Ministers defend ending evictions ban, arguing government ‘chose housing supply’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that more would be done in the Budget for landlords to encourage them to stay in the sector.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe (left) and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the opening of the new Garda Station on O’Connell Street in Dublin Picture date: Friday March 10, 2023.

By Cillian Sherlock, David Young and Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Ministers have admitted “agonising” over their decision to end the eviction ban at the end of the month, in the face of warnings that the move could significantly increase homelessness.

Justice Minister Simon Harris said it was a “challenging week”, but that the government had chosen “genuine housing supply”, while Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said the decision “weighed heavily” on government.

Despite fierce criticism of the move, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is not “unduly concerned” about the government losing its majority in the Dail if coalition TDs rebel against the decision.

Speaking in Dublin’s city centre, he also said the government intended to do more in the autumn budget to support landlords.

“I don’t think what we’ve done is enough in that regard,” he said.

“We’re still seeing landlords leaving the market at a faster rate than they’re coming in and we need to turn that around, so there’s more landlords coming into the market than they’re leaving.

“We need more landlords because we need more places for people to rent and we are working now on proposals in advance of the next budget to encourage landlords to stay in and also more to come in and offer property for rent.”

He also fully backed Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien as he insisted the scale of the problem was more fundamental than who was in charge of addressing it.

“I think it’s a little bit simplistic to say that you appoint any one individual as a minister and they’re going to be able to solve the housing crisis,” he said.

“It’s a very difficult problem and I think reducing it to which person is minister, which party is in government or who cares more, that just misunderstands the seriousness of the housing crisis and diminishes it I think.”

Mr Harris said that the problem was not as simple as portraying the government as choosing landlords over tenants.

“The government chose genuinely housing supply, the government chose making sure that there are enough homes,” Mr Harris said.

“We have to be honest with people here in relation to this eviction ban, you are trying to weigh up lots of different issues including making sure that there was rental supply and we’ve seen a very significant fall off in rental supply.

“The government also made a number of other decisions this week, including indicating very clearly to people who do own a second home or maybe a small landlord that we are going to bring forward supports for them in the budget to encourage them to stay in the market.

“So I know this was a very difficult and challenging week. There is now that window of time I think to see an acceleration of the supports that we have in place for local authorities to buy up homes.”

He added: “Even during the temporary eviction ban, we did actually see homelessness grow. So I mean, this really is a very stark reminder of the fact that the way out of the housing crisis is around supply and government in all conscience couldn’t stand over a measure that we know was continuing to have a contracting effect on housing supply.”

Mr Donohoe accepted that there would be “difficult consequences” as a result of not extending the ban, but added that if it had been extended, “the challenges of today would become even harder tomorrow”.

He said the government had introduced more than 5,000 new social homes in recent months.

We need to do more, we need to do better

Paschal Donohoe

Asked about reports that local authorities in Dublin purchased just 13 out of 400 properties that were offered in recent months under the tenant-in-situ scheme, Mr Donohoe said it had been agreed with the Minister for Housing that more money would be made available to local authorities for the scheme.

“We’ll spare no effort in making sure they’re clear regarding the money that is available to them,” he told RTE Radio.

Mr Donohoe said the budgetary decisions he made on housing were “right”, but said he accepted “responsibility for where our country stands”.

However, he said that government delivered on its housing targets last year.

“For December and January, we’ve had more commencement notices, which is new houses being built per month, than we’ve ever had before,” he said.

“But we need to do more, we need to do better,” he added.

Mr Donohoe is expected to bring an update on the National Development Plan to Cabinet soon.

Asked about funding for 58 school building projects that were paused this week, Mr Donohoe said government needed to look at all capital projects and make sure “funding is in place to deliver them all”.

He said he would work with the Minister for Education on the school projects in the coming weeks.

“We’re going ahead with a very ambitious school programme already which has lots of new schools being open at the moment,” he said.

“There are some delays but it is to be expected when you are investing over 12 billion euro in delivering new projects that not every project unfolds in the way we want,” he added.

He said changes in the cost of raw materials and the war in Ukraine provided challenges to delivering projects.