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Government officials in the Department of Housing have known since January this year that landlords had issued roughly 9,000 notices to quit to tenants across Ireland in the second half of last year.
On 7 March, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien indicated to media that he didn’t know how many people faced eviction in the coming months.
Questioned by The Journal’s Christina Finn, O’Brien said that 2,700 notices to quit had been paused when the no-fault evictions moratorium came in. And “the RTB will publish figures soon in relation to the notices to quit during the eviction moratorium”, he said.
Doubling back later, Gavan Reilly, political correspondent for Virgin Media, also asked the minister: “So you don’t know at this point how many people are actually now subject to eviction notices?”
O’Brien said: “No well, the RTB assess that data. Because they receive, they receive copies of the notice to quit and they’re the ones who publish that data. And we’ll have that very shortly.”
But emails between the RTB and Department of Housing officials show that O’Brien’s department, at least, have had regular dispatches of data from the RTB since January.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) is a key stakeholder for the department and we engage with them on an ongoing basis.”
“It is not uncommon for the RTB to share preliminary data at official level which is then subject to further analysis and verification. This data would not have been shared with the Minister,” they said.
O’Brien didn’t respond to email queries about whether he knew on 7 March how many eviction notices had been served in the second half of last year – and if he didn’t have those figures, why his department officials hadn’t given them to him.
The contents of emails between the RTB and officials in the Department of Housing also raise questions about why the data for Q3 and Q4 – sought by those wanting to understand how many tenants would be affected by lifting the no-fault eviction ban – wasn’t published earlier.
“I wanted to flag that the RTB will be publishing data on Notices of Termination received by the RTB in Q3 2022 on the data hub section of the RTB website today,” says an email from an RTB staff member to department officials on 15 February.
That triggered a request from a department official to hold off on publishing until the following day, emails show. It is unclear what happened after that.
But that data wasn’t published until 10 March, a few days after the government had already announced it was going to lift the no-fault evictions ban.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “The publication and timing of publication of RTB data is a matter for the RTB.”
A spokesperson for the RTB didn’t directly answer queries as to why it didn’t publish the Q3 figures in February, and whether the department dictated when the notice to quit figures should be published.
“The RTB is committed to publishing timely and accurate data in the public domain. In keeping with this, the RTB only publishes data when all the necessary verification checks have taken place,” they said.
Who Got Figures, When?
On 11 January, an RTB research officer sent Department of Housing officials figures showing that more than 4,700 notices to quit had been issued by landlords in the third quarter of 2022.
On 19 January, another RTB official sent preliminary data for the last quarter of 2022 too, which showed roughly 4,300 notices to quit had been issued by landlords in that period.
That second batch was unvalidated, the official said. Then, later: “We expect final figures will be available during w/c 30 Jan. We will be in touch then.”
Then, on 2 February, a Department of Housing official pressed the RTB for more geographic detail on the Q3 figures – and for the detailed breakdown of Q4 data.
“We are working on a very tight turnaround for this request,” the official said, noting he wouldn’t have long to review it and supply it to the “requesting recipients”. He set a deadline of 7 February.
On 7 February, RTB researchers sent over the more detailed analysis of figures for Q3 and Q4 notices to quit, as requested.
The Department of Housing didn’t address a query as to who those “requesting recipients” were.
Why Not Published?
On 15 February, Caren Gallagher, then the RTB’s head of communications and research, gave a heads up to officials in the Department of Housing that it planned to publish the Q3 figures that day.
“As previously discussed, we have had numerous requests for this data from the media,” she wrote. “Happy to have a chat on this.”
Stephen Dineen, an assistant principal in the department’s communications unit, wrote back 10 minutes later thanking her. “What time is this being published at?”
Three minutes later, Gallagher replied, saying another department official, Alan Martin, had asked them to hold off until the following morning. “We will aim to publish by 10.30am tomorrow.”
The data wasn’t published, though, until 10 March. By then, the government had already decided, on 7 March, to lift the no-fault eviction ban from 1 April.
Likewise, there have been delays making the Q4 figures public, even though the preliminary assessment of that data had been done as far back as mid-January.
“It is the intention that the Q4 2022 data will be published on the RTB Data Hub the week beginning the 20 March 2023,” wrote an RTB executive officer to housing officials on 10 March.
On 24 March, the RTB put out a press statement, noting a changed schedule for publishing: “The Q4 Notice of Termination data is in the final stages of verification and will be published on Monday 3 April at 2pm.”
“The RTB is committed to publishing timely and accurate data into the public domain,” the statement said. “We are currently working on a publication schedule, to be posted on our website, which will provide transparency and clarity on when future data will become available.”
That meant the Q4 data was only released after the Dáil voted on 22 March on a private-members motion put forward by Sinn Féin on to whether or not to lift the eviction ban – deciding 83–68 to lift it.
Congratulations on that article. It seems strange that those figures were not released sooner. If they were, would it have changed the outcome?
Excellent journalism! It’s great to see there are still journalists with integrity who activity investigate properly, and report honestly with their findings!
If the Minister didn’t know, My question is “why didn’t he want to know such important information!
Any Minister would have all relevant information researched before making such a devastating decision to lift the tempory eviction ban.
Presumably, he didn’t want it influencing the vote…
This is an excellent article – well done to you and the team to highlight such an important issue…. I hope this revelation will have consequences for the government.
Oh he knew, even if it was a ball park figure.
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