Wexford Minister James Browne defends lifting of eviction ban – ‘extending it would simply make matters worse’

‘I genuinely believe that lifting the eviction ban is the right thing to do. If we don’t do it now, we’ll be facing even more problems for more families down the line.’

Wexford Minister of State James Browne.

Pádraig ByrneWexford People

When he pressed the button to vote with his party and the government to lift the current ban on evictions at the end of the month, Fianna Fáil Minister of State James Browne was all too aware that it would plunge some families into an incredibly difficult situation.

Although he has massive concerns for what may be coming down the tracks post March 31, he feels strongly that the government has made the right decision, albeit a difficult one.

"The eviction ban was always meant to be a short-term measure to get us through the winter,” he said. “I’m confident that extending it would simply make matters worse. There would be an even bigger build-up of people facing eviction all at the one time.”

Housing charities warned that the decision to lift the eviction ban at this point, while there is a massive shortfall of rental properties nationally, would have disastrous consequences and would lead to “unprecedented” numbers of adults and children becoming homeless.

As a result, those in opposition immediately and strongly called for the ban on evictions to be extended. Minister Browne, however, says that this is no solution at all.

"Sinn Féin’s proposal was to extend the ban until next Christmas. But then what? Are we going to lift it and open up evictions again at Christmas? Their proposed solution is no solution at all.

"If we extend this eviction ban, it will make things much worse. More landlords will leave the market. It might be the populist move in the short term, but it would make even more problems in the medium term.

"More supply is the only answer here and we are working on that at a significant level. But there’s a massive backlog there going back over ten years in terms of the non-delivery of houses.”

Although that last statement is accepted, it’s worth noting that of those last ten years, Fianna Fáil have been in coalition for three, while their government partners Fine Gael were in power for the previous nine.

When this point was made to Minister Browne, he replies: “There was not enough houses built under the previous two governments. ‘Housing for All’ is a year old and it’s already seen a dramatic increase.”

Regardless, the decision taken by the Dáil on a majority of 83 votes to 68 to end the eviction ban is one which Minister Browne knows will cause problems, but he firmly believes it’s the lesser of two evils.

"This is going to create a very difficult situation for individual families, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But those difficulties were there before the eviction ban too.

"The whole situation is a massive cause for concern. I’m dealing with families in these difficult situations myself every week through my constituency office and we do what we can for them and will continue to do so.

"There is no easy solution here. It was not a comfortable decision to make and I wish there was an easier and better solution. While the opposition’s proposal may seem like the easy solution, it will simply make things worse.

However, the Enniscorthy TD stresses that this is not a decision he takes lightly.

“Make no mistake, this is a very big concern for me too and anything I can do to help people in the coming weeks, I will do,” he said. “But the only solution to this is increasing supply and we’re making massive strides in terms of the level of house building going on.

"It’s very easy for the likes of Sinn Féin to sit there and decry the government, but what workable alternative are they putting forward? They haven’t provided that. Meanwhile, we have the opposition parties objecting to thousands of houses being built all over the country in a housing crisis. It’s hypocrisy is what it is.”

Acknowledging that he and his government colleagues are in for a bumpy couple of weeks with more families likely to present as homeless and provoke an even greater backlash, Minister Browne stands by his decision.

"I genuinely believe that lifting the eviction ban is the right thing to do,” he said. “If we don’t do it now, we’ll be facing even more problems for more families down the line.”