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
I thank Senators Higgins and Ruane for the amendments they put forward and offer my condolences to Senator Ruane on the loss of a member of her family. At times like this, we all feel loss in terms of being able to be with our families in different ways due to this emergency. That is a factor in why it is so vital that we have measures in place to address the needs of those in different forms of accommodation and housing. To respond to the different issues raised by both Senators, the reason the timing in this Bill is different versus other Parts of the Bill is because of the severity of the advice we have received from the Attorney General. I believe that if I was to be in front of the Seanad this afternoon and proposed the implementation of these measures regarding evictions and rent increases that went on for quite a period, Senators would be asking me the understandable question as to why this was different to the stance taken by the Government on these issues for a number of years. The reason for that is because the continued advice we receive from the Attorney General is that the balance between the common good and the public good and the role of property rights and private property is a very demanding one. The clear advice we have received from the Attorney General is that the only rationale we can use for the suspension of evictions and rent increases during the period is a public health emergency. That is the reason the timing with regard to this is different to other parts of the legislation and why the criterion is so clear, that is, that it must be linked to a public health emergency as opposed to the grave economic or social challenges touched on by the two Senators a moment ago.
I will address an issue raised by Senator Higgins. It is very important that even as we are grappling with the difficulties of today, we find time and space to think through what would be the difficulties for our society post Covid-19 because we will cage this virus and find ways of containing it and restoring our country to public health but when we do that, it will be the case that there will be consequences from this emergency that will spill over into what I hope will be a period of resumed public health and we will need to think anew about how we deal with those potentially very severe difficulties. The Government or the next Government will do this but to go back to the core point raised by both Senators, namely, the reason why we have such a definitive link up between the suspension of evictions and rent increases for a period of time and a public health emergency is because that is the very clear advice we have received from the Attorney General and we cannot broaden it beyond a definition of an emergency, which is a public health one.