I want to start by paying tribute to the hundreds of volunteers who will spend tonight and many nights between now and Christmas in the towns and cities across this country helping homeless people, those in poverty and those living in temporary accommodation by giving them food, toys and clothes and by entertaining them. They do so because there is a void in the services being provided by the State. There is a void because the State has allowed thousands of people to live in homelessness but it has also created a void for people who are in a poverty trap and who are desperate. Let us take our hats off to those volunteers who do this work for nothing. It indicates that we have a population that cares much more about each other than the Government cares about them.
I spoke on this issue last year when this Bill was before the House in a different guise. At that time I quoted the story of Selina Hogan from Ballyfermot who was about to be evicted from private accommodation with her two children, one with special needs and a teenage daughter who was suffering from depression because of what they were facing. I was guaranteed that she would be looked after, that she would probably spend a little time in temporary accommodation and then go into a family hub for about six months, and that she would then be able to access HAP. More than a year later, having spent almost a year in a family hub and in hotel accommodation before that, Selina is still in the Ballyfermot family hub with no sign of her getting a home, her children are no better and her mental health is no better. This evening, I spoke to Darren Cuffe from lower Ballyfermot, a 44-year old man who is a diabetic on dialysis and who is going blind. The landlord has given him notice to quit. He took a case to the RTB and the landlord gave him further notice to quit, and that notice has now run out. I told Darren what Eileen Gleeson, the head of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, told me to tell people, namely, to overstay because there was nowhere for them to go. Darren would not survive ten minutes in a hostel, and that is all he would be given because he is a single man. There is also the case of Amina, her brother and her mother. The mother is in her 70s and her daughter and son are in their 40s, and they are to lose their home before Christmas. I am telling them the same thing: overstay because they have nowhere to go, their mother is not well and she will not survive in a hostel or a hotel room.
That is the situation we are faced with on a daily basis. Nothing has changed in the past year, except it has gotten worse. The Minister's predecessor argued against the Bill at the time, when he said: "the issues involved are being addressed comprehensively through the Rental Strategy ... and the associated legislative changes introduced under the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 ... which is already delivering positive outcomes for tenants.” He went on to claim the Anti-Evictions Bill 2016: “pre-empts any assessment of the positive impacts on tenants’ security that will arise from the implementation of the Strategy’s Rent Predictability measure in those areas already designated as Rent Pressures Zones”.
His colleagues in Fianna Fáil at the time raised the catch-all spectre that always bothers the rhetoric of great parliamentarians in this House - that of unintended consequences. What has happened since? What have been the intended consequences of the Government’s opposition to this Bill and the intended consequences of its housing policy? We know from Threshold's reports that it has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of calls received from tenants in danger of losing their homes because their landlords claimed they were about to sell the property. Some 32% of calls to Threshold in 2017 were from renters who were about to lose their homes, which is up 18% from 2016. Threshold received 73,500 calls from the public last year. There is an increased vulnerability in this sector. The private rented sector is the leading source of homelessness in this country through evictions, both legal and illegal. I heard the contribution from Deputy Fitzmaurice and one could only think of the recent film "Black 47" when he talked about the eviction he witnessed in Longford.
The consequences of the Minister's opposition to this Bill last year have been to increase evictions and to exacerbate the crisis and the misery facing many people. In the meantime, he continues to rely on the private market to deliver the housing. He has failed, as his predecessors, the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, and Deputy Alan Kelly did. They failed because of their subservience to the market and to profits, and their hostility to building public houses on public land. The Government has enriched a cohort of REITs, private landlords, vulture funds, estate agents, speculators, developers and builders, and it continues to do so. It has failed to limit rent increases. Average rents across the Republic reached another peak of €1,304 a month, €560 higher than they were at the trough in 2011, and more than 26% higher than their high point during the Celtic tiger. According to the quarterly rental reports from the property websites, prices across the State are €274 per month higher than they were in the 2008 peak. The capital has seen the highest average rent rises in the country at €1,936.
That is 13.4% higher than the rate in June. So much for the Government's rent pressure zones and controlling rents. This is not a mistake or an unforeseen consequence of Government policy. It is a planned result of the Government's incompetence and its class instincts. It is the instinct to weigh in with the landlord class, the very wealthy, investors, builders and developers rather than with ordinary people, as the volunteers working across the country tonight are doing. There is a war against the poor and the average working man and woman.
The Minister of State has directed his energies only towards the creation of new methods of counting the homeless which he can use to pretend his policy is working. He is the great pretender. He pretends that housing output is greater than it is and that social housing builds are greater than they are. The Minister of State is pretending that homelessness and rough sleeping rates are falling and that rents are stabilising. His policies are working in one sense. They work for landlords, investors, hedge funds, REITs and, in the Minister of State's world of pretend, the Government. Incentives and funds have been thrown at builders and developers. The Government has moved heaven and earth to attract vulture funds and investment REITs. However, it has not done the one thing that might help to end the misery for thousands of people. It has failed to change the law to redress the imbalance of power between landlord and tenant. It has not tried to ensure citizens and tenants have security of tenure and fair rents and it has not even considered doing what the country managed to do when it was vastly poorer and had far fewer resources, namely, build public houses on public lands at the scale required. The Government does not appear to be capable of doing the same and it certainly does not appear to have the political will to try.
My penultimate word is directed to those landlords who occupy seats in the House, of whom there are at least 40 but probably more if one counts Independents. I do not begrudge them having an extra earner on the side, but I do begrudge the conflict of interest where landlords vote on a Bill like this. This is a Bill which proposes to prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for the purposes of the sale or renovation of the property. Darren Cuffe was told his property needed to be renovated and Amina was told her property was to be sold. There is a conflict of interest for any Member who votes on this Bill and who is also a landlord. I call on Members to use their consciences and do the decent thing. Even if it minimises the voting power in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to a large degree, it is the decent thing to do. If it is not done, Members are being utterly indecent in their approach to the Bill.
My final word is directed to Fianna Fáil. The last time around, it abstained from voting on the Bill. However, I am hearing more utterances of opposition tonight for some reason than I did on the previous occasion. Fianna Fáil Deputies must also do the decent thing and abstain this time around. If they do, we may have a chance to prick the conscience of the Ceann Comhairle who, unfortunately and almost tragically for many families, used his casting vote to throw out this Bill.