A Sinn Féin motion calling for the eviction ban to be re-instated at Cork City Council, was narrowly defeated after a war of words erupted between councillors.
There were heated exchanges between pro-government and opposition members during a lengthy debate on a motion forwarded byMick Nugent, Kenneth Collins, Fiona Kerins, and Eolan Ryng.
Sinn Féin members called on Cork City Council to “reaffirm its stance on the need for an extension of the eviction moratorium and (to) write to the Minister for Housing requesting he progress legislation to reinstate the ban immediately, to be in place until January 31, 2024.”
During cross exchanges, Fianna Fáil councillor Seán Martin was criticised for reading from an article called, Are you hoping for class warfare, where the squeezed middle is expected to give away its right to hold property?
Statistics show that 80% of landlords attain less than €20,000 per year, and that in the last five years, 43,000 landlords left the market. Smaller landlords should not be chased out of the market, Independent councillor Kieran McCarthy said.
Workers Party councillor Ted Tynan said the lifting of the evictions ban was an “inhumane act”. People he met were absolutely distressed about the future. One mother’s child he knew, will spend their first day at school homeless. The “bubble” he lived in is completely different from that occupied by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, he said.
Mr Tynan said the State has an obligation to protect citizens from business-related abuse.
“There are 20,000 families in Cork City alone, who don’t qualify for the public housing waiting list, and who don’t earn enough to buy their own homes. So, what’s the future for those 20,000 families? It’s frightening.”
There was plenty of criticism levelled at government ministers. “That housing crisis has come from the fact that rent has increased in price for over a decade,” said An Rabhharta Glas councillor Lorna Bogue. Cork City Council needs to have adequate resources to address the crisis, she said. “The figure of 475 is the quarterly number of eviction notices for Cork City in the last quarter of last year, but only 135 are actually valid.” Twice that number are coming down the tracks, she said.
It was Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin, and Eamon Ryan, who voted to lift the ban, “against, I would suspect, the better wishes of the vast majority of members of their parties,” said Ms Bogue.
The Green Party’s councillor Colette Finn said, since the 1970s, the price for land has skyrocketed. “We need a constitutional referendum on housing because people have to have shelter,” she said.
Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon said his party believes in home ownership. When the ban was brought in, no party was against it, he said. “Sinn Féin wanted to lift the ban on Christmas week. Others said, ‘let’s extend it for a bit longer’.”
Sinn Féin had voted with the DUP in Belfast to vote down a proposal to reduce private rents by 10%, he said.
“Half your members had to leave the chamber, because they were either landlords or had interests in AirBnbs,” he said.
Mr Shannon described Sinn Féin as “partitionist” in their housing policies. “No one will purchase their council house under a Sinn Féin government and remember that.”
Some 66,000 houses have been built in the State since the Government was returned to power, while none have been built in the six counties, where there is massive unemployment, added Mr Shannon.
Fine Gael councillor Shane O’Callaghan said it is a “massive restriction on the right to property” and his concern is that an extension of another year would be the “thin end of a wedge”.
Another long ban would lead to a mass exodus of small landlords from the market as soon as they are able to do so. Their place would be taken by hedge funds and multi-billionaires. “That’s back to the feudal system,” he said. “That’s a nightmare scenario.”
Director of housing Niall Ó Donnabháin, said there is a “human story behind every notice of termination. We are addressing them at the human level.”