Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Residential Tenancies Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages

 

SECTION 1

2:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 19 to 21, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 1. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 4. Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 7. Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 10. Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 13. Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 19. Amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 19 to 21, inclusive, may be discussed together.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, line 5, to delete "12 July 2021" and substitute "12 October 2021".

I will be speaking to all my amendments now in the interests of time as they are similar and attempt the same achievement. I asked the Minister yesterday to correct the Dáil record on the National Quality Standards Framework not being applied to private emergency accommodation. It is regrettable he has not updated the record on that. I can assure him I will keep raising the matter until he does because it is important we have clarity on it from the Minister with responsibility for housing.

I will be clear on a few points. The Minister spoke about the opposition to the removal of the extension of the evictions ban in place since last July. That was the position taken by the Opposition and we favoured the evictions ban being continued. The Minister references figures, which demonstrate very clearly the highest number of evictions of families into homelessness last year after Covid-19 was in August, after the protections were removed. It is clear and the Minister should be aware of those figures. We should also be aware of landlords leaving the market as a direct result of Government policy and the favourable tax treatment of REITs.

The Minister mentioned that only 400 people are getting protection but Threshold has raised specific concerns about that. It argues the arrangements introduced by the Minister have been far too complex for most people to understand and avail of. Analysis by Threshold bears that out.

Threshold are the people who are working on the front line on a day-to-day basis. Deputy Connolly made the very good point that Threshold are the people we all refer constituents to when they need expertise and advice. It is regrettable that many Government backbenchers have referred to issues of antisocial behaviour and tenants deliberately withholding rent to justify the changes being brought in. No one in the Opposition supports or countenances antisocial behaviour or tenants who deliberately withhold rent. The issue is the thousands of renters who are struggling to afford their rent and have genuine affordability issues. The lack of protection and reduction in protections for that cohort of renters is of particular concern.

My amendment and the other amendments I am speaking to seek to extend the limited protections for the limited cohort of renters through to October, at a minimum, which would give the Minister and the Department enough time to put in permanent protections for renters. That is all the amendment seeks to do and, therefore, I urge the Minister to accept it.

2:30 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I will speak to all of my amendments in this grouping in one go to save time. I used the word "Orwellian" yesterday during Second Stage debate for elements of the Minister's speech and he has outdone himself in the Orwellian nature of his responses. Crucially, he has ignored key concerns that many Opposition Members have expressed and that Threshold and the Simon Communities of Ireland have raised directly with all Deputies, the Minister included.

The function of pre-legislative scrutiny is not for Deputies to have a debate, contrary to what a Fianna Fáil backbencher said earlier. It is usually for us to bring in expert opinion to tease through whether the legislation in front of us does what the Minister claims it is intended to do. That opportunity was denied in this instance. That is particularly relevant for section 2. While all of us have said from the outset that no protection should be given to any tenant who has the ability to pay rent and wilfully refuses to do so, we are concerned that the intention of that section is to remove protections from a much wider group of people. We discussed some of those real-life scenarios earlier today. Because we were denied the opportunity to have that pre-legislative scrutiny, the public did not get to hear the full detail of that scrutiny. If the Minister had just brought forward a Bill that included section 1, we would have sailed through it yesterday and today. We would have asked for it to be extended as the amendments in this grouping propose but we would not have any difficulties with it. The Minister is not correct to say the Bill before us is simply a restatement of previous Bills because section 2 is a profound change. Nobody here has any data to show the extent of the impact of it.

The Minister's representation of the Opposition and our opposition to the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act last year is also Orwellian. We opposed that Act because it stripped the overwhelming majority of hard-working, hard-pressed renters of the protections the Oireachtas had unanimously agreed at the start of the pandemic. It only provided protections for those who have experienced income loss because of Covid-19 and are on a Covid-related payment. If the Minister had brought forward a Bill to provide greater protection, of course we would have supported that. It was because his projections were so narrow that we could not, and rightfully would not, do that.

The Minister is also disingenuous in quoting figures from the RTB. I have the most up-to-date figures, which are more accurate than his. The problem is that since the narrow protections for tenant in arrears due to Covid-19 income loss and on a Covid-19 payment have been introduced, 2,401 warning notices have been issued by landlords to tenants, while only 407 tenants sought protection. That means there are almost 2,000 tenants out there, that we know of, who had warning letters. There were 700 notices to quit but we do not know the difference between the 700 and the 2,000. We do not know if, for example, those people were pressurised into paying more when they could not or if they voluntarily vacated the properties without taking a case because the Minister and the RTB cannot tell us that. Of the people who between August and February received warning letters from their landlord, only a small portion availed of the protection. That is because it is cumbersome, difficult for them to access and it completely misunderstands the disproportionate power relationship between landlords and tenants, which means that even tenants who might not be classified as vulnerable are nervous of taking cases to the RTB for fear of consequences from the landlord.

On the section under discussion, it makes no sense to only extend the protection for that small group of renters for three months. Nobody believes these renters will be back in work or will have fully dealt with their arrears by July. Therefore, rather than having to rush legislation through again and possibly attach further onerous revisions to tenancy protections, why not extend it now? Whether it is to the October date proposed by the Social Democrats, the December date proposed by me or a date next year, why not give more breathing time as is required?

We may not get the time to discuss this later so I will say now that I think it is absolutely wrong of some Deputies to conflate the wilful non-payment of rent with significant numbers of tenants in rent arrears today through no fault of their own and who will be at risk of notices to quit and homelessness if section 2 passes. The Minister repeatedly refuses to deal with the health impacts of forcing those tenants to look for alternative accommodation even if level 5 restrictions are lifted, but especially if they are not. Some of those tenants could fall into homelessness. There are direct health consequences in the context of a deadly pandemic of allowing that to happen. That is why those groups of people should be protected. If we had pre-legislative scrutiny of all of this, that could have been teased out.

For the Minister and his party colleagues to claim that he is the champion of tenant rights when Bill after Bill progressively strips more of those tenants' rights from them is not credible. Likewise, where he continues to give those small groups of tenants some protections, he makes it more difficult and cumbersome and only extends such protections for several months, increasing their anxiety. That suggests the Minister has no real understanding of the difficulty those renters are in.

Unless the Minister accepts our amendments, particularly the deletion of section 2, anybody on the side of renters has no choice but to oppose this legislation.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Like the other Opposition parties, we have a series of amendments, which seek to extend considerably further the protections this Bill proposes to extend only until July. We have gone the furthest in saying they should be extended until April 2021 and I will explain why we think that is right. We also support all the other amendments that go considerably further than the Government. We also have amendments that oppose section 2 for the reasons that have been set out and explained by Threshold, namely, that this Bill in effect strips a cohort of people who enjoyed some protection of the protections they had under Covid. People Before Profit has tabled another amendment, which I believe is unique to us, to extend the protections to other cohorts of tenants whom we do not believe should be evicted in the midst of a pandemic on grounds of sale, refurbishment or any other grounds. That is the key.

Others have called the Minister's defences "Orwellian". I have called it a deception and a fraud but we are all trying to get at the same thing. It is a deception and a fraud because the Government is presenting this Bill as if it protects tenants in the midst of Covid.

In truth, it only extends protections to a tiny group for a few months. It is the Government's policy decision that as of 5 April, the green light has been given for the rest of those tenants to be evicted in the midst of a pandemic because it has not protected them in this Bill. That is the truth of what the Government is doing.

I have tried to give the Minister the benefit of moving beyond politicking, abstract discussions to give real tangible examples. This debate really only means anything when one applies it to real tangible examples and, of course, that is the reason the Minister does not respond. Real people in St. Helen's Court in Dún Laoghaire have notices which say they will be evicted ten days after the 5 km rule is lifted, which is likely to happen on 5 April. All those families and individuals have never engaged in antisocial behaviour, always paid their rent and are working people such as shop workers, carers, restaurant workers, pensioners and taxi drivers. They are people I know personally now because I have been fighting alongside them for four years against four successive attempts by ruthless, vicious vulture funds that are trying to drive them out of their apartment complex in central Dún Laoghaire. The Minister is not protecting them. That is the truth. They are out, and as a result, they are already engaging with homeless services, and because no council houses are available and approximately 4,000 families are on the housing list, they will be sent to emergency homeless accommodation unless they can get housing assistance payment, HAP. Rents in Dún Laoghaire, however, are now running at €2,000 to €2,200 and €2,400 for two and three bedroom apartments. Their current rents are approximately €1,000. How will they pay such rent? They cannot, so they will be homeless. What is the Minister going to do about it? The answer in this Bill is "Nothing". They will be knocking on the doors of homeless services. Some of them will be sent with their children into hostels in town in conditions that will make the transmission of Covid-19 more likely, which is precisely what the Minister said this Bill is designed to prevent. Therefore, even on public health grounds, never mind the need to protect tenants from ruthless operations such as Mill Street Projects Limited and Apollo Global Management, or whatever these wealth asset management speculators - these vicious, inhumane people - are called, the Minister is going to allow the green light for these people to be evicted. That is why it is a deception and fraud.

We are asking, therefore, effectively to reimpose the blanket ban on evictions during a pandemic. In the meantime, we can discuss all the nuances for which the Minister is arguing. We can sort them out. He says it is more complicated and I agree; in some areas it is more complicated. Let us reimpose the blanket ban that actually protected people in the midst of a pandemic and then use that intervening period to do the more nuanced stuff, which the Minister said needs to be done. That is our argument. If the Minister wants to protect tenants in the midst of a pandemic - people who have done nothing wrong, are not antisocial, have not generated arrears through any fault of their own or have done nothing wrong as tenants - and that is his genuine intention, he will accept the amendments put forward by the Opposition. If he does not accept those amendments, he is, in fact, deceiving the public and this Bill is a fraud in terms of its claim to protect tenants during the pandemic.

2:40 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I want to address a category of tenant I believe is in serious condition at the moment. I have been contacted by a number of people who live in rented accommodation and are in difficulty with their landlord because the landlord has left the accommodation in appalling condition. In fact, it does not meet the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019. The problem is that if a tenant is not satisfied with the state of the house, and if the landlord refuses to make improvements, the tenant can and does go to the local authority and asks it to issue an improvement notice. The difficulty then arises that the improvement notice works are limited to "supply and delivery of essential or emergency maintenance and repair." The problem, however, is really that minimum standards are what they are. If they do not, therefore, meet the minimum standards, the landlord is required to carry out the improvement works listed because the houses are substandard and the people are living in very difficult and appalling circumstances.

The difficulty, therefore, which I ask the Minister to look at, is the issue with regard to the fact that once improvement notices are served, and in some cases authorities do not serve the notices because they do not meet that new definition, any basic standard that is not met must be met. I believe it is essential. It needs emergency maintenance and repair, by definition, and therefore, there should be no exclusions. If a council writes and forms the opinion that an improvement notice is needed, and the standards for rented housing are not being met, it should be a mandatory requirement for the landlord to carry out that work forthwith. The point some people are making here is that tenants are in great difficulties. If the landlord refuses to do it and the council will not or cannot serve the notice, what does that tenant do? The one thing he or she can do is withhold the rent on those grounds. I believe he or she is right to do so and it is reasonable that he or she do that until the landlord rights the appalling wrong that has been done. I therefore ask that when he is making regulations, the Minister could or would change the regulation that when the council forms the opinion that basic minimum standards are not being met, it will be grounds for the notice to be served and for the works to be carried out. They would need to be exempt works under the Covid-19 regulations.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy. Is any other Member offering on this before I go to the Minister? No.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I will certainly engage directly with my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, on that issue if anything can be done to assist in that regard by way of clarification, particularly around the process. Basic minimum standards must be adhered to and there should never be a situation where people are knowingly left living in substandard accommodation. I have taken note of the points he raised and I will engage directly with the Deputy on that.

In the interests of time, I will address the amendments in block, if that is okay. I note that Members have also addressed their amendments in block. Amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 19 to 21, inclusive, all pretty much relate to the extension of the emergency period past 12 July. There is a variance in that some Deputies are seeking October, some want December and other are seeking April next year. I note that Deputy Ó Broin said he will take whatever. The approach to some legislation seems to be just to take whatever is available and it does not really matter. Actually, it does matter. We have a duty as a Government to ensure that anything we pass here is proportionate, legal, constitutional and is not open to challenge.

At previous debates on tenancy legislation, the Sinn Féin spokesperson also said that we should test it in the courts and therefore to set aside the advice of the Attorney General and do it anyway. That is an incredible attitude to have with regard to passing legislation and laws that govern our State. We have an Opposition spokesperson saying we should just test it in the court and set aside any Attorney General advice, and that it does not really matter because that person knows better and that is fine. That is not the way any legislation should be approached.

It gives a view into the psyche of some Members opposite in that they will say or do anything if it is seen to advance their own position. That is not the way we should be approaching the serious matter of protecting the most vulnerable tenants.

To turn specifically to the amendments tabled, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, or 19 to 21, inclusive, which seek to increase the proposed extension in this Bill of the emergency period under the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 from three months by varying lengths to provide an extension of either six months, eight and a half months or 12 months, ending on 12 October, 31 December or 12 April. The amendments also propose consequential amendments to other dates within the Act which correspond with the various expiry dates proposed for the emergency period under the Act.

Section 9(1) of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 defines an emergency period as being from 11 January 2021 to 12 April 2021, during which the enhanced tenancy protections under the Act apply for tenants in arrears, subject to conditions and to procedural requirements. Section 1(a) of the Residential Tenancies Bill 2021 proposes to extend the expiry date of the emergency period from 12 April 2021 to 12 July 2021.

In line with the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, which I respect and regard as the main law agent of the State but others do not, which is up to them to explain why, the Government seeks to limit as much as possible any interference with the constitutionality of protected property rights. The 86% of landlords in question are very normal people, most of whom own one property, some two. It has not been outlawed, as far as I am aware yet, for someone to be a landlord. While it is still legal for them to be landlords, they deserve an element of protection also. This is about proportionality. Again, others will set that aside and try to make a play on it. One cannot just disregard people's rights at a whim or at the drop of a hat or if it is deemed it will get somebody airplay somewhere outside of this Chamber or a nice article in a newspaper.

Covid-19 has indeed brought much uncertainty. The Government's proposed three-month extension of the application of the enhanced tenancy protections under the Act aims to complement our wider efforts to suppress the spread of Covid-19 throughout the country. When we debated the origins of this Act last August, even when we debated the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 in early December, none of us could have foreseen the fatal trajectory of Covid-19 on our island and across the globe. As legislators, we need to work together to react quickly to suppress the spread of Covid-19 in everything we do, not just in government but in opposition as well. There is a responsibility on all Members to play their part in that regard.

We might need to review the situation again for tenants closer to July. I am open to doing that, should we need to, as I have done already on three previous occasions. I will bring forward any necessary or targeted protections for our most vulnerable tenants at that time. I remind Members that protections under the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 will help any tenant in financial difficulty while he or she is seeking income support from the State to help to pay the rent. Tenants need to act and engage. They are doing so, thankfully. Organisations such as Threshold, with which I engage regularly, have been most helpful in ensuring this happens. Tenants need to act to avoid a build-up of rent arrears. There is no question of that. We have State supports with emergency rent supplement and other payments. I encourage tenants to engage in that regard should they find themselves in difficulties paying their rent.

Section 1(a) to (d), inclusive, update various dates from April 2021 to July 2021 to reflect the extended emergency. The proposed amendments in this Bill to the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 provide for enhanced protections for tenants, subject to conditions - no one is suggesting there should not be any conditionality - and procedural requirements under the Act, to continue to apply from 13 April 2021 to 12 July 2021, if they have been economically impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and, consequently, are unable to meet their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act to pay rent due and are at risk of tenancy termination. These are the people we should be assisting. That is what this Bill will do should it be passed.

Those who oppose this Bill will be voting against extending those provisions to July this year. Some voted against the original provisions last August and voted against them again in December of last year. During this time and up to 12 July 2021, those tenants who need these additional protections, on top of existing tenancy protections already in place, will be safeguarded from eviction and indeed from rent increases.

Section 1(b) extends the eligibility expiry date from 12 April 2021 to 12 July 2021 for tenants to qualify as a relevant person within the meaning of section 10(6) of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020. If this Bill is passed, a relevant person means a tenant unable to comply with his or her obligations to pay the rent due in respect of tenancy because he or she is or was at any stage between 1 August 2020 to July 2021 in receipt of, or entitled to receive, illness benefit because of a Covid-19 absence or in receipt of, or entitled to receive, the temporary wage subsidy. Tens of thousands are in receipt of the latter. It is another Government support in place to keep people working and connected with their jobs. It also applies to any other social welfare payment or State support paid as a result of loss of earnings due to Covid-19. This includes the rent supplement or the supplementary welfare allowance. It is abundantly clear as to what those protections are and who a qualifying person would be.

If someone thinks there should be an addition to that, they should come forward. I think we have covered as well as possible those who really need the protections. Others will just disagree but we are used to that.

Section 1(c) extends the eligibility expiry from 12 April 2021 to 12 July 2021 for landlords to qualify as a relevant person within the meaning of section 11(6) of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020. Pursuant to this, a relevant person means a landlord who is, or was, at any stage between 1 August 2020 to 12 July 2021 in receipt of, or is entitled to receive, illness benefit for a Covid-19 absence. Those small mom and pop landlords also have rights. Those rights need to be respected also. There needs to be a proportionality between their rights and the future protections we bring in place. A relevant person also means a landlord who is in receipt of, or entitled to receive, the temporary wage supplement or any other social welfare payment or State support paid as a result of loss of earnings due to Covid-19. These can be our accidental landlords who, unfortunately, many of us know too. They deserve protection and to have their rights upheld. Some may believe they do not. That is fine. They can stand over that decision themselves.

Section 1(d)(i) substitutes section 12(1)(a) of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 to provide that the earliest termination date that can be specified for a tenant protected under the Act is 13 July 2021. That is extended from 13 April 2021. It can make a technical reference to a new subsection (1A) to be inserted into section 12 of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 by section 1 of this Bill. Section 1(d)(ii) inserts a new subsection (1A) into section 12 of the Act.

The new subsection applies, as per paragraph (c), to a notice of termination grounded on rent arrears.

3:00 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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On a point of order-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Minister is talking down the clock.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I am responding to the Deputy.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Chair-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Luckily I did not hear anything.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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On a point of order, the Minister should be speaking to the amendments-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I am.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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-----and not giving a Second Stage speech to avoid votes by talking down the clock.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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He is entitled to speak.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I always respect her rulings. We are dealing with amendments Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, and 19 to 21, inclusive. The Deputy has gone to the trouble of tabling the amendments so he should give me some opportunity to respond to them in detail. Maybe he does not want me to do so but I believe it is important that to put on the record of the House what this Bill does, what the nature of the Deputy's amendments are, and why I am not accepting them. People deserve to know that. Maybe the main Opposition spokesperson does not believe in transparency but I do and that is why, with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's permission, I will continue. I will conclude shortly, if you do not mind.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Through the Chair.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Tá brón orm.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Dírigh isteach ar na leasuithe, más é do thoil é.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Táim á dhéanamh sin. I must see where I was before I was interrupted. The new subsection 1A of section 12 applies as per paragraph (c) of that subsection to a notice of termination grounded on rent arrears and served on a tenant during the emergency period, specifying a termination date that falls on or after 13 April 2021 and before 13 July 2021, that is, during the three-month extension provided under this Bill. Paragraph (a) of the new subsection provides that subject to paragraph (b) of that subsection, if the tenant is protected by the PDRTA and subsection 1A applies in his or her case, the specified termination date shall be deemed to be 13 July 2021. This measure provides the benefit of the enhanced protections to relevant tenants until that date. Paragraph (b) of the new subsection 1A of section 12 provides that the PDRTA protections will cease to apply in relation to a relevant tenant and the protections under paragraph (a) shall also cease to apply ten days thereafter.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but we are dealing with the amendments, of which there is a long list. The Minister seems to be going through the Bill.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I am not.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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It is unclear to me at this point what the Minister is doing. He has the floor and I am not taking it from him.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I am within about 30 seconds of concluding.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Minister can have as long as he wants. It is simply-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ó Broin might find this amusing but it is important that we are able to respond to amendments that have been tabled.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputy Ó Broin is not in the Chair.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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He is not but-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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As Leas-Cheann Comhairle, táim ag iarraidh soiléiriú a fháil. Sin an méid.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Maith go leor.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Táimid ag caint faoi na leasuithe.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Táim beagnach críochnaithe anois. I was concluding in reference to the grace period. Subparagraph (iii) of paragraph (d) of section 1 provides a technical amendment to section 12(2)(a) to update the deemed termination date from 13 April to 13 July in respect of a tenant who was served a notice of termination grounded in rent arrears prior to 11 January 2021. It is important that that distinction is made and is put on the record of the House. It specifies a deemed termination date that falls between 11 January 2021 and 12 April by virtue of section 5(4) of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020. An bhfuil sé sin ceart go leor?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 52; Níl, 79; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Eoin Ó Broin; Níl, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers.

Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.

Níl

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, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Paschal Donohoe, 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, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, Brian Leddin, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, 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, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Amendment declared lost.

3:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I remind Members that the clock is running and Committee Stage will conclude in 34 minutes.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, line 5, to delete "12 July 2021" and substitute "31 December 2021".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, line 5, to delete "12 July 2021" and substitute "12 April 2022".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 7, to delete “12 July 2021” and substitute “12 October 2021”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, line 9, to delete "12 July 2021" and substitute "12 October 2021".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 8:

In page 4, line 9, to delete "12 July 2021" and substitute "31 December 2021".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I move amendment No. 9:

In page 4, line 9, to delete "12 July 2021" and substitute "12 April 2022".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, line 20, to delete "13 July 2021" and substitute "13 October 2021".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 11:

In page 4, line 20, to delete "13 July 2021" and substitute "1 January 2022".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I move amendment No.12 :

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No.13 :

In page 4, line 27, to delete "13 July 2021" and substitute "13 October 2021".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No.14 :

In page 4, line 27, to delete "13 July 2021" and substitute "1 January 2022".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I move amendment No. 15:

In page 4, line 27, to delete "13 July 2021" and substitute "12 April 2022".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive are related. Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 are physical alternatives. Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive, will be discussed together.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Are we disposing of amendments Nos. 19 to 21, inclusive, in this grouping?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I am going through each one and we are now on amendments Nos. 16 to 18.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I move amendment No. 16:

In page 4, to delete lines 35 to 39 and substitute the following: "(i) specifies a termination notice that falls at any time during an emergency period, and

(ii) cites as reason for the termination any of the grounds listed in section 34 of the Act of 2004.",".

I know time is short and we want to vote on this and the issue in section 2. This is a specific amendment. Of course, the Minister did not respond to the point and I doubt he will but we will see. This seeks to extend the protections that the Bill would afford to other cohorts of tenants who have done nothing wrong and who should not be evicted in the midst of a pandemic. I have cited St. Helen's Court as a real human example. The vulture fund that owns St. Helen's Court also owns properties in Inchicore where it has been trying to evict people. It owns properties in Gardiner Street. Of course, vulture funds own many properties throughout the city and country. They are not the mom and pop landlords to which the Minister refers, and in any event whether they were or were not, these are people who have paid their rent and who are being evicted on grounds of sale or refurbishment.

Here is an irony for the Minister. The tenants in St. Helen's Court would have been better off if they did not pay the rent over recent months. Many of them are on the pandemic unemployment payment. Many of them are in receipt of the housing assistance payment. As they are good conscientious tenants, they pay their rent to a landlord that is trying to kick them out purely for money and the Minister refuses to protect them. The amendment asks the Minister, if he is serious about protecting tenants from unfair evictions and evictions that are not their fault in the midst of a pandemic, to please protect tenants such as these who, in this case, have a letter that states that as soon as the 5 km restriction is lifted they will be gone in ten days. Then they will be told by emergency services that they do not have council houses for them, that the housing assistance payment limit is too low to allow them to rent the property that is available in the area, which is €2,000 or €2,200, and that there is nothing for them but an address for a hostel in town where they can take themselves and their children. It is straightforward. If the Minister is serious about protecting these tenants will he please accept the amendment?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I will be very brief because time is short. I want to speak in favour of amendment No. 16 tabled by People Before Profit. To speed up the process, I will withdraw amendment No. 18. I have one point in response to the Minister. Attorneys General are like political parties. There are differences of opinion between different schools of law. When many of us make proposals that are contrary to Government proposals we do so consulting legal experts as eminent, albeit with a different legal point of view, as the current Attorney General. Therefore, many of us have strong legal advice from some of the country's most eminent constitutional law experts that the types of protections we propose are indeed possible. Of course, legal opinions are not unlike hairdressers, whereby people like one and do not like another. Let me be very clear that nobody in the Opposition is making proposals because we are not serious about them or because we do not believe they have legal grounding. Our legal advice is different. If we were in government with a different Attorney General I am sure we would be able to provide the type of protections to renters that the Government clearly will not provide.

Duncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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I want to put on record our support for these amendments. I want to move on and get in as many votes as possible.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I will be as brief as I can, if that is okay with the House.

I cannot accept amendments Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive, which seek to amend paragraph (c) of the new subsection 1A of section 12 of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 as proposed to be inserted into that Act by section 1(d)(ii) of the Bill. The new subsection 1A of section 12 applies as per paragraph (c) of that subsection to a notice of termination grounded on rent arrears and served on a tenant during the emergency period, specifying a termination date that falls on or after 13 April 2021 and before 13 July 2021, that is, it falls during the three-month extension provided under this Bill. Paragraph (a) of the new subsection 1A of section 12 provides that, subject to paragraph (b) of that subsection, if the tenant is protected by the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 and subsection 1A applies in their case, the specified termination date shall be deemed to be 13 July 2021.

This measure provides the benefits of the enhanced protections to all relevant tenants until 13 July 2021. To reiterate, the protections under the Act will help any tenant in financial difficulty while they are seeking income support from the State to help pay their rent. We are abundantly clear that it is an extension of protections.

To conclude, paragraph (b) of the new subsection 1A of section 12 provides that if the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 protections cease to apply in regard to a relevant tenant, the protections under paragraph (a) shall also cease to apply ten days after. This affords a grace period for tenants to find alternative accommodation.

I cannot accept amendment No. 16. The text of the Bill and the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 have been carefully considered from a policy but, more importantly, from a legal perspective, with the advice of the Office of the Attorney General, which is the law agent of the State and of Government. Others will say that should they be in government, they would seek to have some compliant Attorney General, but the Attorney General's job is to protect the Constitution and to uphold the law. I certainly follow the advice of the Office of the Attorney General. These protections are carefully targeted to safeguard those tenants most in need of protection, that is, those tenants in rent arrears due to Covid-19 and who, consequently, are at risk of losing their tenancy. Amendment No. 16 seeks to broaden the scope of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 to cover notices of termination that do not relate to rent arrears. In line with the advice of the Attorney General, the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 carefully limits and balances the constitutionally protected property rights by targeting the help at the most vulnerable tenants, as is appropriate, that is, those in rent arrears due to Covid-19 or at risk of losing their tenancy.

In conclusion, this short Bill seeks to extend the existing protections under the Act for tenants in rent arrears for a further three months until 12 July 2021. It does not propose to amend the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 in any other regard. I cannot accept amendment No. 16 nor amendments Nos. 17 or 18, which propose to provide protections beyond 12 July 2021. What I will do, as I have given a previous commitment to do, is ensure this is kept under review. As we all know, this pandemic does not necessarily conform to plans that are set down. Therefore, should I or the Government deem it appropriate to come back to review and revise the protections that are there, I will do so and I have done that in the past already.

I hope that Members opposite, who opposed the original Act that affords these very important protections that they say they seek to keep and to extend, will actually support this Bill to ensure those who need the protections get those additional protections against eviction and against rent increases until July of this year. I hope that, at this late stage, they will see fit to support and protect those who are most at risk of eviction in that regard.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 56; Níl, 78; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Eoin Ó Broin and Richard Boyd Barrett; Níl, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers.

Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Michael Collins, 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, Johnny Guirke, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.

Níl

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, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, 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, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, Brian Leddin, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, 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, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 23, inclusive, not moved.

Section 1 agreed to.

Amendment No. 24 not moved.

SECTION 2

Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Question put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 80; Níl, 57; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Duncan Smith and Eoin Ó Broin.

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, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, Brian Leddin, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, 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, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Níl

Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, 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, Johnny Guirke, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.

Question declared carried.

3:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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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 24 March: "That, in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Preamble and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee, the Bill is accordingly reported to the House, without amendment, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 4.10 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.