolish the agency. He said he fully expect it, in time, to be “as much of a game-changer as the ESB or the IDA".

Ms Cairns said attempts to attack the opposition on the issue lacked all credibility. “We all know it isn’t the opposition’s fault.” Mr Varadkar said it was dishonest politics to try to put that across, and told her not to put words in his mouth.

He had never blamed the opposition for the housing crisis, he said, telling Ms Cairns however that it was “a little bit precious to say that nobody can say anything back to you, that you shouldn’t be open to scrutiny”.