Green war of words over “communist” comments

Mike Finnerty 13 Sep 2023

An off-hand comment made by Green Party TD Francis Noel Duffy comparing the ban on evictions to policies in a communist state has ignited a war of words in the Irish political sphere and has further highlighted divisions in the Green Party.

The Dublin South-West TD was discussing the effect the Green Party has had in Government in an interview with The Journal, when it was asked if he stood over his party voting to reinstate the eviction ban.

The Journal asked him if put reinstating the eviction ban would help reduce the growing homeless figures, to which he responded “well then it turns into a communist state, that’s what you are talking about. So we purchase everybody’s property, is it?”

Reaction to Duffy’s comment has dominated online discourse since the article was published, with Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) Fingal, who represents tenants in Swords, calling on Fingal Green Party TD Joe O’Brien to condemn the comments of his party colleague. 

The statement said that “multiple families with children facing eviction in Swords have paid their rent in full and have done nothing wrong.”

“The corporate landlord LRC is using a pre-2022 tenancy loophole to carry out no-fault evictions with the intention of renting the apartments again at higher rents. Under the law currently, a landlord is legally entitled to end a pre-2022 tenancy within a six-year cycle for any reason, once the legally required notice of 224 days is given,” adding “you would have thought that the Green Party’s housing spokesperson would know this.”

“Elsewhere in the interview Deputy Duffy indicates he is too busy worrying about ‘communism’ to be familiar with the basics of housing policy,” the statement remarked. 

“Noel Duffy is cheering on the Minister for Housing and cosying up to future coalition partners,” the statement added.

Speaking to The Journal, Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan said any party’s representative should reflect the policy of the party.

“Our policy is that an eviction ban is required and it’s required as an immediate action. The policy is voted in by the members – we have a very egalitarian way of creating policy, we have Policy Council and the members vote on our policies and that policy was already ratified this year alone,” she noted.

“The members support an eviction ban, that is the ratified policy of the party and it’s important that we communicate that clearly. It’s also, for example, ratified policy of the party, that eviction for sale should not be allowed. So I think the frustration sometimes of members is that while of course being in government is difficult as a minority party, the least we can do is communicate clearly what our policies are,” she said. 

Hourigan, who notably had her Green Party membership suspended after she voted against the Coalition lifting the eviction ban in March, said there is a need to focus on tenants’ rights in a manner that is similar to other European nations.

“I am in a constituency where there are children who are homeless and my kids go to school with children that are homeless. That takes precedence for me over somebody’s property rights,” she said.

“What we’re looking at here is a rebalancing of rights, a rebalancing of priorities. Are property rights more important than a child’s ability to stay in their home or have a home at all? No.”

“I think that’s the frustration, that Green Party policy actually does reflect that. But we need our representatives to communicate that.”

Catherine Martin said the removal of the eviction moratorium, was “one of the most difficult decisions that this government has had to make.”

“I’m acutely aware of the difficulty that so many renters are facing, but ultimately we took the decision to not extend the moratorium,” the Green Party deputy leader said.

“But the Green Party did work tirelessly, with input and in consultation with Deputy Duffy, to ensure a number of protections were put in place to keep renters at risk of eviction in their homes,” she claimed.

“I think maybe what he was trying to say was that we live in a constitutional democracy where hard decisions are made, balancing what is needed for people’s rights and we just couldn’t… as I said, the most difficult decision we had to take.”

“We all just have to be cognisant of the difficult situation that so many renters are in, cognisant that this was a very difficult decision in a coalition government where we’re the smaller of the three parties.”

“It’s very hard to get policy implemented in a three-party coalition,” Martin claimed.

“It may be party policy but we voted in the way to end the moratorium, as I said, difficult decision, but we did it as we’re members of a coalition, even though it’s party policy,” she stated.

The Green Party has seen its fortunes decline substantially since it entered coalition in 2020, with the most recent opinion poll placing it at 2% nationwide. 

Ideological divides within the Green Party have become apparent since 2020, with the formation of An Rabharta Glas-Green Left in 2021 a sign of frustration from the left flank of the party.

The party is represented on Dublin City Council by Councillor Liam Sinclair, and addressing the remarks, the party said “anyone still hoping for change from this Government needs to accept that they have been lied to.”

Speaking to Southside People, Councillor Sinclair said the Green Party are “compromising too easily” over substantial Government decisions, and said that Green Party voters who bought the party success in the 2019 local and 2020 general elections are becoming “disillusioned.”

“The Greens are generally on the right side of most issues,” and Sinclair acknowledged he was given a mandate to serve as a member of the Green Party in the 2019 local elections, but he said the Greens “have no firm understanding of the issues on the ground.”

“When I knock on voters doors, it has become all too often that people can’t pay their bills, are just surviving week to week, and it really is disappointing to see Duffy be so confident in being so wrong in his comments.”

“I’ll be fair to the Greens, they are good at forcing the issue when they need to, but that has not happened on this occasion.”

“We have seen it far too often in the lifespan of this Government, the Green Party are backing up decisions that go against what the party should stand for,” he said.

Sinclair said he “could not believe” Duffy’s comments, saying that for someone who is supposed to have knowledge about the housing issue, he is “willingly ignorant” about the issue.

Party leader Lorna Bogue, who serves as a Councillor in Cork, remarked “If wanting to stop evictions makes you a communist, then Ireland has millions of communists.”

In recent weeks, Green Party TD Patrick Costello expressed clear discomfort with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and her plan to introduce armed guards to the streets of Dublin, calling the plan “draconian and disproportionate,” hinting at unease within Green Party ranks about their continued stint in coalition.

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