THE Dáil has passed sweeping new laws to temporarily freeze all rents, ban all evictions and introduce an unprecedented €4bn emergency wages subsidy scheme.
he Dáil sat in extraordinary circumstances to pass all stages of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Covid-19 Bill on Thursday night following a 12-hour debate. It will be debated in the Seanad on Friday.
Only 50 out of 160 TDs were allowed in the Dáil chamber time for votes that took place by roll call as politicians observed strict social distancing rules. Debate was paused at 8pm as TDs, Oireachtas staff and journalists joined in the national applause for healthcare workers across the country who are grappling with the crisis.
Opposition TDs won a vote to extend the moratorium on rent increases and evictions to all tenancies, including those outside of the Residential Tenancies Act, such as people in rent-a-room arrangements and Travellers on halting sites.
Among other measures, the legislation will also allow for retired healthcare workers and members of the Defence Forces to be rehired to work in the national effort to halt the spread of the disease.
Health Minister Simon Harris earlier told TDs that women looking to access abortion services will be able to consult remotely with their GPs after the Opposition pushed for the removal of the three-day waiting period for women to access medication to terminate their pregnancies.
During the lengthy debate TDs repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers treating patients with Covid-19. Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said it was “insulting” that concerns about low stocks of PPE were being disparaged by senior HSE officials.
There were also repeated calls for the closure of building sites which have remained open in recent days. TDs said it was impossible in some instances for social distancing rules to be observed. Labour TD Ged Nash said: “If in doubt we should simply ensure that building sites are closed.”
TDs also expressed outrage at people deliberately coughing and spitting at others. Independent TD Denis Naughten said there should be a specific offence in the legislation “that would actually prohibit anyone carrying out an appalling act such as that”.
A specific amendment on this, tabled by Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, was ruled out of order.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty claimed that banks and vulture funds will profit from the three-month break on mortgage repayments being offered to homeowners during the crisis.
He told the Dáil that Pepper, which he described as a “vulture fund”, is “telling their customers that they will give them the three-month break but what they’ll do is they will increase the repayment from €1,500 to €1,600 each month until the amount of money that they should have paid, including the interest, is paid off. They’re not extending it over the full duration of the loan.”
Earlier, Taoiseach Mr Varadkar suggested that the freeze on the payment of all crèche fees for three months may not be rolled back entirely when the Covid-19 crisis is over. Mr Varadkar said that while some measures like the rent increases and evictions moratorium on would be temporary, the actions taken in the childcare sector may not.
“When it comes to childcare, our plan had always been to expand ECCE [Early Childhood Care and Education], and to expand the National Childcare Scheme incrementally, thereby reducing the amount parents have to pay,” he said.
“In some ways we’ve done that in one fell swoop, an incremental measure done very quickly. We might decide, perhaps as a House, not to rollback that entirely.”
Measures to expedite sick pay for workers who have been forced to self-isolate in recent weeks could also be maintained, he indicated.