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O'Brien vows to fight for tenants' rights during Covid crisis

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Darragh O’Brien with Eamonn Crowley and Hugh Brennan at an affordable housing scheme in Ballymun

Darragh O’Brien with Eamonn Crowley and Hugh Brennan at an affordable housing scheme in Ballymun

Andres Poveda

Darragh O’Brien with Eamonn Crowley and Hugh Brennan at an affordable housing scheme in Ballymun

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien has said the pandemic freeze in rent hikes and ban on evictions could still be extended, but conceded it will rely on public health advice.

Serious doubts have been raised that the emergency measures brought in to help renters hit by the Covid-19 crisis can legally be extended beyond next week due to the widespread lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Despite this, Mr O'Brien insisted he doesn't regret remarks he made last month suggesting the Government would extend the ban on rent increases and evictions until October.

Criteria for an extension include considering the threat to public health and the need to restrict people's movement to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mr O'Brien has written to the Health and Public Expenditure ministers to get their advice on the matter and he said he is hoping to hear back before a Cabinet meeting today.

Last night he said he was still hoping that the measures could be extended.

Advice

Mr O'Brien highlighted ongoing health concerns including a rise in the reproduction rate of the virus, the emergence of clusters, and infections among younger people.

However, he added: "What I've got to do is operate within the law and I think it's acceptable that I also get public health advice from the Department of Health."

Mr O'Brien said regardless of the decision he is working on measures to help renters, including on the issue of rent arrears and strengthening tenants' rights.

Separately, Mr O'Brien said he still wants a target for the delivery of almost 8,000 social homes to be met despite the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall house building completions - both public an private - have been estimated to be less than 14,000 in 2020.

That's far short of the target of 25,000 set by the last government.

The situation has been blamed on the halt in construction during lockdown and safety measures that now have to be in place on sites.

Fianna Fail minister Mr O'Brien said officials have told him that they expect that 80pc of the social homes build target of 7,736 will be delivered.

He said he wants to deliver the 7,736 target and is looking at ways to "bridge the gap so we're not going to fall behind".

He suggested this can be done through acquisitions, including purchases of properties that had been used for short-term lettings on platforms like Airbnb.

Mr O'Brien was speaking at the launch of an affordable housing scheme in Ballymun.