Landlord TDs do not deserve our pity

The Robert Troy scandal has shone a light on the dangerous conflict of interest between landlord TDs and their constituents

August is a long time in politics.

Since coming into power in June 2020, the coalition government of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party have not survived a Dáil summer recess without enduring a national scandal, resulting in resignations, firings, and severe decline in credibility.

In July 2020, Taoiseach Micheál Martin fired Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Barry Cowen after it emerged that he had a conviction for drink driving. He was replaced by Dara Calleary, who resigned from the role after just 37 days following the Golfgate scandal of August 2020, where dozens of high-ranking government officials were exposed for attending an illegal gathering of the Oireachtas Golf Society, flaunting the severe Covid-19 restrictions that were in place. The summer recess of 2021 saw accusations of cronyism against the appointment of former TD Katherine Zappone as Special Envoy to the UN for Freedom of Opinion and Expression. She eventually turned down the position, after it was further revealed that she attended a (similarly illegal) gathering at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin mere days before her appointment. Thus, continuing the trend for a third consecutive year, the summer of 2022 has seen scandals that have exposed incredibly serious issues at the heart of our government.

In early August, journalists from The Ditch reported that Fianna Fáil TD for Longford-Westmeath Robert Troy failed to register the sale of a semi-detached property to Westmeath County Council in 2018. Under the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, all TDs are legally required to declare any contracts they have with public bodies that exceed the value of €6,500. The property in Mullingar that Troy failed to declare was sold for €230,000, a record fee for that estate. He had originally bought the property from the Criminal Assets Bureau in 2006 and from then until 2018 had rented it out. In addition to this, Troy also failed to declare the sale of another property to Longford County Council in 2019. He had bought the property from former Fianna Fáil councillor Bill Collentine for €82,000 in cash and sold it three months later for a staggering €163,000.

What began as a story about Troy’s incompetence quickly morphed into a sordid chronicle of wilful negligence by a landlord TD who actively campaigned for handouts for landlords during the worst housing crisis our country has ever seen”

While Troy was quick to amend these errors on the Oireachtas register of members’ interests, his time in the media spotlight was far from over. During a car-crash interview on RTÉ Radio One, Troy admitted to owning 11 properties, several of which he was actively renting out to tenants. The next day, it was reported in the Irish Examiner that Troy had used his Dáil speaking time to call on the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien to provide more support during the pandemic for landlords, since the government had implemented a moratorium on evictions whilst Ireland was in lockdown. What began as a story about Troy’s incompetence quickly morphed into a sordid chronicle of wilful negligence by a landlord TD who actively campaigned for handouts for landlords during the worst housing crisis our country has ever seen. Crucially, we also know that he is by no means the only TD with a vested interest in maintaining the profits of landlords.

As of September 2022, there are currently 48 landlords in the Dáil, with a further 29 in the Seanad. This means that an astonishing 35% of the 220 TDs and senators in the Oireachtas are landlords. Therefore, questions have been raised about the major conflict of interest at play, as TDs routinely promise their constituents that every effort is being made to combat the housing crisis, even while many of them actively profit from it. 

Once again, the old adage that there is one rule for us, another rule for them rings true. Are these the people we are supposed to trust to get us out of this housing crisis?”

It is especially frustrating when landlord TDs blatantly circumvent legal requirements and face little to no consequences. Since the Robert Troy story broke, it has come to light that several other TDs have failed to register rental properties that they own with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). Fine Gael TD for Carlow-Kilkenny John Paul Phelan, Sinn Féin TD for Meath West Johnny Guirke, and Fianna Fáil TD for Wicklow (and Minister for Health) Stephen Donnelly have all admitted that properties they own — and have been renting out — have not been registered. According to the RTB’s own guidelines, the punishment for not registering a tenancy is a fine of up to €4000 and/or 6 months imprisonment. Once again, the old adage that there is one rule for us, another rule for them rings true. Are these the people we are supposed to trust to get us out of this housing crisis?

Amidst all this, the one TD who did face consequences for his mistakes was Robert Troy, who resigned from his position as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment of Ireland on 24 July 2022. In his resignation statement, he reiterated that “the narrative being put forward by some media and some in the opposition that landlords are villains is simply wrong.” Troy’s sentiment is one often echoed by his colleagues in government, who seem more out of touch with the general public than ever. As we approach what will be a difficult and dreary winter for many, there are over 10,000 people who are officially classified as homeless in Ireland. As of June 2022 the average price of a house in Ireland is €320,000. The average rent in Ireland (€1,567) is now 50% higher than it was during the Celtic Tiger (€1,030). No, landlords are not all evil cartoon villains, yet it cannot be denied that every single landlord TD in the Dáil is currently profiting from the housing crisis. 

Robert Troy has said that he “will not apologise for being a landlord” — and yet no one is asking him to. Apologies mean very little when he still holds vested interests in the housing crisis. What people want is reassurance that those in government are committed to fixing our housing problems without obstruction by any vested interests. Troy has, however, repeatedly apologised to his Longford-Westmeath constituents. As a young person from Westmeath, I believe that I am within my rights to reject his apology, at least until wide-ranging legislative changes are made to ensure that those who seek to profit from the housing crisis can no longer do so. From Troy campaigning for additional privileges for landlords over their vulnerable tenants during the pandemic, to Donnelly lobbying for tax breaks for “accidental landlords”, it is increasingly clear that those in charge have a serious conflict of interest. It is equally clear that this needs to change — and soon.

Eve Conway

Eve Conway is the Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News and is currently in her Junior Sophister year studying English Literature and History.