Thursday, 30 July 2020
Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:“(2) (a) The Government may from time to time by order extend the emergency period, either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision, for such period as it considers appropriate if it is satisfied that, having regard to the threat to public health presented by Covid-19 and the need to mitigate the economic effects arising from that disease, the making of such order is in the public interest.
(b) Every order under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the order is passed by either such House within the next 21 days on which that House sits after the order is laid before it, the order shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.”.
Most of our amendments speak for themselves so I do not intend to have a prolonged debate. We have made our speeches and we know what is at stake. Our amendment clearly outlines our demand that the emergency period be extended. I am interested to hear the Minister's response to that.
I thank the Deputies for their amendment and I understand the reason for which it was tabled. However, I cannot accept the Labour Party amendment to provide the Government with power to extend the new emergency period. I am of the view, as I stated on Second Stage, that all parties should have an input into any further legislation required in this area. I commit to facilitating that.
Strong primary legislation is my preference and that of the Government. Continuing extension of the legislation under emergency powers is not a robust way in which to provide the security and additional support that we need for our tenants, particularly the targeted group I am looking to assist by way of this primary legislation. The position of tenants on 1 August is different to their position on 27 March. I expect that, come 10 January next year, which is the date to which these protections are being extended, their position will again be changed. I hope this will be for the better and that this country will be changed for the better. I hope there will be no further need for the emergency protections contained in the Bill come next January. I refer only to the emergency provisions, not the permanent ones that I have also brought forward in this Bill. Covid has brought much uncertainty, as we all know, and we will need to work together between now and then to ensure the best outcome for a tenant. I look forward to the establishment of the Oireachtas joint committee on housing.
I expect there will be input from that committee in a very structured way in terms of how we move forward on these issues.
To be clear, the Bill I have brought forward extends the current protections through to 10 January next year for the most vulnerable people but it also introduces permanent changes, particularly in respect of rent arrears, getting the Residential Tenancies Board involved at a much earlier stage and getting the Money Advice & Budgeting Service involved to help tenants and ensure they do not go into arrears. I take this opportunity to say, once again, that if anybody is struggling with paying his or her rent due to his or her salary, wage or income being reduced or because he or she has lost his or her job, he or she should access the emergency rent supplement payment. It is there to assist such people and they should avail of it. We should all be of the view that any protections that are brought forward should be for the minority of cases. In some of the debate that has taken place heretofore, there has been a sense that the cases we are discussing are the majority position and that everyone is under threat. That is not the case and everybody is not under threat. We must try to target the measures we put in place at those who need them most. We will need to review the situation at the end of the year. I hope to bring forward further targeted protections, should they be needed.
Chris Andrews, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Richard Bruton, Pat Buckley, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Neasa Hourigan, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, John McGuinness, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, lines 6 to 8, to delete all words from and including “serves” in line 6 down to and including line 8 and substitute “in the opinion of the Board—”.
Section 4 of the Bill is the section that seeks to substantially narrow the scope of protections for tenants from the existing emergency provisions to those who have had their income reduced as a result of the impact of Covid-19 and who have rent arrears and, therefore, face a significant risk of losing their tenancy. The amendments to which I want to speak, amendments Nos. 2 and 3, deal with one specific provision of the section which relates to the requirement for tenants who fall into this category to write a declaration and submit it to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and to their landlord. These amendments also deal with section 4(1)(b), where in writing the statement tenants have to demonstrate that they are at "significant risk" of losing their tenancy.
During the Second Stage debate, several of us in the Opposition highlighted that requiring tenants, particularly vulnerable ones, to submit a written declaration causes major problems. Many tenants in the private rental sector, particularly at the lower end, have significant capacity issues. They could have mental health or addiction problems or language or literacy issues. While the Minister was right to state that some of those tenants can access the very good services available from the Citizen Information Board, Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, or the constituency clinics of many Teachtaí, not all those tenants can do that. We know that from the record. Requiring tenants to declare, therefore, is putting all the responsibility and onus on the tenants. Threshold recently produced research by Dr. Michael Byrne of UCD which made a compelling case that protection systems requiring tenants to declare, rather than giving them automatic protections, are always substantially weaker.
My amendment No. 2 simply removes the requirement to have such written declarations and allows the Residential Tenancies Board to make that decision based on the information it has before it, as it would ordinarily do. Amendment No.3 seeks to remove the word "significant" from the section concerning the risk to a tenancy. There is no legal definition of "significant risk" in this Bill, so nobody knows what that term means. It should be a simple case of if there is a risk to someone's tenancy, whether for rent arrears or for any other reason other than significant anti-social behaviour or wilful non-payment of rent, then the RTB should be able to grant all the protections that heretofore have been available during the emergency period, namely, a ban on evictions, notices to quit and rent increases.
I know the Minister is not going to accept these amendments, but those of us who want to maintain a strong, broad set of protections for renters at this crucial time of economic and health emergency should support these amendments.
I will be quick. Regarding the issues outlined by Deputy Ó Broin, we in the Labour Party will support this amendment. I also want to record my gratitude and that of my party to the Minister, Deputy Harris, for recognising the literacy issues in this State. Some 17.9% of Irish adults are functionally illiterate, and these are the people who we are asking to navigate the housing schemes we put through the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is why we support this amendment and that is why I was glad to see the Minister, Deputy Harris, recognise the situation regarding literacy this morning. We need to work collectively to ensure we have measures, legislation and documents that can be accessed by all the citizens who desperately need these services.
I support the amendment as well. The protections we have put in place during the Covid-19 crisis have led to a reduction in the homeless figures. In Cork and the south-west, we have seen those figures reduce from 111 people in January to 84 people last month. That shows that the protections we put in place worked. Why would we row back on them now? That is why this amendment is so important.
We need to give protection to renters. Families are being evicted under the guise of renovation of properties and people are being moved out of houses for no good reason. Those are people who are paying their rent and who have good behaviour in society, but they have no protection. We are stating that it is necessary to ban evictions because we are reducing homelessness.
When I raised this matter as a councillor on Cork City Council as the homeless figures kept going up, officials told me the single biggest contributory factor to homelessness in Cork was evictions by landlords under the guises of selling houses or renovations. That is morally wrong. The people who are forcing individuals out for those reasons are corrupting the system to suit themselves. Renters need fairness and there should be no evictions for the reasons I have outlined.
I will be brief. I am supporting this amendment. The Minister knows my views on this issue as I made them clear on an earlier Stage. There are good landlords and good tenants, and that is the majority of people. Then there are some rogue landlords and some tenants with whom people have major issues. They have used the Covid-19 situation to help themselves as well. I believe, however, that extra time is needed for these protections and the relief they have provided during the Covid-19 crisis has helped. Those protections should be extended.
For the genuine information of Deputy McGrath, no one is looking for an extension in this grouping of amendments. I will put section 4 in context first, and then I will deal with some of the queries and points raised by other Members. It might be helpful if I set out the purpose of section 4 of the Bill. I wish to make it clear to those who tabled amendments on behalf of the Opposition, however, that I will not be accepting them. I will be moving the Government amendment to this section which is also one of those in this grouping. I refer to amendment No. 17.
Section 4 of the Bill provides that Part 2 shall not apply unless the tenant makes a written declaration that he or she is unable to comply with his or her obligations to pay rent. On the issue regarding literacy and the ability to swear a declaration, this is a self-declaration. Further on, my amendment will allow this to be done electronically as well. That is one of the Government amendments to this section. Much advice and assistance is provided by Members of this House, MABS, the Citizens Information centres etc.. We intended that a public information campaign would accompany the passing of this Bill. These are real protections for a targeted group.
Section 4 will not apply unless the tenant makes a written declaration that he or she is unable to comply with his or her obligations to pay rent because he or she was temporarily out of work due to having contracted Covid-19 without entitlement to be paid by his or her employer, or he or she was in receipt or entitled to have received the temporary wage support subsidy, TWSS, or "any other payment out of public moneys provided for by or under statute, paid for the purpose of alleviating financial hardship resulting from the loss of employment occasioned by" the impact of Covid-19, including the rent supplement and-or any other supplementary welfare allowance and, as a consequence, he or she is at a significant risk that his or her tenancy will be terminated by his or her landlord.
Such a declaration will be served on the Residential Tenancies Board and copied to the landlord and it shall be an offence to make a false or misleading declaration. The Government has not included any superfluous provision in section 4. Every word of every line in section 4 has been carefully considered from a policy and, most important, legal perspective.
I simply cannot accept the Opposition's proposed amendments. The law here needs to be strong and these changes need to be on a primary legislative footing. What has been proposed by others is to continue the emergency powers under the emergency Act. That is not tenable because it is not a strong foundation to provide the protections that we need for the targeted group of people who are the most vulnerable in this sector.
The declaration and associated offence provisions are required. The Bill does not require the declaration to be made at any particular point in time and it is important that people know that a declaration can be made after the event. With the passage of this Bill, people who have been in arrears, people who believe they are in danger of falling into arrears and those who have been in receipt of these payments at a previous stage can declare now. I am referring to the Labour Party's amendment No. 14 when I say that. I believe the Government's provisions are a little stronger than those sought in the amendment, and I say that respectfully.
The key focus is to assist tenants who are faced with adverse economic impacts on foot of the Covid-19 pandemic and, as a result, find themselves unable to pay their rent and at a significant risk of the tenancy being terminated. We need to target State assistance at those tenants who need it.
I will move amendment No. 17, the Government amendment in this group. It inserts a new section 7 to clarify that any tenant can email the required declaration under section 4 to the RTB in order to benefit from the protections under this Bill during the new emergency period, which is defined as running until 10 January 2021. The Government wants to make it as easy as possible for tenants to get the help they need when faced with rent arrears. The RTB will provide a template declaration for tenants and I have instructed it to ensure the declaration is accessible and written in plain English. New communities will not be forgotten in this either and assistance will be provided and help made available for every single tenant.
Where the landlord consents, a tenant can serve the required declaration by electronic means. Not all landlords will have an email address so the tenant may have to post the declaration to the landlord. That is more of a procedural issue.
The effect of Deputy Ó Broin's amendment No. 2 would be to swamp the board by the removal of the provision for a declaration to be served. It would result in blanket coverage that would be legally unsound. I think the Deputy knows that. These measures must be focused.
I have also noted that provisions introduced in other jurisdictions do not go nearly as far as those we are providing for here. The only change made in the North allowed for the notice period to increase from four weeks to 12 weeks. There was nothing further. The Sinn Féin Minister for Communities introduced that change. The provisions the Government is introducing are much more sound and much stronger than those in the North.
We have considered the amendments with an open mind to see whether they would improve the legislation. I have concluded, respectfully, that they would not improve it and would, in fact, further complicate matters. Our measures must be targeted at those who need them, the people we discussed at length on Second Stage. Other parties have brought forward ideas on this and other legislation. Another Bill that was tabled by Deputy Ó Broin made no reference to protection from evictions in any way, shape or form. That one-page Sinn Féin Bill dealt only with rent freezes. This Bill is comprehensive legislation that will protect those who need protection.
I will not be accepting the amendments tabled by the Opposition and I will move amendment No. 17.
I would like to respond briefly to the Minister. I had not intended to respond but since the Minister repeated some of the factually inaccurate information he provided on Second Stage, I thought I should do so. I know the Minister does not pay much attention to the powers and functions of the Northern Assembly but if he did, he would know that the assembly does not have the legal authority to introduce the kind of legislation a sovereign parliament does. It cannot, for example, legally ban evictions. Under the current legislative provisions, the extension introduced by my colleague in the North, the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, was the maximum legally permissible. We would like to see many other protections introduced in the North and the South. However, in the North, these are a matter for Westminster and it is not within our gift to impose them but why let the facts get in the way of a good argument?
At no stage have I suggested that the one-page Bill I published is Sinn Féin's comprehensive response to the crisis; in fact, the opposite is the case. That is a simple Bill to do a simple thing, namely, ban all rent increases for a period of three years. Following lengthy legal consultation, I believe that is constitutionally sound. Sinn Féin has submitted three other Bills that are currently with the Bills Office and a number of policy papers which are far more robust than anything the Minister has introduced or, I suspect, will introduce.
Let us be clear about what is being proposed here. Fianna Fáil's proposal, which other parties will support, will dramatically reduce the protections for renters in the private rental sector to one small, narrow group of people. That group needs protection and I have no difficulty with that.
A woman from County Kerry, which is not my constituency, rang me after the Second Stage debate. Her income has been impacted by Covid-19 but she is not in rent arrears because she has made enormous sacrifices to ensure the rent continues to be paid. She will not get a single protection from this Bill. The day after it is passed, she will be faced with potential rent increases and a possible notice to quit. The Minister can shake his head but that is what this Bill does. If Fianna Fáil is satisfied to remove vital protections from large numbers of tenants who will need them in the coming months, that is fine, but the Minister should not misrepresent what I and my colleague in the assembly, Deirdre Hargey, are doing to justify his poor support for hard-pressed renters.
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.
I want to speak to the amendment. The Bill is dressed up to appear as if it is only dealing with matters related to Covid-19. However, centuries of legislation will be abolished to appease vulture funds who evict Irish families. Chapter 3 relates to a very important decision in the Court of Appeal recently on the admissibility of hearsay, Promontoria v. Burns. The case took in all of the other relevant authorities and, in effect, gave the vultures and receivers a route to court and a more than credible defence in terms of how they might present the alleged evidence.
The Bill is going through the House at breakneck speed. The Burns case was heard in April and the Bill was proposed in July. The Government not only wants to kill the decision in the Burns case in its it entirety, but also make it easier to take evidence from third parties in civil proceedings which would make the system a free-for-all. People do not have to identify where they got information from. All that is required is that they believe it to be true and that should be good enough, according to the Bill as worded.
The Bill cannot and should not be allowed to be passed in its current form. It is a blatant attempt to further the cause of vulture funds and receivers, in particular, who have been finding the courts a much rockier road of late. Chapter 3 needs to be amended accordingly or discarded.
The Minister has said that he wants the Bill to be targeted. However, there are two groups of tenants and renters who should be included in the Bill but are not. The first group comprises vulnerable tenants at risk of homelessness and of addiction who do not fall under the protections in the Bill and have not been on a Covid-19 related payment or have not been out of work due to Covid-19. Plenty of vulnerable tenants at risk of homelessness do not fall into that category.
This second problem is that a large number of low-paid workers worked during the pandemic and have not been out of work or in receipt of Covid-19-related payments or the WSS. They have kept our supermarkets going, stacked shelves and manned the checkouts. They have worked as care assistants and cleaners or in meat plants. None of these people receive protection under the Bill.
We know from research recently published by the ESRI that low-paid workers in different sectors are most at risk in terms of Covid-19 and are more likely to have underlying health conditions. These groups should have targeted supports, if that is the measure the Minister wants to go for, but they are not provided for in the Bill. All tenants and renters should be protected under this Bill and in any other measures. If the Minister wanted to take a targeted approach, he knows that those groups of renters need protection but are not covered in the Bill.
That is okay. All of us earnestly hope that a second wave does not present itself. If that does happen, we will consider the public health measures that would be required.
The ESRI research is independent, rather than a survey on a party's website that asks people to click on a link. It has signalled the issue of potential and actual rent arrears. That is why the Bill focuses directly on that cohort of people. The Bill puts on a primary legislative footing the protections that are needed for those who need them most. The continuation of provisions under emergency legislation, regardless of whether people like it, were open to challenge and weak. That is why we need specific measures in the Bill targeted at those who need them most.
I make the point to Eoin that the Sinn Féin Bill that has been published consists of only one page. There may be others in preparation. It did not go to the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers either. One would have expected if there were other measures that other parties thought should be brought forward from a legislative perspective, they might have prioritised them and brought them forward in the same manner as I and the Government have prioritised this Bill.
I discussed the Bill at length on Second Stage and responded to all of the queries raised in a 30-minute summation. There are two Government amendments. I have responded to this group of amendments. The Government will not accept Opposition amendments. As I said, we intend to move amendment No. 17.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 5, to delete lines 14 and 15.
I wish to correct the Minister. Section 4(1)(b), as drafted, does not allow for a declaration by a tenant after the event. I want the Minister to correct his assertion. Unless something is in law and written down in black and white, the Minister's comments on the floor of the House only travel so far.
Many of us are frustrated by attempts to criminalise in respect of any aspect of public policy unless it is absolutely necessary. I spend a significant amount of my time trying to ensure that those living with addiction are not criminalised because of the lives they lead and the difficult circumstances they are going through. In the Bill only one cohort of person on either side of the tenant and landlord relationship has the potential to be criminalised on the back of a what is termed a "false declaration", namely, a tenant.
On that basis, we feel strongly that lines 14 and 15 on page 5 should be deleted and we will press this amendment. I am interested to hear not only what the Minister, but also my colleagues from Solidarity-People Before Profit, have to say.
The amendment seeks to delete the Government proposal to make it a criminal offence to deliberately and intentionally give false information on a declaration that would say that one's income has been hit by the Covid-19 crisis and, as a result, one is in rent arrears. The Government is creating a situation where a person can face eviction and then, on top of that, face criminal charges for giving a declaration that is false or misleading. Why would someone give a declaration that was false or misleading? There are many reasons that might be the case, one being that someone does not understand exactly what is going on. Perhaps there are issues with language or with a person reading what is put in front of him or her. I made the point in a previous discussion that many renters are immigrants who do not have English as a first language. Many are people who, because of the neglect in the education system, are functionally illiterate. Mistakes can be made and someone then faces not just eviction, but potentially a criminal charge.
There is another scenario were someone would give a false declaration. A person, perhaps on a low income, may face not just eviction for themselves but for their family in the middle of a pandemic. Someone might give false information to protect and prevent their family being on the streets and I would not condemn them for doing that. I have no hesitation in saying that. I would not condemn someone who protects their partner and kids for giving a false declaration. The Minister is shaking his head. That situation will arise and the Minister is in favour-----
The Minister is in favour of a criminal charge against someone in that situation. There are reasons people give false information. Sometimes it is for the best of reasons. Protecting one's family and children is a pretty strong reason. This proposal should be withdrawn. If the Government is not prepared to withdraw it, I am prepared to press it.
It is just seeing as we were discussing procedure.
This is one law for the poor and one law for the rich. There are a number of examples, which I have cited regularly, of vulture funds using loopholes in the Residential Tenancies Act which were designed or left - I do not know - by the previous Government, and the Government before that, to facilitate vulture funds and unscrupulous landlords in evicting people.
Tenants in these situations have successfully challenged and exposed the dishonesty of the vulture funds, as has happened on two or three occasions in the St. Helen's Court complex that I have told the Minister about. It was clear that the claim for refurbishment the vulture fund was using to evict people was completely bogus. It did not need to evict people to do the refurbishments. In fact, when one looked at the apartments being refurbished it was clear they did not need to be refurbish them at all, or the refurbishments were so minor that eviction was certainly not required.
Most people in the block were tenants of the vulture fund but one or two were private owners and, strangely enough, the electrical works the fund claimed justified evicting people would have required the entire complex, including the privately-owned apartments, to have been vacated if it fund was telling the truth to the RTB. Of course, ourselves, Threshold and the tenants pointed out to the RTB that the vulture fund was lying. The board agreed in that case and the effort to mass evict those tenants fell on that ground. This was the second time the vulture fund tried to evict them and then there was a third attempt. It ground down half of the tenants who left and said they could take it anymore, even though it was clear the vulture fund was lying to the tenants and the RTB. All it wanted to do was get the tenants out, get vacant possession and maximise the value of the property or dramatically increase the rent and get around the rent caps.
I talked to the Minister about intervening and buying that block. There is a possibility the vulture fund is lying about planning to sell it. We should test it out and I hope the Minister will. There is a possibility that the company is a shell company operating on behalf of other people. A lot of funny stuff is going on but these people will not be criminalised, yet somebody who tries to prevent themselves and their family from being evicted into homelessness, particularly, during a public health pandemic, will be. I would do anything from my family. Would the Minister not do anything to stop his family being put out on the street, by a landlord he knew was evicting him to make money, if he knew that was the alternative? We are talking about people who are driven by money wanting to maximise the profit they can make out of a property and are willing to put families and children out on street, particularly, in the midst of a pandemic. If I was in that situation, I would do anything to protect my children. The Minister wants to criminalise them, which is shocking.
Fianna Fáil is a republican party. What does he think small peasant farmers did when faced with British landlords trying to throw them off the land? Would he say they might have been a bit dishonest with the landlords who were trying to evict them for whatever reason? They might have been, but we would mostly sympathise with them in trying to resist those evictions. It really is shocking that while these greed-driven vulture funds and unscrupulous landlords will be allowed to do whatever they want to do to get people out for money, they will not be criminalised if they happen to be dishonest in their efforts to do that.
However, a household that is doing nothing more than trying to ensure they are not made homeless in the middle of a pandemic will be criminalised. The Minister should accept our amendment and recognise that this represents gross double standards. It is applying different standards to the rich and powerful as against the standards being applied to vulnerable people trying to keep a roof over their head.
I am happy to support amendment No. 4, which is a much clearer and stronger amendment than mine. I fully concur with Opposition colleagues. Based on his comments so far, one would assume the Minister will not accept amendment No. 4. I ask him to look at the wording of this section of the Bill, which refers to a criminal offence where somebody provides information that is false or misleading. The dictionary definition of "false" suggests that there is intent, that somebody intentionally falsifies something. However, "misleading" is a much vaguer term. Someone could mislead unintentionally or accidentally without full knowledge. Therefore, at a minimum I ask the Minister to consider my amendment No. 5, which would require at the base level the threshold of proof being that somebody did this intentionally. I listened carefully to Deputy Barry and I agree with his sentiments. That is why I am happier to support amendment No. 4. The word "misleading" is very vague and open. Somebody without any intention whatsoever could provide information which is argued to be misleading and therefore could be criminalised.
I thank the Deputies for raising their various points. I will shortly deal with the specific queries Deputy Boyd Barrett had. Swearing a declaration is not a new provision. It is illegal to make a false declaration. That is not new and refers to a previous Act. In instances where somebody unintentionally does so, the RTB will obviously have discretion and will be asked to exercise its judgment for any unintentional or genuine mistakes that are made. That absolutely will not be an issue.
I cannot accept any Opposition amendments to section 4 of the Bill. Every line and every word in section 4 has been carefully considered from a legal and policy perspective. The law needs to be strong. The declaration is key to activate the significant protections under the Bill. Making any false or misleading declaration is a serious matter. It is a serious matter if somebody falsely makes a declaration. The associated offence provision is required to counter any temptation to do so. As I have said, if a genuine mistake is made, the RTB will exercise its judgment in that regard. We need to be fair. The provisions that are coming in will endure until 10 January 2021 for a very significant number of tenants.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin asked about the retrospective nature. I refer him to section 5(4) which deals with the retrospective application of the declarations. I am satisfied that is covered. I cannot accept those amendments.
Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke to me about St. Helen's Court and we spoke again just a couple of days ago. I understand part of that is still under investigation by the RTB. Incidentally, it is an offence for landlords. I say this very strongly and I intend to follow it up. Where grounds of sale or refurbishment are being used spuriously or erroneously, landlords need to be prosecuted. That should not be allowed to happen. I will specifically look at the development the Deputy raised with me. I know there may have been an issue with getting correspondence from his office. I give that commitment.
As Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I have put out a call for housing, specifically focused on those who may be at risk of homelessness or those who are homeless now. I have asked our local authorities, through the Housing Agency to purchase properties particularly focusing on one-bedroom units because 70% of adults who are homeless are single people and there is not enough accommodation to satisfy that demand. We are pushing that very hard this year. Even though we lost nearly eight weeks in the public sector construction of homes due to the Covid crisis, I am also pushing the local authorities to do everything we possibly and physically can to meet the exacting targets set out by them on delivery of new builds and properties through the approved housing bodies, AHBs and through turnkeys.
I have set up two specific units which I chair every Monday morning. The first meeting is on homelessness at 8 a.m. and the second meeting is on housing delivery immediately afterwards with partners in this sector, such as Threshold, Simon and De Paul. All those people do a lot of really good work and support the work of Government and this Dáil in assisting people who need help and those who have fallen into homelessness. It is an absolute priority for me.
Another priority for me and for the Government is to ensure we have robust focused measures to protect tenants and this Bill does that.
In that context and as I said, I will not accept amendments Nos. 4 and 5.
The Labour Party has an issue with the lopsided nature of the Bill. Somebody who owns property with a tenant in his or her property can play the game and get away with it by making declarations which many people know to be a half-truth, a non-truth or a blatant lie. That person will not end up with a criminal sanction under the provisions of this Bill, but the tenants who try to keep their family together, as other people have mentioned, face criminal sanction on top of potential eviction. That is why we feel so strongly about it and will press the amendment to a vote.
Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Neasa Hourigan, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.
Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 5, to delete lines 16 to 18 and substitute the following:
"(3) Section 6 of the Act of 2004 is amended, in subsection (1), by the insertion immediately after "this Act" of "orsection 4of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020.".
These are very technical amendments that are just for drafting purposes to tidy up the language. I have nothing further to say on them.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 5, to delete lines 31 to 39, and in page 6, to delete lines 1 to 21 and substitute the following:
"(5) In this section, "relevant person" means any tenant.".
What the Social Democrats' amendment seeks to do is to ensure that the limited provisions of this Bill apply to all tenants. I do not think a single Deputy in this House would disagree with the amendment and would not want to see protections afforded to front-line workers, who have been running our essential services throughout the pandemic, many of whom are in low-paid jobs as carers, cleaners and have been keeping our supermarkets open, at the tills and stacking the shelves. I do not think a single Deputy in this House would not support the limited protections of this Bill applying to them as well. The only way that can happen is for the amendment to be agreed in order that the limited protections in the Bill will apply to all tenants. If the amendment is accepted, it will also help vulnerable tenants who are at risk of eviction into homelessness, who are not covered by the Bill because although they may well be on low income or on low pay, they are not in receipt of a Covid-19 payment, as they have not been out of work due to Covid-19. Such tenants do not receive protections under this Bill and it is vital that this amendment be passed and they are covered.
According to ESRI research, the most vulnerable people in terms of health risks from Covid-19 are people working in lower paid jobs, many of whom are renting privately and are not getting protection under this Bill. I strongly urge every Deputy and party in this House to back the amendment to ensure that front-line workers get the protection and respect they deserve. The entire country feels gratitude to them for keeping our essential services open throughout the pandemic. Backing the amendment will also mean that fewer people get evicted into homelessness.
I support Social Democrats' amendment, but I also wish to speak to amendments Nos. 9, 11 to 13, inclusive, 37 and 38, all of which are mine. This cluster of amendments does something very similar to the amendment moved by Deputy O'Callaghan, albeit in a slightly more elaborate way. While the first amendment is probably the simplest amendment that I have tabled to this Bill, what it seeks to do is very profound, which is to widen the scope of the protections in this legislation to all tenants in the private rented sector.
One argument the Minister has used both on Second Stage and today is that he wants legislation to be legally and constitutionally sound, arguing that the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, which we passed on 27 March, would not have stood that test. I would have no difficulty if the Minister had come to the House with a robust and legally and constitutionally sound Bill to do precisely that, but he has not done so and that is the fundamental problem.
A key provision of the emergency legislation was to prevent the spread of the virus. That was one of the legal underpinnings for the constraining of property rights that was rightfully supported by the House on 27 March. Vacant possession notices to quit have been the single largest cause of family homelessness in recent years. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, and Focus Ireland, through detailed research, have confirmed that to us on a number of occasions. More importantly, according to data from the DRHE for March and April, it witnessed a 56% drop in the number of presentations of families who had received vacant possession notices to quit moving into emergency accommodation, and the measures led to the lowest number of families with children in emergency accommodation in three years. I have spoken to front-line workers in homelessness services in the NGO and local government sector. They have said that more than any other measure, the ban the House agreed to, among others, on vacant possession notices to quit in March was the single greatest contributory factor in that trend.
The reason we should extend that provision is not just that we do not want these families to become homeless, but if they do become homeless, at a time when there is still a significant threat of spread of the virus, they will go into emergency accommodation and congregated residential settings, and the risk of the spread of the virus for those people and anybody they are in contact with will greatly increase. Given that the end of the ban will coincide with the reopening of schools and given that large numbers of children who are currently, or could in the future end up, in emergency accommodation will be going back to school, that risk of spread will be even greater. While I do not want to create alarm or panic, the whole purpose of restricting the flow of families with children into emergency accommodation was public health led. I firmly believe that the original provisions in the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, as passed on 27 March, continue to apply, particularly to those at risk of homelessness or of entering emergency accommodation.
My amendments, Nos. 11 and 12, will do something similar. The former seeks to extend the protections of the Bill to those who have received notices to quit from their landlords and are likely to result in homelessness, and there is a similar provision in amendment No. 12.
Amendment No. 13 is slightly different. In media debates and meetings with landlords in which I have taken part, many of them have rightly raised a concern. It is important that landlords hear that those of us who want to strengthen tenants' rights are not against good landlords who abide by the law and provide a decent service by providing affordable and secure accommodation. Many of us would, of course, much prefer if there were a far greater reliance on the public sector to deliver public housing, but insofar as there is a private rented sector where landlords abide by the rules and give their tenants good service, they should be supported in doing that.
Amendment No. 13 will create a number of very narrow exceptions to the general protections of what I and others in opposition would like to see in the Bill. If, for example, there is a tenant with a good job who simply decides to abuse these protections and not pay the rent, even though he or she clearly and demonstrably has a capacity to do so, the landlord should be entitled to take such a case to the Residential Tenancies Board during the emergency period, with the RTB to make a decision on the matter.
Likewise, where, for example, a tenant is engaged in the wilful, anti-social destruction of the property - I do not mean someone who might have complex issues in his or her life and needs support and assistance - he or she should not have the protection of the provisions I propose. Again, the RTB should be able to adjudicate in such cases. There may even be a tiny number of cases of accidental landlords - not professional or commercial landlords or people who turn a profit - for whom their inability to get access to the property could result in their becoming homeless, and that should be something that the RTB would at least be allowed to consider. Amendment No. 13 will allow the RTB to hear, mediate and adjudicate on such cases.
My final amendments in this grouping, Nos. 35 and 36, again simply seek to make the point, one that has been well made by others during the debate, that these protections should apply to all renters other than those in the narrowly defined circumstances I have outlined. On that basis, I urge Deputies to support the amendments.
My amendment, No. 10, will add to the category of relevant persons people aged over 65, all those who have lost income and those with underlying medical conditions. There is much confusion in society, created in large measure by people involved in the Government's spin machine. They were on the FM radio stations at the start of the week saying what the Bill would do, which gave the impression that it contains far wider protections than is really the case. Many people have the impression that if someone is receiving the pandemic unemployment payment or the temporary wage subsidy scheme, he or she cannot be evicted between now and the new year, whereas those protections will apply only where the landlord seeks to evict on grounds of rent arrears. They will not apply in the case of the sale of the property, renovation, a relative of the landlord moving in and so on.
Amendment No. 10, a minor amendment that is not our key point, will provide that even the narrow grounds the Government proposes on which to offer protections should be extended, beyond people who are on the pandemic unemployment payment or the temporary wage subsidy scheme, to include those over the age of 65, which is a very basic point. Does the Minister seriously suggest that people over the age of 65 should be evicted in the middle of a pandemic? For those who have lost their incomes, perhaps the Minister will say they are protected but they are protected only in a very narrow sense. Not all those who have lost their incomes will be protected, although they should be. It will also be extended to those with underlying medical conditions. That is a very reasonable, basic point. Is the Minister seriously saying the door should be open to evicting people with underlying medical conditions in the midst of a pandemic? How can that position be defended?
I hope the Government will support amendment No. 10. If it is not prepared to do so, people should take note.
I will speak to our amendments, Nos. 10 and 33. The argument we are making in both amendments, very simply, is that we are still in a public health emergency. The ban was brought in to protect people against being evicted and made homeless in the context of an emergency that threatens people's health. Unless something has changed that we have missed, we are still in that public health emergency, and it is widely expected that it will continue and that there will be further waves and spikes until we get a vaccine. What has changed that now justifies people being made homeless? It seems absolutely nothing has.
It would be unconscionable to put people into homelessness and to allow them to be evicted where they have underlying health conditions or where they are over the age of 65 and in that high-risk group of older people who have been devastated. People with underlying conditions and older people make up the cohort that has been devastated to the greatest extent, in comparison with other groups, by the impact of Covid-19. The vast majority of the 1,700 people who have died as a result of Covid-19 are in those categories. The whole effort to protect people against Covid-19 is, to a very large extent, about protecting these groups of people from further infection, severe illness and death.
How on earth could the Minister open the door to putting these people out on the street? That is what the Bill will do.
Whatever about amendment No. 33, where we seek to go further and continue the entire eviction ban and prevent all evictions until the health emergency is over completely for everybody, I do not see how the Minister can possibly argue against amendment No. 10. People whose health, life and welfare are particularly vulnerable must be protected as a matter of priority and it would be unthinkable to make them homeless, and, of course, there are many tens of thousands of people who have lost their jobs and income and are already devastated economically by the impact of Covid-19. Again, it is unconscionable that these people would have the added hardship and despair of being made homeless and being evicted. I ask the Minister to tell me if I am missing something because it appears from the legislation that the Minister seems to think it is now okay and justifiable for these groups of people to be evicted. This is utterly unacceptable.
Beyond that, our other amendment states the overall justification for this legislation remains and nothing has changed. If the Minister has an argument against this he should get up and make it. The general Government position is that we are still in a pandemic and we need restrictions, including travel restrictions. There is the potential of a second wave and that is why Members are in this building. Covid-19 is still a threat to our entire society. Nothing has changed from the context that led to this eviction ban coming in. If this is the case, I do not see how the Attorney General can claim somehow there is a legal problem with continuing a ban on infections and rent increases, which was justified in March. Why is it not legally justified now as the pandemic continues?
The Minister said the Government wants to bring in strong law and that the Government wants to protect tenants' rights. I believe the legislation will create strong law but to protect vulture funds and landlords and not tenants. The Bill is about profit. That is what it is about. I am here, as are many other Deputies who have tabled amendments, to stand up for people, families and tenants. I am dealing with numerous families who were given notices to quit, in other words eviction, before the emergency legislation was introduced in March. What the Bill will do is evict these families. That is what it will mean to them. What protection will the Minister and the Government give these families who will be evicted and perhaps become homeless? These are families who are paying their rent. They are good people who are doing everything right.
There is a lot of talk about a second wave and, like many others, I am very worried about another Covid wave. What the Bill, the Government and the Minister will do is create a second wave of evictions and homelessness and a second wave of a housing crisis.
I want to speak to amendment No. 34. I emphasise there is something slightly disconnected happening with this attempt to remove the ban on evictions. As has been said, the reason the ban on evictions was introduced was to protect public health in the middle of a pandemic. What has changed? We do not know where we are heading with this. We do not know yet whether there will be another spike in Covid that will run rampant through all sorts of congregated settings, possibly even the schools when they return. This is not an attempt to scaremonger. It is an attempt to be real. If the Minister was being real he would recognise that if the emergency period was extended then the provisions in the emergency period should remain. In particular I argue this provision should remain. I am not just picking this out from my deep and innermost thoughts because I have people coming to me on a daily basis who are fearful and insecure about the ban on evictions being lifted, not because they are in rent arrears, quite the contrary as they are up to date with their rent and they do not have a problem with finances, but because prior to Covid their landlords had either issued a notice or had indicated the tenancy was coming to an end due to various reasons, possibly to sell, to move in a family member or to refurbish. There is a swathe of apartments in Emmet Court, Inchicore, that are due to be emptied to be refurbished, with dozens of families potentially being moved out of them.
When we debated the original Bill, we tabled an amendment to strengthen the provisions already in it. This was agreed to, including by the Minister's party, Fianna Fáil, and I am sure at the time as an Opposition spokesperson on housing, the Minister voted in favour of it. This inserted subsection (7), which stated notwithstanding anything else all tenancies, including rent a room, licensee tenancies and with a specific focus on the Traveller community and council tenants, would be covered by the ban on evictions. If the amendments we have tabled fall, what will happen is that from 10 August, the floodgates on evictions will open. There will be a tsunami of evictions, not necessarily on that date but following it. If we end up in a situation whereby there is a massive increase in the number of families moving into homelessness, including children, we will go into a very dangerous situation in the middle of a pandemic.
There is something missing from the Minister's brain if he really thinks this is acceptable. It is not acceptable to do this to people. It is not acceptable to put them through this fear and insecurity and the potential of having to go into emergency accommodation while we still have not suppressed the Covid-19 virus.
It is very serious and every Deputy in the House needs to consider what button he or she hits today because when Members hit that button, they will open the tsunami come August and many families are already terrified about what the consequences could be. It just does not make sense because the Minister, who has responsibility for housing, will be faced with the fallout from this and he will not be able to cope with it, just as the previous Government, because of the type of housing policy it adopted, was not able to cope with an emergency and a housing crisis where people were pushed into homelessness on a daily basis. The Government does not have the housing stock to provide for people who are going to be evicted. The Minister is giving himself more problems but, more importantly, he is putting the population at risk, including some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. He is putting them and their children back at risk. He has no right to do this.
As I have said, all Deputies, particularly those in the Green Party, really need to consider what button they push when they vote on this because it is outrageous to even contemplate the idea that landlords could evict after 10 August on all sorts of grounds. The Minister is focusing on the question of arrears. That is fair enough but it goes way beyond that. We spelled it out in subsection (7), which is why we have tabled the amendment. Remove the date of 10 August, allow the emergency period for a ban on evictions to continue until January 2021, and allow the subsection we inserted, with the support of the Minister and his party at the beginning of the crisis, to remain.
I have listened to the debate for a while, and as a second-term Deputy, the more I listen to the Government on this the more worried I am getting. I am actually going into panic mode. The Government has a fabulous knack of watering things down. A lot of the Opposition amendments are based on one thing, which is fairness. Deputy Ó Broin spoke about protecting both sides, the renter and the landlord.
As other speakers have said, there is a pandemic and an emergency, but there is also an emergency with housing and homelessness. We talk on and on about emergencies. With the utmost respect, every time the Minister speaks about a Government amendment, I see more people being thrown out onto the street and more people being affected mentally by this. We will be back here in the new year and we will be hearing about not hundreds but thousands of cases of mental health difficulties, suicides, families living with families and couch surfing, which has been mentioned already. I expect tents to become very expensive because people will not have a house or anywhere to live except a tent.
I listened to the debate earlier about protecting the most vulnerable. It was mentioned that some people might not have had the luxury of a strong education and would have difficulty reading. The Minister replied with the suggestion that he would fix that, and that if they cannot read or write they can do it through a computer and send it by email. These people cannot even afford a computer and probably do not have broadband. As I listened I recalled watching a world championship snooker match when I was a young fellow. The commentator said, "For those people watching in black and white, the pink is between the blue and the green". That did not make much sense to me watching it in black and white. Many of the amendments I am hearing about from the Government have the same resonation in my head.
We are facing massive implications if this Bill is passed tonight without protection for everybody. I appeal to the Members here and to the Members who will be here later to vote on the Bill to think with their conscience. Unfortunately, the future is unpredictable, but one can plan for it. I hope to God that the misfortune and suffering people are experiencing today never knock on the Government Members' doors. They will scratch their heads and say, "Where did we all go wrong when Members on the opposite side were trying to do the right thing?". I urge them to plan for the future. There is an emergency here and we must keep it going. The Government has said many times that we have to keep it going. We must keep these emergency measures and the protection of people going. I appeal to every Member of the House to do the right thing. Members should not make the mistake of coming back to the House in a couple of months scratching their heads and asking themselves where they all went wrong.
I will be as brief as possible in support of these amendments. The overarching thing we are trying to achieve was referenced by the previous speaker, with whom I agree. There can be a level of political game playing, either here or in Leinster House, as the Minister knows, in which the Opposition tries to depict the Government as uncaring, unfeeling and on the side of everything that is bad while everybody in the Opposition is on the side of everything that is good. It is not as simple as that, as we know. We know that everybody in politics comes into politics to make a positive difference. We are not trying to depict anybody in the Government as trying to do something destructive.
The issue is that we have been having debates on housing and homelessness for the best part of at least seven years and the public has lost faith in politicians' ability to come together and deliver solutions. However, what the public has seen since March is that a Government intervention has made the difference. We are asking the Government to continue its own policy. If a measure introduced by the Government in March has resulted in a decrease in the number of people presenting as homeless and a demonstrable improvement in tackling the problem, why would the Government not just continue with the policy that is seen to be successful? That is what is so frustrating.
The Labour Party and other political parties in the House are not trying to depict the Government as uncaring or unfeeling. However, if a Government policy is working, why can we not just continue to work with it? The problem is, as I said the other day, that we will return here in September and, while we do not want to be right, there is every indication that we will be right and that we will be in a position to say, "We told you". It is much more comfortable for me to stand in Dáil Éireann and say we were right than it is for the person who is affected by this Bill. Those are the stakes with which we are playing. We cannot get this wrong. I fundamentally believe the Minister is a compassionate person who wants to do the right thing in terms of housing people. I know that he has absolutely no intention of making anybody homeless. The problem is that the Government policy is working but this Bill is going to change that. The stakes are so high that I wish the Government would accept the amendments that have been put forward in good faith.
I thank the Members for their contributions and the amendments that have been put forward. I will deal individually with the items that have been raised. Perhaps I will deal with the section first and then try to respond to the queries. We have to look at the provisions that are in place now and the basis of those provisions, which is emergency legislation. What I and the Government will do is put the provisions on a stronger footing by way of primary legislation that will extend protections for those who need them most to 10 January next year. That is what the Bill does.
I ask Members to be responsible in some of their contributions and comments. While I respect them and the position they are coming from, we also have a responsibility not to stoke fear among the population in this regard. The measures in the Bill will be very effective. Section 4 provides that Part 2 shall not apply unless the tenant makes a written declaration that he or she is a relevant person as defined clearly in the subsection. I will deal with the literacy issue raised by Deputy Buckley in a moment. A relevant person means a person unable to comply with his or her obligations to pay rent because he or she is or was - it is important that there is a retrospective nature to this legislation - out of work due to having contracted Covid-19 without entitlement to be paid by the employer or in receipt or entitled to receive in the future the temporary wage subsidy or any other payment out of public moneys provided for by or under statute and paid for the purpose of alleviating financial hardship resulting from the loss of employment occasioned by Covid-19, including rent supplement or a supplementary welfare allowance, and as a consequence is at a significant risk that his or her tenancy will be terminated by the landlord.
The definition of "relevant person" in the Bill does not make reference to a person's age or general health, as some are suggesting by way of the amendments. They are inserting further conditions by proposing those amendments. The definition does not require the tenant to be at risk of homelessness. Sinn Féin's amendment No. 11 seeks to put a further condition in the protections. I am at a loss to understand why it would do that. The definition does not require the tenant to be at risk of homelessness but does require that he or she be at risk of his or her tenancy being terminated on foot of rent arrears. I am asking people to comply with a lower threshold. Sinn Féin is asking that the tenant effectively make a declaration that he or she will be homeless. We are not asking for that.
Let us be clear about it. If we are being adult and honest about it, that is what it is seeking in its amendment.
The declaration does not mean that a tenant or relevant person engaging in anti-social behaviour will be allowed to wreak havoc until January 2021. I heard Deputy Ó Broin comment on this both publicly and privately. That person's tenancy can be terminated in accordance with the Residential Tenancies Act with seven days' notice. If there is a rogue tenant, and there are very few, who is wreaking havoc on an honest mom and pop landlord and is carrying out anti-social or criminal behaviour, the tenant is not covered under these protections.
They are not-----
That is not appropriate. If Deputy Ó Broin does not wish to hear the proper legal advice or a response to the amendments that have been tabled, that is fine. A tenant who wreaks havoc and engages in serious anti-social behaviour will not be protected under this legislation. It is as simple as that. Deputy Ó Broin can carry on in the disrespectful manner in which he has been carrying on in this debate. That is fine. What I am interested in-----
I have listened to Tadhg an dá thaobh for most of the day, so let us just focus on what we need to do to bring in real protections for people.
The key focus of section 4 is to assist tenants faced with adverse economic impacts on foot of the Covid-19 pandemic and who find themselves unable to pay rent and at a significant risk of having their tenancy terminated. It is not the case that such tenants have to declare they are going to become homeless, as Sinn Féin is asking people to do. We need to target help to those tenants who need that assistance.
I cannot accept amendment No. 34. Section 12 of the Bill amends section 5, "Notices of termination under Act of 2004", of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 by providing in subsection (6) a redefinition of the revised termination date in order that it cannot expire any earlier than 10 August. The potential unintended consequence of amendment No. 34, if passed, is that it would actually remove the 10 August date, which would mean that any transitionary protections would be removed immediately. I do not think that is what Deputy Barry or Deputy Bríd Smith want to do, but that would be the legal consequence of the acceptance of the amendment they have tabled. A person who is due to move out at the end of March has an extra four months in situ, given the pandemic. The rental sector is open for business again. I accept that it has been an uncertain time for tenants, but the emergency protections were always temporary, and we need to strengthen protections for those who need them most by using permanent measures through primary legislation. The law needs to be clear. Section 5(7) of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 needs to cease operation on 1 August along with the rest of Part 2 of that Act. This Bill will take over insofar as emergency protections for renters up to 10 January 2021 are concerned.
I cannot accept amendments Nos. 37 and 38 to the Title, which has been agreed by my Department and the Office of the Attorney General.
Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Neasa Hourigan, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Richard O'Donoghue, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy.
Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Neasa Hourigan, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Marian Harkin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Richard O'Donoghue, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy.
The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question, in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 28 July: "That the amendment set down by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government for Committee Stage and not disposed of is hereby made to the Bill; in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section or, as appropriate, the section as amended, is hereby agreed in Committee; the Preamble and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House; Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and the Bill is hereby passed."
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Marian Harkin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Richard O'Donoghue, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy.
Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Neasa Hourigan, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.