Friday, 2 July 1982
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Deasy: asked the Minister for Justice if he will intervene in cases involving  joint domestic and non-domestic ground rents where the landlord refuses to negotiate and the tenant is faced with eviction on the expiration of the lease.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Doherty): As Minister for Justice I have no authority to intervene in disputes between one citizen and another. If the Deputy considers that the law in relation to the subject matter of his question should be changed, I invite him to send me a note of the defects which he considers exist in the law and I will have the matter examined. While I am unaware of any such defects, I think the Deputy will appreciate that the law is somewhat complex and it would not be feasible to discuss amendments in the context of Parliamentary Questions.
Mr. Deasy: asked the Minister for Justice if he will set up machinery for discussions to take place between householders and landlords to ensure that people would not be imprisoned or threatened with imprisonment for the non-payment of ground rents.
The Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (No. 2) Act, 1978, has already deprived a ground landlord of the right to enforce any covenant in the lease that provides for recovery of possession of a dwellinghouse for non-payment of ground rent. The ground landlord is left simply with his right to sue for the arrears of rent as a civil debt.
The law does not authorise the imprisonment of a person merely for failure to pay a civil debt, whether it be ground rent or some other debt, but it does provide, subject to various conditions and safeguards, that in a case where the court has found that a person has deliberately refused to obey a court order to pay, the  court may order the imprisonment of the person because of that refusal.
I have already made it clear that I have no proposals that would purport to confiscate existing ground rents — any such proposal would clearly be unconstitutional. As matters stand, any householder who is subject to a ground rent may buy it out at a total maximum cost which would seldom exceed about £150. The question of discussions, as referred to, is seeking to persuade the landlord to accept less than the maximum allowed by law. Under the scheme introduced by us in 1978, the legal costs of the transaction are borne by the State.
As a result of the working of that scheme, some suggestions have been made for changes that might in some cases make for improvement in the scheme. As I indicated in reply to a recent Parliamentary Question I am prepared to consider them, but there is no question of any legislation that would make the taxpayer liable for the cost of buying out the landlords' interests.
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