Blog: A referendum on housing
Why recognition of the right to adequate housing and appropriate shelter in the Irish constitution is vital
The Housing Commission will shortly bring forward proposals on the wording for a referendum on housing. This follows a commitment in the Programme for Government and the Housing for All plan to hold a referendum on housing.
A public consultation on the proposed wording closed for submissions on 2nd September. Community Law & Mediation’s submission, endorsed by Ballymun Community Law Centre, the Clare Public Participation Network, Clondalkin Traveller Development Group, Environmental Justice Network Ireland, Friends of the Earth Ireland, the Galway Traveller Movement, Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Irish Refugee Council, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, NASC, Novas, Pavee Point, Robert Emmet CDP, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Treoir can be read in full here.
Why a referendum? And why a right to housing?
There has been a lot of debate over the merits of introducing such an amendment to our constitution and what such a change could achieve in reality. The Home for Good coalition sets out a number of reasons why constitutional change is an essential underpinning for any successful programme to tackle our housing and homelessness crisis.
Experiences of housing problems and homelessness
At our community law centres, we work with lower income households, people who are homeless or at risk of being made homeless, members of the Traveller community, individuals fleeing domestic violence and many others in our society who are vulnerable or marginalised. Housing related queries constitute a high proportion of the queries we receive and many of these are of an acute and urgent nature.
We frequently advocate on behalf of clients, some with young families, who have been refused access to emergency accommodation. We also assist people whose are living without heating or running water and with poor sanitation – a breach of their basic human rights. Many of our clients are on waiting lists, some as long as 15 years, to access adequate social housing. In the interim and due to a shortage of suitable private rental homes, they have no option but to stay in emergency accommodation. On average, one in ten of the individuals we meet at our legal advice clinics, are at risk of being made homeless.
These issues persist year-on-year.
Why we need a referendum
Urgent action is needed to effectively tackle the State’s housing crisis and re-shape housing policy. The explicit recognition of a standalone right to housing in the Irish constitution is a fundamental step towards achieving this.
A referendum on housing is vital for the following reasons:
- There is currently no express right to housing or shelter in the Irish constitution.
- Removal of a barrier to reform: The way in which the Irish constitution is currently framed, in solely providing for the protection of private property rights, creates a barrier to the consideration and development of progressive housing policies.
- Recognition of a basic human right: Housing is a fundamental human right and has been recognised as such in international law.
- International standards: Ireland is already bound by housing rights under international law.
- Environmental Justice: Protecting citizens’ right to adequate housing and appropriate shelter within the constitution is fundamental to a fair and inclusive transition.
The wording for a standalone right to housing could take the following form:
1 The State recognises, and shall vindicate through legislative and other measures within its available resources, the right of all persons to adequate housing.
2 The State recognises, and shall guarantee in its laws as far as practicable, the right of every person to appropriate shelter, conducive to that person’s health and well-being needs.”
The Housing Commission must have regard to the following policy considerations when deciding on the proposed wording:
The right to adequate housing
The right to adequate housing includes a number of freedoms and entitlements, including protection against forced evictions, security of tenure, and equal and non-discriminatory access to adequate housing. Furthermore, the following conditions must be met in order for housing to be considered adequate:
Security of tenure; availability of services; affordability; habitability; accessibility; location; and cultural adequacy.
The right to shelter
Any right to adequate housing should also include a minimum floor of protection in order to protect homeless individuals and those at risk of being made homeless. At present, there is no statutory obligation on the State to provide homeless people with emergency accommodation.
The framework governing the assessment and treatment of people who present to local authorities as homeless needs urgent reform. This reform must be grounded in the constitutional protection of a right to shelter.
We are calling for an express socio-economic right to be inserted into the constitution.
The right to adequate housing is essential to environmental justice in the following ways:
A just and inclusive transition
The right to adequate housing and appropriate shelter is essential to a just and inclusive transition. Those without adequate housing and appropriate shelter are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather events, despite having contributed the least to climate change.
Meeting our legally binding climate targets
The right to adequate housing and appropriate shelter is essential to meeting Ireland’s legally binding emission reduction targets enshrined in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. Ireland’s residential sector currently contributes to climate change; almost half (48%) of Ireland’s housing stock is energy inefficient, with poorly insulated homes locked into fossil fuel dependence.
Ireland must urgently increase the ambition of its climate action while safeguarding housing and shelter rights. This could provide an opportunity to deliver climate and housing justice in tandem.
The right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment
Finally, the right to adequate housing and appropriate shelter “conducive to that person’s health and well-being needs” is inherently connected to the right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment, recognised by the United Nations (UN) in July 2022.
Shaping Ireland’s Housing Policy
The insertion of a right to housing could have widespread implications in shaping Ireland’s housing policy going forward. It could, for example, prevent homelessness, ensure minimum standards of housing, protect security of tenure, and lead to a just and inclusive transition to a completely decarbonised economy and society, among other effects.
A robust right to housing, which includes a right to shelter, would enhance the rights of all people of all circumstances. Crucially, it would provide meaningful minimum floor of protection to those must vulnerable and marginalised in society.
Read our submission to the public consultation on a referendum on housing in full here.
How can we help you?
If you are experiencing a housing or environmental problem, or would like to find out more about our services, please contact us on 01 847 7804 / 061 536 100 or click here for further information.