Friday, 27 March 2020
An Bille um Bearta Éigeandála ar mhaithe le Leas an Phobail (Covid-19) 2020: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha - Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
It is the first time I have had the pleasure of an exchange with the Minister in the Chamber, unfortunately, under these circumstances.
My amendment No. 7 is similar to Senator Higgins's amendment No. 6. I welcome the Bill and the provisions relating to housing which implement a ban on evictions and a rent freeze for the period of the Covid-19 emergency. This will initially be a three-month period that can be extended by the Government under section 4. However, I am concerned about the criteria that will be used to decide whether such an extension is in the public interest.
While I recognise this is emergency legislation in nature and focused on Covid-19, it cannot be ignored that it is being implemented in the context of an extreme housing crisis. The Government should be looking to use and extend this power to provide relief to renters and families. In light of the amendment passed in the Dáil yesterday, it now also includes local authority tenants, Traveller communities and approved housing body dwellings which encompass some of the most vulnerable in the State.
It is in the public interest to keep people in their homes during and following a public health crisis and to prevent greater homelessness where people are at the greatest risk of spreading the virus. However, this section only lists the nature of the virus itself and the need to prevent the spread of the disease as criteria for the extension. It includes no recognition of the wider social impact of an eviction and the disproportionate damage that would do to the public good and public safety during and following the current crisis. This is why I am tabling amendment No. 7, which contains the vital recognition on top of the Government's own criteria. This amendment is also needed because this section is not aligned with other provisions in the Bill such as the extensions to the Mental Health Act which are extended to November whereas these provisions for the vulnerable in the housing market are only in place for three months with limited opportunity to extend.
Moreover, the criteria for time period extension for planning applications under section 9 and the provisions on redundancy in section 27 are broad, comprehensive, specific to the policy issues at play in those sections and include an assessment of the economic impact of Covid-19 but when it comes to preventing evictions, rent increases and homelessness for our citizens, the Government is not including the full range of factors and should determine such a decision in the legislation.There has been no provision so far with regard to renters who need to access rent allowance. If this is not introduced in the next week or so, this provision in terms of strengthening the conditions for eviction will be very much needed because people will go into rent arrears if they cannot access rent allowance very quickly. That is another provision that needs to be looked at. Hopefully, the Minister can speak to the amendment and with regard to access to rent allowance.