24 May 2022

Relations frosty as war of words over rent cut heats up between People Before Profit and SDLP

Cllr Shaun Harkin accuses Executive parties of "rank hypocrisy" while Mark H Durkan hits back saying PBP amendment to Bill was "a cynical ploy"

People Before Profit and SDLP in rent-freeze row

Cllr Shaun Harkin: "It's clear we cannot trust or depend the mainstream parties to protect people at a crucial moment."

A row over rent cuts has broken out between People Before Profit (PBP) and the SDLP.

Cllr Shaun Harkin of PBP and SDLP Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, have had a heated exchange of words following the controversy surrounding a rent cut and freeze motion that had been passed by the Stormont Executive.

Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, passed through a Private Tenancies Bill that included an amendment from PBP MLA for West Belfast, Gerry Carroll.

Mr Carroll tabled an amendment calling for a reduction of rents by 10 per cent for a year for all tenancies longer than six months, and implement a rent freeze for three years.

That amendment was passed but it appears to have returned to haunt the Executive with Minister Hargey being urged by a number of cross-party MLAs to revoke it after officials questioned the legality of it.

An about-turn that has drawn the ire of Cllr Harkin who launched a stinging attack on the Executive parties.

He said: “If anyone needs further evidence of the rank hypocrisy and utter opportunism of the Stormont Executive they need to look no further than the response to People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll's motion to cut and freeze private rent costs.

“SDLP MLA, Mark H Durkan, says they were 'daft' to support the People Before Profit amendment aimed at helping people with rent bills amidst a spiralling cost of living crisis.

“The SDLP, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists, Alliance and the DUP were all united in opposition to Carroll's amendment to the Sinn Féin Communities Minister Private Tenancies Bill - but then voted for it.

“But now they're scrambling to undo it. Why? Because they're unwilling to take radical action to protect workers and the least well-off.

“All through the pandemic Westminster and Stormont were willing to take unprecedented urgent action to make sure elites and the politically connected were protected.

“Where is the urgency now to act on energy costs, housing costs and food costs? It simply isn't there.

“Derry has 30 per cent of people living below the poverty line. Sinn Féin and the SDLP dominate the Council and dominate Foyle representation in Stormont and Westminster.

“They aren't willing to challenge a system that's rigged in favour of elites and the politically connected.

“It's clear we cannot trust or depend the mainstream parties to protect people at a crucial moment.

“We urge broad support for people power campaigns aimed at addressing spiralling inequality and for the building of a real alternative to the cynical Stormont carve-up."

However, Mr Durkan – who is also the SDLP's Communities spokesperson – hit back by calling PBP's amendment as a stunt designed to sway public opinion in their favour.

He said: “The amendment from Gerry Carroll may have been well intentioned however the diatribe from Cllr Harkin would suggest it was no more than a cynical ploy to manipulate public opinion.

SDLP Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan

“I’m on public record voicing my support of rent controls to ensure that private renters, many of whom are the among the most adversely impacted by the spiralling cost of living, are protected.

“The Communities Minister gave assurances that rent controls would be addressed by her department but stressed that any such provision would fall outside the scope of the Private Tenancies Bill.

“What PBP have neglected to mention is that their amendment threatened the legislative competency of the Bill, essentially running the risk of collapsing this entire piece of legislation and leaving private renters without any protections.

“But don’t take to my word for it or that of the ‘elites’ as referred to by Cllr Harkin – Housing Rights NI has been lobbying against this amendment, as have Renters’ Voice and many other independent organisations who work every day to ensure improvements and fairness in our dire housing situation.

“This amendment would lead to a sudden, massive increase in the termination of tenancy agreements.

“Landlords could potentially decide to sell their properties or increase their rent much higher than the proposed 10 per cent in advance of the Bill’s passage, in effect causing much more hardship and homelessness.

“My priority has always been putting people first and as elected representatives, we have a duty to be honest with the public.

“I won’t be called a hypocrite by someone who constantly points out and exaggerates the shortcomings of others while at the same time didn’t bother to turn up at council to vote against a rates increase.

“SDLP efforts to date to tackle the housing crisis, the cost-of-living crisis and get financial support into the hands of hard pressed people and their families, speaks for itself.

“From our Cost of Living Taskforce which provides tangible solutions to the energy crisis to our campaign to extend the Energy Support payment to all bill-payers, we're taking action while others talk about it.”

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