Thursday, 30 July 2020
Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Richard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
I have a better view from here to prevent skullduggery. I also want to respond to the Minister because, to be honest, I do not know what he is talking about when he suggests that this is a comprehensive Bill to protect tenants. This Bill dismantles the protections that were put in place to deal with the emergency and maintains protections for only a small cohort of tenants who have fallen into rent arrears. We must remember that some of the people who might have fallen into arrears have not done so solely because they have made great efforts to continue to pay their rent and the rent supplement scheme was available to them. Not many people have fallen into arrears. The issue here is that it is not safe to evict people from a public health point of view during a pandemic of the sort we are now facing. That is the problem. The Minister did not address that point on Second Stage when it was made repeatedly and he is not addressing it now.
Prior to the pandemic, evictions on the grounds of sale, refurbishment and so on were one of the major causes of family homelessness which has steadily risen to an unprecedented and historic level.
It was a shame and a scandal for which the Minister, among others, regularly decried the last Government. With the passage of the Bill, the Government is allowing a return to a situation whereby people will be evicted for the same reasons that have led to record numbers of people being homeless. It will have compounded the awfulness and unacceptability of that with something even worse.
Not only will the Bill open the door to people being made homeless again, it will do so in a situation where there is a very substantial risk to the health and lives of people who are evicted. Many will be put into shared homeless accommodation, much of which is very unsuitable, where the likelihood of becoming infected with Covid-19 is much greater than it would be if people were in their own homes. The Government is risking vulnerable people's health. It is also risking the wider public health by doing that. As we know, when a few people get infected there is a possibility of wider infection.
The Government is directly undermining the public health effort and endangering people. While prior to Covid-19 it was unacceptable that people had to live in overcrowded conditions, couch surf with family or friends or, even worse, be put out on the streets, such things are now a danger to health given the pandemic. I do not know how the Government can justify that. If we are faced with a second wave of Covid-19 and infection rates begin to rise, the cohort of people who can now potentially be evicted will be really vulnerable. That is shameful. The Minister has not addressed that fact. He is opening the door to it.