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Dail sits to pass emergency law banning evictions, freezing rent

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

An emergency law described by the Taoiseach as "unprecedented action to deal with an unprecedented emergency" was set to be passed by the Dail last night.

It came after a marathon debate at Leinster House in which TDs met in reduced numbers and practised personal distancing to get the legislation aimed at dealing with the coronavirus crisis over the line.

The proposed law, which is to be debated by the Seanad today, provides tough new powers to temporarily ban evictions and freeze rents.

Landlords will not be able to serve notices of termination or hike rents for three months.

It also allows for the Government's planned wage subsidies.

With hundreds of thousands of jobs threatened by the crisis, the Government has pledged to pay 70pc of an employee's wages up to €410 a week for businesses willing to meet the balance.

The employer must be adversely affected by the virus emergency and have suffered at least a 25pc reduction in turnover or customer orders.

The law includes measures to make it easier for healthcare professionals to re-register and return to work, including a provision that no fees be charged.

Another section of the law deals with mental health trib- unals, and the legislation also allows former soldiers to rejoin the Defence Forces at the same rank at which they left.

Mr Varadkar said "desperate times do not call for desperate measures, rather they call for composure and radical responses".

He argued that such measures would provide hope and bring maximum benefit to those who needed them most.

"This legislation is des-igned to do exactly that," he said.

Mr Varadkar used his speech to suggest that a separate freeze on all creche fees for three months may not be rolled back entirely once the coronavirus crisis was over.

He said the Government's plan had always been to expand early childhood care and education (ECCE) and to expand the National Childcare Scheme incrementally, thereby reducing the amount parents have to pay.

Swoop

"In some ways we've done that in one fell swoop," he said, adding that the Dail may decide not to roll back the measure entirely.

The Opposition welcomed many of the measures, but also tabled amendments.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said parliament had suspended nearly all of its normal oversight functions, but it was the "right thing to do in the circumstances".

He said his party would support the passage of the bill while suggesting ways it could be improved.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Pearse Doherty said the legislation was just one part of "a series of things that need to be done to ensure our citizens' safety".

However, he criticised how some workplaces like building sites and factories remained open when many others were closed, saying those workers were not safe.

Mr Varadkar praised the Opposition for the "constructive role" it had played and said the Government was grateful for the "goodwill" and "co-operation".

"When faced with a common foe, we can put aside our differences to work together for the good of the country," he said.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told the Dail that the cost of the economic intervention came to an estimated €300m per week.

"That cost could grow, depending on the challenge we face," he said.