Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien on recent visits to Meath.

Gavan Reilly: With the evictions ban lifted, the die is cast on this Government

They’re definitely not for turning now. Leo Varadkar and Darragh O’Brien have both gone too far down the river to swim back upstream: both have said that, even if lifting the ban on evictions results in thousands more people dependant on emergency accommodation, it won’t be returned. Extending or renewing the ban would do more harm than good, goes the argument; short term popularity would end in long-term damage to the market.

Whatever about the actual merits of the ban, and lifting it, there’s definitely an abject failure of communications involved. The government’s argument is that the proposal now is the least worst option: some homelessness now is preferable to more homelessness later. Yet these three simple words - ‘least worst option’ - are nowhere to be found, from any government spokesperson or in briefing notes for any political interviewee. “The ban was an appropriate short-term measure, but the system needs fundamental reform, and this is the least worst option,” a TD might easily say. But they don’t. Perhaps it’s because the phrase sounds like negative framing – that every option is terrible, and that the government may be responsible for this. Even if so, ‘least worst option’ does make the government seem more sensitive to the harm it will cause, as opposed to the current position of appearing deaf to the cries of pain.

A similar quibble arises with the persistent claims that landlords will be driven from the market, were the moratorium extended for another few months. The logic behind the concern is fair - the country needs a certain proportion of housing to be left in the rental market, rather than with owner-occupiers, and the balance is distorted if people choose to sell up rather than continue renting. But the presentation is lacking: “we will drive landlords away” is hardly a good sell, and sounds like the government is more concerned about property owners than their precarious tenants. “We need to maintain the rental stock” - using the passive voice - would make the same point in a more saleable way. But so be it: if the government has tried to make a virtue of doing something unpopular now, so the idea of putting a positive spin on it seems fairly pyrrhic.

I suspect the die has now already been cast for the next election. The figures for prospective evictions in the fourth quarter, published last Friday after the government had made its decision, suggest that about 10,000 people would lose their home in the period covered by the ban. More notices to quit will have been served in the meantime. Not all of those will end up homeless - some will find other places to live in the meantime - but given the supply of new rental homes has also dried up, many will be left unable to afford a replacement roof over their heads.

That means, unavoidably, large numbers going homeless - more than the cabinet may have anticipated when making its crucial decision last week. And even if the government does oversee a massive ramping up in construction in 2023 and 2024, people tend to remember who caused their problems just as much as they remember who fixed them.