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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 Dec 1981

Vol. 96 No. 16

Rent Restrictions (Temporary Provisions) (Continuance) Bill, 1981: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When I had to move the adjournment last evening I was giving some time to the issues before us in this Bill which arise in two very definite areas, the social implications of the Bill which the Minister stressed in his opening statement, and the whole question of the effect of this Bill through the very many years in which it has been in operation — the original Rent Restrictions Act came into force in 1915 — on the housing stock of the country.

This is a Bill reacting to the Supreme Court decision on a case brought before it in relation to the unconstitutional nature of the Rent Restrictions Act. I feel also that in reacting to that Supreme Court decision — and I know the Minister for the Environment, and the Minister of State in particular, were both very concerned to get the right balance in relation to the Bill that will eventually be enacted by these Houses — it is extremely important that we do not react too speedily. We are guided to some extent by the kind of person that this Bill is meant to deal with, by the fact that in this State at the moment there are about 30,000 tenancies which would fall within the ambit of the Rent Restrictions Act. Within those tenancies are to be found in many instances the elderly meek, proud, old people, the typical old lady whom one can meet in so many parts of the city of Dublin and, indeed, in every town throughout the country. Particular attention will have to be paid to the way in which this law is enacted and the way in which it affects them.

My concern in dealing with the elderly and in having this measure enacted in the right way is principally on the question of whether the District Court is specialised enough to handle the question of the fixing of rents between landlord and tenant; whether the District Court, if it was developed into a more specialised rents tribunal or something close to it, could not more effectively handle these cases. The best example I can cite is the way in which the Circuit Court handles its own areas of responsibility in relation to landlord and tenant matters where, certainly within the Dublin Metropolitan courts, there is a degree of specialisation given; the experts come in and there is a real understanding of the issues, and the judge and those contributing to the exercise are well informed in these areas. One obvious advantage that could be got from developing a more specialised court, perhaps within the District Court system — and I understand fully the Minister's concern to keep the matter of litigation and costs that may in some instances fall on the tenant down to the very minimum — is to try to equip ourselves within the District Court system, to have it simple, to have it specialised, to have it understood by everybody as a procedure that will be trying to catch up with a very long period of total protection and of rents fixed over the lifetime of the tenants and those who will appear before the court.

One necessary extension of the District Court procedure, if we could get it into a specialised nature, would be equally to extend the area of subsidisation of rents that will arise in some cases to the District Court hearing itself. I find it hard to contemplate that we are going to have large numbers of old people, men and women, old couples who have lived in accommodation, perhaps in very poor standards, over a long period, coming into these courts, facing a court situation, which in itself is a new dimension in their lives and something they have not experienced before, and having to undertake, immediately after their appearance in court, a visit to some agency such as the Department of Social Welfare that they are not used to visiting and, because of their pride and the type of existence they had up to then, have not been used to the cap-in-hand attitude of having to seek support from the State in that form. I would suggest to the Minister of State that, perhaps, in dealing with the Committee Stage of this Bill, which affects the elderly and very many other people who at this moment are concerned about the details and provisions of this Bill and how it will affect them, we could, in the final drafting, introduce some provisions whereby the area of subsidisation could arise in court and that the Department of Social Welfare or whatever other agency would be involved could be there taking part in a specialised court hearing that would be much more expert, much more likely to determine their case sensitively.

This Bill is important. It is vital that we act in this area to allay the fears of people who were unnerved by the Supreme Court decision last year. But it is equally important when we are enacting the law that we try not to rush it too fast, that we bear in mind it has been in existence since 1915. If there are amendments of the type I suggest that can be brought in usefully to give a more satisfactory outcome and to look after the people who will be affected by it, then I think this could add considerably to the final Bill.

Senator Quinn yesterday said, in many ways, what I would like to say about this Bill. There is evidence in the Bill of such a failure to understand the people who will be the victims of this legislation that it is imperative that much of what was said by Senator Quinn should be reiterated by myself and, I hope, by a number of other speakers.

The problem has to do with the way our society has chosen to organise itself. It has to do fundamentally with our Constitution. There is no solution at this stage to the conflict between the interests of those who own property, in this case landlords, and those who need access to shelter, in this case the tenants short of a constitutional amendment. If the Government wish to tackle this problem of vulnerable tenants in rent-controlled accommodation they will have to talk about changing the Constitution.

Like Senator Quinn, I do not understand, and I do not know and I have not met, the people who, it is anticipated, would object to a change in the Constitution to make it clear that the rights of property are always subordinated to the common good and, as the Pope said recently, that the ownership of capital and the ownership of property are subordinate to the needs of labour. He said this in his recent Encyclical which, though rather distorted on the women's issue, is quite a radical document. If we are going to tackle this problem what we will have to do is to remedy a Constitution which was well-intentioned but which is defective because it has written into it the details of the social teaching of one particular Church at one particular point in history and which has advanced far beyond that thinking now.

As I said in another debate, I do not believe that the real problem in this area is the Church. The problem is the conservatism of those who lead our society. That is why our vulnerable, old people are going to be subjected to the sort of terror that this legislation is bringing to them. I stand over that. Let any Member of this House pick up a telephone and ring Father Donal O'Mahony who runs Threshold, the organisation which looks after the interests of tenants and landlords — that is the way they have always organised themselves — and ask him what his members, most of them old, vulnerable, single people think of this legislation. They are extremely worried. Unfortunately they are not articulate or vocal; they are not organised; they do not have a lobby. So they will not be heard. They cannot take to court cases where a landlord does not carry out his legal obligations because they cannot afford to. Even if they could afford to, or even if the free legal aid system would help them, they are not organised enough to be able to do that sort of thing. Everybody knows the sort of people I am talking about. That they would be able of their own volition to go to a free legal aid centre, one of the seven that are currently operating, and do all that is necessary, defies imagination.

These are vulnerable people. It is our responsibility to protect them. This legislation is not protecting them. This legislation is giving a vestige or a modicum of apparent protection; but there is no fundamental protection for them. I can testify to this. As I said, Threshold are the organisation who have most to do with it and they will testify that they are dissatisfied with this legislation; they will testify that old people living in rent controlled accommodation are dissatisfied with this legislation.

I acknowledge that there are individual cases where the landlords suffered very badly from the old Rent Restrictions Acts. I acknowledge that there were cases of tenants who were far better off than the landlords who owned the property. I do not acknowledge that the concerns and the welfare of that minority were what motivated the recent court action which brought about the situation we are now trying to remedy. I do not accept the crocodile tears that were being shed by spokesmen for landlords at that time. I do not believe they were sincere. I do not believe they were motivated by concern for suffering landlords who were in impossible situations. I do not accept or believe that. I believe they were motivated by greed, by self-advancement and by the worst aspects of the capitalist system; they had property which was potentially extremely valuable and they wanted to get rid of an unnecessary impediment, tenants who could not pay decent rents, who would not pay decent rents and who could never afford to pay decent rents. They wanted their property and wanted the people who were between them and their property out of the way. Unfortunately the courts interpreted our Constitution, and judged that they were entitled to that. No rights of individuals or poor people could prevent them from having unlimited access to their property. There is no fundamental limitation in this legislation on landlords' rights.

It is astonishing that in a society where we have 40,000 old people living alone the vast majority of them are in private accommodation. Successive Governments refused to acknowledge that single people have a housing problem. They introduced spurious distinctions between accommodation and shelter. The Housing Acts refer to hostels for single people but the Department of the Environment in their housing package, introduced by the last Government and still being implemented by this Government, pretend that there is some distinction. Most of the people who are affected by this legislation are single, old, vulnerable people who live in appalling conditions. Our final gesture to them in their old age is to make them feel insecure in the small, tiny, inadequate place they call home. I am not speaking in rhetorical terms. I am speaking about specific aspects of this legislation which will create insecurity in the mind of any tenant in rent controlled property.

Why must the market determine the rent? Effectively what the section says is that it is the market which will determine the rent of the property and nothing else. I do not understand that. Is that a constitutional provision? If it is, it is a further indictment of our Constitution and of its inability to protect the vulnerable and weak from the powerful and those who own property. No figure has been mentioned for a rent subsidy. I find it obnoxious that we will have to pay subsidies which will go into the pockets of many of the wealthy people in our society in order to guarantee homes for the poor.

The present conception in the State's thinking of a rent subsidy is contained in the supplementary welfare system. The maximum rent subsidy under that is £5 per week. In most areas of the larger cities where rent controlled accommodation exists, the market rent for a couple of rooms is of the order of £20, £30 or £40 per week. Are we going to offer these people £5 per week rent subsidy or are we going to offer them a £25 or a £35 a week subsidy? I have no reason to believe that realistic figures have been thought out on this question. I have no reason to believe anything until I see the legislation in front of me, but I would be delighted if somebody could tell me is there a figure in mind? Are they talking about a percentage of the commercial rent or are they talking about a flat rate? The only thing I know about the present official thinking is represented in the supplementary welfare system and that is a maximum of £5 per week for a flat.

I do not understand the philosophy behind legislation like this. I do not understand whom it is intended to protect. It will not protect old people. It will give them five years in which to find the means to pay commercial rent for a property. I do not understand why this is not a matter of conscience. As far as I am concerned, these are the real issues that should stimulate and challenge the conscience of the people — the threat to the security of old, vulnerable people because of the way we have chosen to organise ourselves and because of the values that have become predominant in our society.

If we had a real conception of what conscience is about this legislation would be regarded as a question of conscience as much as the matters which are connected with our sexual function tend to be matters of conscience. This is a question of our collective conscience and what we are prepared to do to protect those who are vulnerable, those who are alone and those who are least able to defend themselves. I am sure there have been very few hostile or negative representations made about this legislation from individual rent controlled tenants. I am quite sure that very few tenants in the 30,000 or so rent controlled dwellings are in a position to make any real, vigorous representations on their own behalf. We are all aware of the representations made by those who speak for landlords and about the threats of immediate further litigation on court action if the legislation goes through. We know who is powerful. We know who is vulnerable. This Bill is not in any way on the side of the vulnerable and the powerless. It is another attempt to strike the mean between good and bad and regard yourself as the better for doing so. This is an attempt to balance the interests of the vulnerable and the interests of the powerful. What has happened is that the powerful, because they are powerful, will be able to exploit their rights to the full. The vulnerable will not understand their rights, will have nobody to explain their rights to them and will be further threatened and made even more vulnerable and we will not even know about it.

The one thing I disagree with Senator Quinn about on this legislation is his prediction that the consequences will be social chaos. I wish I could believe that because then we would probably be forced to amend this legislation. We will not have social chaos because those who will suffer will disappear quietly and aimlessly into institutions or they will just die because of the pressures put on them. They will fade away and there will not be a major social upheaval. Those who will suffer are those who will not be able to answer back, those who will not be in a position to organise themselves and will not reply with violence, direct or indirect. They will not act politically. They will just quietly fade away and we can pretend there is no problem because most of the time that is what we do.

These people have been living in the most scandalous conditions for years and we have done very little for them. About 40,000 old people live alone, half of them with only an outside toilet. Ten per cent of them have no electricity, two-thirds of them have no hot water, one-third of them have no water and no electricity and no facilities for washing, cooking or cleaning, Whatever limited rights many of them may have to their accommodation are now threatened. I do not understand the way we have organised our values. I do not understand this legislation coming from a socially reforming Government.

When one speaks about protecting the poor, the vulnerable, the threatened and voiceless one must remember that the poor are not a homogeneous mass of a million people. They are a collection of various inarticulate groups who do not have a sense of common purpose or common interest. If we legislate like this for one group who are poor and legislate in similar principle for all the other groups who are poor we will do nothing for any of the poor. What is needed and what is implicit in most of what was said by Government spokesmen is an amendment to our Constitution. If we want to protect those who, because they live in prime property areas and the commercial value of the property has soared, are a threat to the financial interests of those who own the property, we need to have a constitutional amendment.

Threshold asked me to raise one question. Threshold are the people who would be in the best position to talk about this Section 12 of the Bill deals with the recovery of possession. I have terrible suspicions about the motivation for that section. I am not imputing any ill-motive to the Minister. I just wonder who persuaded whom in this case. There is an extraordinary discrepancy between section 12 of this Bill and section 60 of the 1980 Act dealing with landlords and tenants. That Act deals with compensation on termination of tenancies. It gives a tenant a period of 12 months notice from the date when a court decides that the tenancy can be terminated. There is no provision for such a stay of execution in this legislation. The 1980 Act puts no upper limit on the amount of compensation that a tenant can claim if his tenancy is terminated. It makes reference to the pecuniary benefit accruing to the landlord which is referable to his getting possession. This Bill, for some reason, specifies that the maximum amount of financial compensation over and above his expenses that a tenant can get is two years rent in the new accommodation. I do not understand why a Bill which was designed to protect the most vulnerable is less protective than previous legislation in regard to the possibility of the landlord repossessing the tenancy, which is the matter of greatest concern to the tenant. I do not understand why the compensation should not be generous and substantial.

People in Threshold told me about a family living in a two roomed flat in Baggot Street ten years ago, who got £15,000 compensation from a property developer. Another family in the same area were accommodated by the ESB in a house in Stillorgan which is now worth about £40,000. This legislation is purporting to protect tenants in rent-controlled properties, vulnerable, threatened old people. This legislation gives them a maximum of about £2,000-£3,000. If one takes the rent at about £30 a week, then one is talking about £2,000-£4,000 a year. That is the maximum compensation that a landlord has to pay and he is liable to pay multiples of that figure purely by getting vacant possession.

I accept that the section refers to cases where planning permission has been obtained for redevelopment. If planning permission has not been obtained for redevelopment and the only obstacle to that redevelopment is a tenant, then the capital gain to the landlord will be enormous. The amount of that capital gain that he will have to transfer to the victimised, homeless tenant is about £2,000-£4,000. This is the sort of money that some of these landlords, if one is to believe their own testimony, would spend on cigars in a year.

That section makes the whole alleged purpose of this Bill suspect. If that is the concept of protection of a tenant, if that is the philosophy of protection of vulnerable people, if that is the philosophy of concern for a most vulnerable, inarticulate and underprivileged group, then it not only calls this Bill into a question but the commitment of this Government to the abolition of poverty into question. It would appear that they have drawn back further from the 1980 Act by the provisions they have introduced in this Bill.

I have read and heard about the need to give incentives to landlords to provide rented accommodation for people who cannot afford to buy their own houses. I have seen the evidence of the way this incentive works. The result is that half the houses within a two mile radius of the Regional Hospital and University in Cork are brought up by speculative landlords because they know there will be a market among students for them. That has pushed up the price of houses for young married couples in the area. I am not impressed by the argument that we have to give an incentive to private landlords. There is no shortage of people who want to buy property to turn into flats or want to by-pass the planning laws and fit more flats into their house. No argument about incentives could justify anything in this Bill.

The Bill is well-intentioned. I do not think it goes anywhere near allaying the fears of a vulnerable, old, inarticulate, poor group in our society. It does not meet the fears of the only group who can speak for them. It does not meet any of my reservations. It would be scandalous if this Bill were rushed through. There are possibilities of amendment. Section 12 is extraordinary, in the sense that it gives less protection and less consideration to the tenant than the 1980 Act did. I do not understand that. It should be amended. To leave the fixing of rent exclusively to market forces is immoral. It is insensitive and wrong. That section of the Bill should be amended. To suggest that a five year period is a reasonable time in which to adjust the rent to a commercial rent, is wrong and unfair and penalises the tenant.

The basic thrust of the Bill is an attempt to resolve an impossible dilemma which is that our Constitution says people do not matter when it comes to property. Property is supreme. It would be more honest and fair and, in the long term, much more valuable to these people if the Government were to take their courage in their hands and introduce an amendment to our Constitution which would simply say that where there is a conflict of interest between the common good and the rights of property, the common good must be seen to be the more important. That is not socialism. It is basic, fundamental Christianity that almost all of us in this House claim to practise. Nothing else will protect old people in this sort of rented accommodation. Nothing else will properly balance the rights of landlords and tenants. If we must have this legislation, then let us have something more human than market forces to determine the proper rent for a property. Surely a question of justice between a landlord and a tenant could be considered in determining this? The problem is that anything other than market forces for the determination of rent would be regarded as possibly being unconstitutional. If there is advice to that effect I would like to hear it. If that is the case, there is no way one can protect these tenants. I appeal to the Minister to amend section 12 to bring it into line with section 60 of the 1980 Act. This would give people some further protection.

Old stereotypes die hard and one of these is the preconception that all tenants enjoying restricted rents are elderly or poor and that all landlords of restricted property are rich and rapacious. There are, I understand and accept, many tenants — perhaps even a majority of three out of five as Threshold and other concerned bodies have suggested — who would be unable to afford an economic rent. But if so there must also be quite a number, two out of five, who are neither elderly nor poor and who could well affort to pay a proper rent. Similarly, there must be many landlords who are themselves in the category of the elderly or the less well-off and who cannot justly be expected to subsidise the rent of tenants who are as well, or perhaps even better off, than themselves.

We often express concern in this House about equity, particularly in taxation and other charges on individual members of the community. I do not know how we can reconcile this concern with our practice hitherto in relation to rent restrictions. We have legislated to exact contributions from one random section of citizens for the benefit of another random section without any regard to the capacity of the one to bear the burden or the genuine need of the other. To continue along these lines would be indefensible.

When the first extension of the rent restrictions code was discussed here on 16 July last, I tried to illustrate the unsoundness of the code by likening it to a law which declared that, in an area where it was known that quite a number of poor persons lived, all the residents would be entitled to get their groceries at half price from the local traders. I stressed the crudeness and inequity of any statutory provision which did not distinguish between those in need and those not in need, and which inflicted a levy on suppliers of a commodity or service irrespective of their capacity to bear it.

Senator Brendan Ryan asked what was the relevance of an economic rent. He even suggested that to be bound by market considerations was in some way immoral. Last July I tried to give my view of why the economic case for rent restrictions was not valid. It seems to me that so far as rents are kept below an economic return, existing properties must go into dilapidation for want of adequate repair and maintenance; new properties for letting at low rents will not be constructed because the return is insufficient. In other words, if one does not accept that an economic rent may be charged, the trend must be towards a dwindling and deteriorating stock of houses for letting. To my mind, that is neither economically not socially desirable. I take the view that both economic and social requirements would best be met by letting economic rents prevail, subject to control, as long as scarcity exists — and it will exist for a long time —either by the District Courts or preferably by a specialised professional body. Control is necessary to ensure that rents do not exceed what is basically economic because of scarcity considerations.

That is one part of the principle that should be followed. The other part is that it should be accepted that there should be a supplementing out of public funds of the incomes of those who are unable to afford an economic rent. The present system of rent control is unsound and needs to be replaced by a combination of general supervision to ensure that only economic rents are charged and by social payments to supplement incomes in cases of individual need. This Bill is moving in that direction but perhaps not sufficiently.

Senator Quinn spoke impressively and passionately last evening on what he considered were the deficiencies of the Bill as far as tenants are concerned. I respect his sincerity but he did sound quite intimidatory, or at least challenging, towards anyone who might dare ask for fair consideration of the interests of landlords, at least a particular class of landlords. Senator Quinn recognised that neither tenants nor landlords were a homogeneous group. I hold no brief for either group. I am interested in fair and equitable treatment being extended to both groups. One must put prejudice aside in matters of this kind. I am as concerned as anyone that poor, old and vulnerable tenants should be adequately protected by law and have the support of public funds, where necessary, rather than haphazard contributions from private landlords.

The Minister presented this new legislation as not unduly favouring either group. In general, I would not dissent from that but I should like to qualify it in a number of respects. On the side of the tenants, I should like to see more definite assurance that support from public funds will be available for tenants genuinely unable to meet the economic rent either in full, when that happens, or in the intervening period of phasing-in of the economic rent.

On the other hand, certain provisions of the Bill seem to be titled rather too much in favour of the tenant. The first of these is the rebate arrangement in section 9 which, while quite satisfactory and justifiable in most cases, is not justifiable where the tenant is able to afford an economic rent and the landlord is not in a good position to do without it. The second point where I am doubtful whether the balance is exactly right is in the right to succession to a tenancy of the very extended family mentioned in section 1 (2) (a) of the Bill. Bona fide residence with the tenant at the date of death is the criterion. Obviously this is open to some abuse. I wonder whether it would not give adequate protection to prescribe some reasonable period of residence before the date of death of the tenant?

The third point on which I am a little concerned is section 17 which deals with the incidence of costs. I am quite happy that the costs should primarily be put against the landlord's account. Section 17 provides a reasonable saver where it says that the court may, on consideration of all the circumstances, including the means of the landlord and the tenant, order otherwise. I suggest it might be helpful if these circumstances were acknowledged to include the adoption of a reasonable approach by the landlord in negotiations with the tenant before resort to the court. In my opinion, it is very desirable that cases be kept away from the court in so far as possible and that reasonable negotiations be encouraged. This might be helped if it were expressly recognised as a favourable point in section 17 of the Bill.

I would like first to take the opportunity to thank the Senators for their contributions to this debate and also for their good wishes to me in my new office. Nobody will argue that the problems with which the Bill before us strives to deal are anything other than very difficult and complex. When legislative provisions are enacted, about 30,000 families will be faced with great uncertainty as to the future position of their dwellings which they have occupied for so long. The Government are determined to ensure that measures be taken to avoid this social upheaval and chaos. The Bill before the House is a balanced measure which in line with the common good gives reasonable protection to tenants and allows landlords a progressive increase in their return on their dwellings.

Predictably, the reactions to the Bill have been mixed in both Houses of the Oireachtas and outside. Since the Bill was introduced I have had the opportunity to receive a number of deputations and to consult with a number of people from the point of view of the tenants who have expressed concern at future consequences arising from this Bill. I have also had some consultation, particularly with one landlord, and others who expressed grave reservations about the outcome of the Bill and who threatened that it was something which they would challenge in the courts. This is an indication of how difficult it is to enact legislation to deal with the problem and to reconcile the interests both of the landlord and the tenant. I shall in the course of this reply deal in some detail with the points made by Senators.

On the wider forum, representatives of landlords have attacked the Bill on the grounds of the restraints it imposes on them and representatives of tenants have taken issue with certain aspects of the Bill not to their liking. As regards the Bill being pro-landlord or pro-tenant in its approach, in my opinion it is neither. It is a balanced set of proposals which takes account of the constitutional advice available to the Government and of the terms of the Supreme Court judgment. It is manifestly obvious that in the face of the court's judgment, the benefits so long enjoyed by tenants of controlled dwellings could only continue for the limited period required to enact permanent legislation. Equally the Government have a responsibility, in line with the pledge in the Constitution that the State should safeguard with special care the interests of the weaker sections of the community, to protect tenants of controlled dwellings many of whom are among the poorer and most vulnerable sections of the community.

I want now to deal with the points raised by Senators. I wish to thank Senator O'Toole who welcomed the Bill. I feel he was sincere when he said that it was a difficult piece of legislation and that he felt that as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court it was as far as the Minister could go. He made a point in relation to the fact that the fire chiefs and the planning people should visit accommodation available to tenants and should inspect it. I want to say to Senator O'Toole that another Bill which has been passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Fire Services Bill, deals with the point he raised. It is also true that planning officers and fire chiefs visit premises of that sort and inspect them. The new Bill which was passed here one week ago complies with the wishes expressed by Senator O'Toole.

Senator Alexis FitzGerald suggested that the District Court should be transformed into something resembling a rents tribunal because the District Court would not be capable of dealing with the problems arising from disputes and difficulties between landlords and tenants in coming to an agreement with regard to a reasonable rent. The Bill provides that in the event of a landlord and a tenant not being able to come to an agreement the rent will then be decided by the court. It applies particularly to places such as Dublin, Cork and our major cities. If there is a question of the courts not being able to deal with the cases brought before them, this is something which the Government will have to consider. If it is found that the courts are not capable of dealing with the situation, the matter will have to be examined.

It was also suggested that the courts would be in a better position to decide on subsidisation of rents. I do not accept this point and neither do I believe that it is something which the courts should be asked to do. It is a matter for the State to come to the rescue of tenants who are in the serious position where they cannot meet the demands made on them. I have given a commitment already from the Government that they will come to the aid of tenants who are not in a position to meet these demands.

To a large extent I am in agreement with what Senator Whitaker said. The Bill before the House, together with the assistance the Government have undertaken to provide, seems to go as far as possible towards allaying the objections and concerns raised in relation to the tenants. This is as far as we can go in that regard.

I want to deal with the points made by Senator Quinn. May I say that, in common with the views expressed by other Senators, I do not doubt the sincerity of his speech, which was very convincing. The Senator has strong views on the matter. There were parts of his contribution with which I would agree but there were some which I could not accept. I want to say that in a situation of that kind it is possible to quote extreme cases and Senator Quinn did that very effectively from the point of view of the tenant. I discussed the matter with the tenants' organisations and anybody who wished to see me on the subject. I will give an example to highlight exactly what Senator Quinn was talking about in one case. He forecast that a considerable number of people would be on the street as a result of this Bill, that they would have nowhere to go, and would apply to Dublin Corporation for some kind of accommodation. He said they would be told to go to a top flat in Ballymun or in some other place, if the Corporation were lucky enough to have some kind of accommodation of that kind available.

Under no circumstances would I claim to know as much about the housing problems of Dublin city as does Senator Quinn and I accept the point he made. On the other hand, a landlord asked me what was my answer to the situation where his daughter, who was a deserted wife with two children, was living in an outhouse while the tenant with a reasonable income was living in a house owned by the landlord and paying rent of £2 per week.

The point I want to make here is that while it is natural and understandable that public representatives, Senators and Deputies, and people generally with any kind of social conscience or Christian outlook would be more inclined to favour or to look at the problems of the tenant rather than the difficulties of the landlord, as the Minister introducing this Bill, I do not want to claim here to be either on the landlord's or the tenant's side. I hope that when the Bill is enacted it will be a fair solution to the problem.

I want to make the point at this stage that it must be borne in mind by Senators that it is not I who looked for this legislation. It was not the Government who directed me to provide the legislation. It was not any socialist or conservative group or any group of capitalists or anybody else who decided that this Bill was necessary. It is as a result of a decision of the Supreme Court where Part II and Part IV of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960 were declared unconstitutional. That situation forced the Government to provide a measure which would conform to the Constitution. That point must be borne in mind but Senators and Deputies have avoided mentioning it. I do not mind criticism — that is part and parcel of the job — but it was unfair to imply that some vested interests was involved, as was implied in some speeches in both Houses. The Bill was forced on us. It was something which we could not avoid because of the fact that Part II and Part IV of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960 were declared unconstitutional.

Senator Quinn's contribution could be described as a very eloquent speech but I must take issue with him on a number of points. Concern for safeguarding the interests of tenants is not reserved to him alone and I want to stress that. The Government, the Minister for the Environment and I are extremely conscious of the need to safeguard the position of tenants in every way open to us, particularly of those who are less well off and those who got special mention by Senator Quinn. I do not say that he was not sincere about the cases he mentioned here. I do say that there is a genuine concern expressed by the Government and for that reason we are coming to the rescue or defence of those tenants.

This has been manifest in the commitments in our programme and in the speedy way the Government had the temporary legislation passed last July. There was the undertaking that tenants in need would get assistance in meeting the higher rents they would have to pay. This is a commitment by the Government but it cannot be included in the Bill before the Seanad at the moment. Supplementary welfare allowances which provided assistance in the past are not the concern of my Department. There may be a new system to deal with it but it is not something which is relevant at this stage of the Bill.

I do not want anybody to get the impression that as far as the Government and I are concerned this is the end as far as legislation to deal with landlords and tenants is concerned. I can only express my surprise that Senator Quinn should attempt to cast doubt on the sincerity of what I said in such a clear-cut way not only in this House but in the Dáil earlier this week. His persistence in this respect can only increase the disquiet of tenants. The Bill is simply not the appropriate vehicle to make provision for assistance to needy tenants. Perhaps I should repeat that if both Bills are passed, the need for assistance will not apply until 26 April next.

Senator Quinn said we should extend the Temporary Provisions Bill much further than 26 April. I have no legal qualifications and I am sure there are Members here in the House who understand the law much better than I do. He mentioned that this would give us more scope to have amendments, to discuss the Bill and introduce provisions not already in the Bill. The reason we had to introduce this temporary measure is that Part II and Part IV of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1960 were declared unconstitutional. This is the second time we have looked for an extension. The Supreme Court interprets the Articles of the Constitution. I would point out to Senator Quinn the danger inherent in his proposal and I would ask him to accept that there is no way in which, in my opinion, this could be done because it would be extremely dangerous.

Senator Quinn ranged over the constitutional principles at some length. In many respects what he said was more a critique of the Constitution and the way the matter was interpreted by the Supreme Court than a realistic appraisal of the Bill before the House. The Bill is drafted, as it must necessarily be, in compliance with and subject to the constraints imposed by the Constitution. That is what I have been attempting to do because of the peculiar and difficult position in which I find myself.

I must refer to one particular suggestion the Senator made for amendment to the Bill. Without going into the details I think I quote him accurately as saying that he felt sure the amendment he was suggesting would be outrageously unconstitutional but that it should be made. I may be open to correction here because I am not sure whether I am quoting him exactly. The Government simply cannot legislate in that way, for practical as well as for constitutional reasons. I should perhaps quote Article 15.4 of the Constitution which is as follows:

The Oireachtas shall not enact any law which is in any respect repugnant to this Constitution or any provision thereof.

The Article states in no uncertain terms how the Government must proceed. We have ignored one aspect, namely the constitutionality of any Bill that we bring before the House or any laws that may be enacted. We must recognise what is required of us by the Constitution which, incidentally, Senator Quinn praised highly.

Senator Quinn also suggested that the Government should be more ambitious and test to the ultimate the interpretations of these property rights in the Constitution. This is easy to say but it should be realised that if legislation is found to be unconstitutional the options then remaining open to the Government will be much more limited. I cannot introduce legislation which I consider unconstitutional, no more than I can, as Minister, advocate that persons should break the law. This is something which I am not prepared to do. I hope Senator Quinn will accept this point. Laws which are unconstitutional may not be introduced.

In a constitutional context I must take issue with Senator Quinn on a further aspect. In what I accept was his genuine concern for tenants he seemed to advance a curious proposition. I understood him to say that certain landlords being a minority interest could and should be denied the full protection of the Constitution and that this could be justified by the resultant benefits to tenants. This is very close to one of the faults found in the legislation by the Supreme Court. It is not a proposition to which the Government could subscribe. It has been widely acknowledged that one of the virtues of our Constitution, whatever faults it may have, is that it protects the ultimate rights of the minorities. Whether they are landlords or tenants, it is important that the rights of minorities be maintained.

Senator Whitaker made some suggestions in relation to private rented accommodation. There is genuine concern by all elected representatives. In the matter of housing alone, it is a most contentious and controversial point whether one Government or another are doing more to provide and extra number of houses. There are bad landlords and bad tenants also. If more rented accommodation was available it would solve many of our problems. One of the difficulties in providing extra accommodation was that the incentive to do so did not exist. The Bill is now trying to give landlords an opportunity at some stage to repossess their dwellings, where they will have an interest in maintaining them, where the rented accommodation which is available will not deteriorate as rapidly as it has over the past number of years. This was mainly because sections of the Act were declared unconstitutional. This is an aspect which is not completely divorced from this Bill. It is one of those areas which we could regard as providing some incentive towards a solution of our housing problem. I hear people talking about the difficulties which students have in getting accommodation and I know there is a difficulty there. When accommodation is available the rents are stronomical. While we have a duty to those people to control the rent, we must not remove the incentive to provide such accommodation.

I do not accept there is any room for selectivity. The Constitution is there to protect all citizens and this sets the guidelines on which we must legislate. I am making these points on the constitutional aspect of the Bill. As I said at the opening stages of the debate, the Government had to have regard for the complex constitutional issues which this legislation raises. The Government feel that this measure achieves a fair balance between the interests of both parties and the advice available is that the Bill is in conformity with the Constitution. However, in light of the views to the contrary that have been expressed, the Government have thought it prudent to plan for the possibility of a referral by the President to the Supreme Court. For this reason the Government have proposed that temporary legislation be extended to 25 April 1982.

There has been considerable disquiet and concern among tenants regarding section 9 and this was expressed in the Dáil and the Seanad. If the court decides on a fair rent it has to be phased in—40 per cent for the first year and 15 per cent in each subsequent year until it is 100 per cent in the fifth year. There has been concern about this, that it will throw tenants on the streets, particularly those who are in the upper age limit, widows, those living alone and old age pensioners. I accept there is a difficulty here. If this law fails in that regard then our whole social services will have failed also. I do not accept that the State will not come to the rescue of those people who are thrown on to the streets and have nowhere to go. I accept that the Government will come to their rescue whether by way of supplementary welfare allowance or otherwise.

The drafting of this section took into account the points raised by Senator Quinn. If in the first year tenants were subjected to the fair rent fixed by the courts it would be a severe heartache on those tenants and the purpose of this section was to phase-in the agreed economic rent which was determined by the court. We have got advice from legal experts on this matter that this is the best that can be done. It is not right to say that this was drafted with no consideration for the tenants and their difficulties to pay.

Senator Ryan made some points in relation to the section which I just mentioned. They were repeated by other Senators and I have dealt with them. There is great urgency attached to this Bill and it is important that it be enacted as soon as possible. We had no alternative but to introduce the Bill. The point has been made by a number of Senators particularly by Senator Ryan. I do not disagree with him. It also has been made by Senator Quinn very effectively. Maybe it is not this Bill which we should look at, maybe it is not the law in relation to this problem, maybe it is the Constitution, but that is not a matter for me to decide. I may agree entirely that we could look at it, but there is nothing to prevent Senator Ryan, Senator Quinn or anybody else from expressing that view somewhere, and maybe getting good support. We could look at it to see in what way it is fulfilling what it was proposed to do.

I thank very sincerely the Members here who gave their views and, while I do not necessarily agree with the views expressed, that does not mean that I do not take note of the points made and that I do not appreciate them. They were made in a very sincere way and the debate was of a very high standard from Senators who contributed. I hope they appreciate the circumstances under which this Bill was introduced and the difficulties of trying to reconcile the interests of landlords and tenants. I hope sincerely that when this Bill is enacted it will at least go a portion of the way to protect the interests of all concerned. It is not the duty of the Government nor is it possible for them to direct the President to bring this Bill before the Supreme Court immediately to test the constitutionality of it but —let me express my own personal opinion here—I sincerely hope that this will be done because it is important that at least we would know in the very near future whether this Bill can stand up before the Supreme Court and become law. There are restrictions on us in relation to time and that is why I express the urgency of this Bill and the delicate situation we are in.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Would it be possible to adjourn Committee Stage for about an hour? It has come to my notice that some of our people may wish to table amendments to the next Bill?

There would be no objection from this side of the House. Perhaps we could adjourn for lunch.

Sitting suspended at 12.32 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.