Pilot scheme a welcome development for equality in education for students with visual impairments

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) welcomes the decision by the State Examinations Commission to commence a pilot scheme enabling visually-impaired students to access digital versions of their exam papers.

The decision was made on foot of a lengthy campaign by Eithne Walsh, head of advocacy and communication with Féach, whose son is a visually impaired student and is due to sit the Leaving Certificate in 2023.

Eithne and her son had repeatedly requested that he be provided with a digital copy of his Leaving Certificate examination – to date, only paper-based exams have been allowed – but their requests were refused by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). CLM provided legal advocacy support to the family, and wrote to the SEC highlighting the fact that that it was acting in breach of its statutory duty under s.6 and s.7 of the Education Act 1998 and that its refusal to provide reasonable accommodation was a breach of the student’s rights to equality, education, and his imprescriptible rights as a child.

While the announcement of a pilot scheme is really positive news, this addresses just one of the many obstacles faced by students with visual impairments. For example, they do not currently have the same level of access to past (modified) papers that their fellow students have; the format of the oral examinations is particularly challenging for students who are visually impaired;  and decisions made under the Reasonable Accommodations at Certificate Examinations (RACE) Scheme are often published at short notice, leaving the students affected with little time to appeal if they do not get the supports they need under the Scheme.

Community Law & Mediation will continue to advocate on behalf of families and young people who are affected by issues such as these.

If you have a query related to the education rights of your child, contact us for free legal advice: 01 847 7804.

Welcome new strategy for family justice reform but much work needed to deliver a truly child-centered system

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) welcomes the commitment in the Family Justice Strategy, published today by the Department of Justice, to place children at the centre of reform but cautions that the delivery of a truly child-centered family justice system cannot be achieved without consistent application of this commitment, including in the newly published Family Court Bill. CLM, which provides a dedicated children’s legal advice and advocacy service, was a member of the expert advisory group on the Family Justice Strategy.

Commenting on the announcement, Ruth Barry, solicitor specialising in children’s law at CLM said:

“Family law proceedings are often highly adversarial and can be re-traumatising for both children and other family members. We welcome the new strategy, in particular the commitment to place children at the centre of reform. While the strategy does not yet fully address problematic areas like civil legal aid, expert reports furnished to court or hearing the voice of the child, it provides a framework for moving forward.

The express recognition of children’s best interests in the Family Court Bill is particularly welcome, as is the intention to create a dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure but we have some concerns about how this will be delivered in practice. Jurisdiction in private family law is determined based on the financial assets of the family and the Bill contains no provision for  complex high conflict private family law cases – where care of a child or children is the source of the complexity – to be directed to the Circuit Court. This will be at odds with complex childcare proceedings concerning child protection.

Furthermore, the Bill doesn’t provide for the separation of public and private family law proceedings in the court lists of the new family law courts with the effect that families and children who are in court to address child protection issues may have their cases listed alongside families and children who are in court to address custody and access.

CLM would welcome a review of the Family Court Bill from the perspective of the child’s experience – a review based on the child being at the centre of all reform in the area – in order that we ensure we set solid foundations for this reform process and start as we mean to continue.” 

ENDS

For further information please contact Elizabeth Devine, Policy & Communications Manager, Community Law & Mediation – ph 087 697 5677

Notes to Editor:

About Community Law & Mediation

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) was established in 1975 as the first independent community law centre in Ireland, as part of the campaign for civil legal aid. Today, is support more than 4,400 people in communities experiencing disadvantage through free legal advice and representation; information and education; and mediation and conflict coaching services. It provides a dedicated children’s legal advice and advocacy service, including an outreach clinic for children and young people in care, in collaboration EPIC. www.communitylawandmediation.ie

Community Law & Mediation calls upon Irish government to include recommendations in 2023 Climate Action Plan  

Community Law & Mediation’s Centre for Environmental Justice issues 8 recommendations to government, ahead of the publication of the highly anticipated 2023 Climate Action Plan.

Today Community Law & Mediation sent an open letter to the Minister for Climate, Environment and Communications, Eamon Ryan. The letter calls upon the Government to align the forthcoming Climate Action Plan 2023 with Ireland’s legal obligations on climate change, while addressing the energy crisis and safeguarding marginalised communities.

The recommendations are supported by 19 partner organisations working in the area of environmental and social justice. The six-page letter sets out science-based recommendations which the Irish government should include in the 2023 Climate Action Plan. A summary of these recommendations is:

Holding all sectors accountable in meeting Ireland’s legally-binding 2021-2025 carbon budget:

The organisations are calling for the government to ensure the immediate implementation of Ireland’s 2021-2025 carbon budget, the inclusion of all sectors in the Sectoral Emissions Ceilings, and the publication of the Long-Term Climate Action Strategy in accordance with EU and national law.

  • One-third of Ireland’s legally-binding five-year carbon budget period (2021-2025) has already passed, yet Ireland’s emissions rose by 5% last year and may increase in 2022.
  • Not all sectors are included within the carbon budget framework – most notably, “Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry,” and Aviation and Shipping. The total amount of greenhouse gases across all sectors therefore cannot be assessed, and there is no certainty that Ireland will meet its firstlegally binding carbon budget.
  • Ireland is one of only four countries that has failed to produce a Long-Term Climate Action Strategy and the European Commission recently issued a formal notice to Ireland as the Strategy is now more than two and a half years overdue.

Addressing the energy crisis:

Energy poverty is at its highest recorded rate in Ireland. The organisations are calling upon the Irish government to implement measures in the Climate Action Plan 2023 to eradicate both energy poverty and energy pollution, such as, doubling the Fuel Allowance Scheme and broadening its eligibility criteria, retrofitting Ireland’s entire social housing stock this decade, introducing a new caravan rental scheme which incorporates BER equivalent efficiency standards and providing free and reliable public transport across Ireland. In addition, the organisations are calling for the current moratorium on Liquefied Natural Gas and fracked gas imports, to be made permanent through legislation, alongside an immediate moratorium on the development of data centres until an assessment of what is needed to meet the carbon budget from 2021-2025 is carried out.

Safeguarding vulnerable communities in the transition to a completely decarbonised society:

In Ireland, the top 10% of the population contributed about one third of the cumulative carbon emissions between 1990 and 2015. Low-income households and marginalised groups who are least responsible for the climate crisis are at risk of being most impacted by both climate change and climate action. The organisations are therefore calling for the Climate Action Plan 2023 to address inequality and ensure that the cost of climate mitigation and adaptation measures do not fall on marginalised and vulnerable groups.

In addition, the Irish government must immediately establish a National Just Transition Commission, in advance of formal legislation, based on social dialogue and comprised of representatives of government, trade unions, employers, affected communities and civil society. The aim of this is to ensure that affected workers and communities are not left behind in the transition to a completely decarbonised economy and society.

Clodagh Daly, Community Law & Mediation’s Centre for Environmental Justice Manager, said: “It is imperative that the Irish government commits to deep and sustained reductions in emissions in the Climate Action Plan 2023. Action must be consistent with our legally-binding 2021-2025 carbon budget and must aim to actively address inequality and energy poverty, such as retrofitting our entire social housing stock this decade and providing free and reliable public transport across Ireland. As part of this, the establishment of the Just Transition Commission must be accelerated. We must ensure that everyone in Ireland – and worldwide – can live a decent life within a fully decarbonised society.”

Martin Collins, Co-Director of Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre, said: “Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre endorses this call on the Government to strengthen the Climate Action Plan 2023. It is well documented that the effects of the climate crisis are inextricably linked with existing social and economic inequalities. For example, a 2019 report from Traveller MABS on energy poverty found that Travellers are 9 times more likely to go without heat than members of the general population. We urge the Government to include and consider the voices of ethnic minority groups – including Travellers and Roma – in any policy relating to climate action and a just transition.”

Michelle Murphy, Research and Policy Analyst with Social Justice Ireland, stated: “One of the fundamental principles of a Just Transition is to leave no people, communities, economic sectors or regions behind as we transition to a low carbon future.  There is enough money in the economy to begin to implement the Climate Action Plan, secure our energy infrastructure, and ensure a just transition to a green economy.  This would also mean, emission reductions, and the creation of a vibrant society and economy.”

Ciara Brennan, Director of Environmental Justice Network Ireland, said: “Ireland must stop planning to fail when it comes to climate action. An ambitious Climate Action Plan for 2023 must be linked to a robust and credible national long-term strategy, which is required to meet domestic and EU obligations, and which will give direction to all domestic level climate plans and policies. A clear plan for how to get to our end destination is crucial in order to protect Ireland from economic shocks amidst the energy and cost of living crises and will allow the true cost of decisions being made now around climate action to be seen within the long-term context.”

The 2023 Climate Action Plan is due to be published by the Irish government before January 2023. CAP23 will outline the detailed plan in the year ahead to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2024.

ENDS

For more information, contact Fodhla O’Connell-Grennell at Community Law & Mediation, on 083 123 4156, or FOconnell@CommunityLawAndMediation.ie

To read the full open letter sent to Minister Eamon Ryan, please click here.

Partner organisations include: An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Social Justice Ireland, TASC, Action Aid, Environmental Justice Network Ireland, Irish Heart Foundation, Friends of the Irish Environment, The Irish Traveller Movement, The Northside Partnership, Age Action, The Climate and Health Alliance, Futureproof Clare, Galway Public Participation Network, Pavee Point, INOU, The Asthma Society and Safety Before LNG.

Link to additional quotes: HERE.

Link to organisation logos: HERE.

Editor Notes:

Community Law & Mediation are calling on the government to ensure that the Climate Action Plan 2023 provides the following:

  1. The immediate implementation of Ireland’s 2021-2025 carbon budget.
  2. The inclusion of all sectors in the Sectoral Emissions Ceilings.
  3. The publication of the Long-Term Climate Action Strategy in accordance with EU and national law.
  4. Measures to address inequality.
  5. Measures to Address the Energy Crisis.
  6. Halt New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure and Withdraw Existing Licenses from Fossil Fuel Companies.
  7. Introduce a moratorium on new data centres.
  8. Ensure a Just Transition.

Community Law & Mediation:

Community Law & Mediation (CLM), previously known as Coolock Community Law Centre, was established on 1 April 1975, as the first, independent, community-based law centre in Ireland. In 2012, we opened a second community law centre in Limerick.

CLM works to empower individuals experiencing disadvantages through:

  • Free legal information, advice and representation;
  • Free mediation and conflict coaching;
  • Information and education; and
  • Advocating for Change

Centre for Environmental Justice:

CLM’s Centre for Environmental Justice was launched by Mary Robinson in February 2021 and is the first of its kind in Ireland.

CEJ offers free legal advice and representation, provides community education and training, and advocates for a rights-based approach to policy and law reform in the area of environmental justice.

What are carbon budgets?

A carbon budget represents the total amount of emissions that may be emitted in the State during a five-year period, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. It is calculated on an economy-wide basis.

As part of its work, the Climate Change Advisory Council is responsible for proposing three five-year economy-wide carbon budgets, covering the periods 2021-2025, 2026-2030 and 2031-2035, to assist the State in achieving its national climate objectives and greenhouse gas emissions targets agreed by the European Union.

The first three carbon budgets cover the following five-year periods: 2021 to 2025, 2026 to 2030, and 2031 to 2035 (although the budget for the third period is provisional). All greenhouse gas emissions and all relevant sectors are included in the carbon budgets.

They are as follows:

  • 2021-2025: 295 Mt CO2 eq. an average of -4.8% for the first budget period.
  • 2026-2030: 200 Mt CO2 eq. an average of -8.3% for the second budget period.
  • 2031-2035: 151 Mt CO2 eq. an average of -3.5% for the third provisional budget.

What are Sectoral Emissions Ceilings?

Sectoral Emissions Ceilings are the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are permitted in each sector of the economy during the carbon budget period.

 

The Right to Education- Supporting Families & Children

This half day course on zoom will cover the following areas – 

  • The law relating to education,  
  • Non-discrimination in education, 
  • School admissions, 
  • Schools’ code of behaviour,  
  • Suspension and expulsion by schools, 
  • Section 29 appeals to the Dept of Education, 
  • Use of reduced hours/ short day by a school for individual children, 
  • Bullying and cyber-bullying. 

Date: 15 Nov 2022  

Time: 2.30pm to 5pm 

Location: Zoom 

Cost: €150 

For an application form click here. Please send you application forms to email: education@communitylawandmediation.ie 

Your Details

* Mandatory fields

BLOG: How can I access information about my environmental rights?


Finding out about your environmental rights and how you can access information on the environment can be daunting. At Community Law & Mediation, we want to give you the tools to know your environmental rights and act upon them.

In this article, we will provide you with information on the Aarhus Convention, the international agreement which sets out our environmental law. We will also outline what Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) is and how to use it.


Jargon Buster:

Environmental RightsThe right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.
Access to Information on the Environment (AIE)The access to information on the environment (AIE) regulations give citizens the right to access environmental information held by, or for, public authorities. 

What are my environmental rights?


Your environmental rights are set out in the Aarhus Convention.

The Aarhus Convention is an international agreement which was established by the United Nations Economic Commission in 1998, and it entered into law in Ireland in 2012.

This law protects: “The right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.”

Your right to “live in an environment adequate to your health and well-being” is protected by three environmental rights:

  • Right of Access to Information – This is your right to know. 
  • Right of Access to Public Participation – This is your right to have your say.
  • Right of Access to Justice – Your right to access legal remedy if your rights are infringed.

What type of environmental information can you access through the Aarhus Convention?


You can access a wide variety of environmental information through the Aarhus Convention. The way in which you can access information is through making an Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) request.

You are able to request information on the following environmental issues:

Environmental IssueMeaning
Air Quality / Air PollutionThe degree to which the air in a particular place is pollution-free.
Noise Level Control / Noise PollutionUnwanted or disturbing sound in the environment that affects the health and well-being of humans and other living organisms.
Soil QualityA measure of the condition of soil relative to the requirements of one or more biotic species and or to any human need or purpose.
Water QualityThe condition of the water, including chemical, physical, and biological characteristics, usually with respect to its suitability for a particular purpose such as drinking or swimming.
Water AllocationThe specific volume of water allocated to water access entitlements in a given water year or allocated as specified within a water resource plan.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)The emission into the earth’s atmosphere of any of various gases, especially carbon dioxide, that contribute to the planet warming.
Land UseInvolves the management and modification of natural environment or wilderness into built environment such as settlements and semi-natural habitats such as arable fields, pastures, and managed woods. 
Waste ManagementThe strategy used to dispose, reduce, reuse, and prevent waste. Possible waste disposal methods are recycling, composting, incineration, landfills, bioremediation, waste to energy, and waste minimization.
Energy Production or DistributionThe total production / distribution of primary energy by all energy producing enterprises in the country in a given period of time.
Information on Environmental Policies / Measures TakenAny measure by a government or corporation or other public or private organisation regarding the effects of human activities on the environment, particularly those measures that are designed to prevent or reduce harmful effects of human activities on ecosystems.
Information on Human Health & SafetyThe physical health or safety of individual human beings in context of our environment.

You can access written, visual, aural, electronic or any other materials, as long as it relates to the environment.

How to request access to information on the environment?


There are six steps you can take when submitting an AIE request:

 

Consider what you want and why you really want it:

Before submitting your AIE request, ensure that you know what type of information you want to receive in your request. It is also good to back this up with why you want this information. Information you can request includes, meeting minutes, briefing papers, audits, data and inspection reports.


Know who to target:

You must select individuals to direct your request to. You can consider multiple sources  for this, including Departments, Local Authorities, Semi State, State-Bodies and Agencies.


Key pieces of information to include in your AIE request:

There are several key pieces of information you should always include in your AIE request. You should always provide your name and contact details and it is important to state that you are making an AIE request, as opposed to Freedom of Information (FoI) request. You will always want to be specific about the information you want to receive. It is ideal to specify the format – typically electronic is best. You should state that your request be dealt with “as soon as possible”. You should request an acknowledgement letter.


Keep note of the date you made your request:

It is recommended that you make a spreadsheet to manage your AIE requests. This is helpful for when you are making multiple requests, have multiple targets and multiple deadlines. It is key that you record the dates in which you sent your AIE request. You can then estimate the due date for your request – which should be 4 weeks into the future. It is good to also keep note of the officer handling your request and include a notes section to update with the progress of your request.


Ensure you follow up on your requests:

It is good to stay in contact with the officer dealing with your request. This is especially positive if you may need to refine your AIE request. Make sure to do this all in writing so that you have a paper trail of all communication. Before your request due date, you can follow up with the officer dealing with your request. Create a timeline of events and actions, this can be inputted into your spreadsheet.


What to expect on your AIE Request deadline day:

You should be provided with a letter outlining the decision making process, a schedule of all records (released or not), several possible outcomes (all/ some documents released, documents redacted, additional month required due to complexity, refusal of AIE request). If you do not receive a response within four weeks, this could be due to a genuine delay or that your request has been refused.


Does it cost money to access environmental information?


There is no fee to make an AIE request. However, the regulations do allow a public authority to charge a reasonable fee for the cost of supplying the environmental information if the cost exceeds €100.

It is recommended to be (1) detailed in your request and (2) to request that the information is provided via electronic copy to help save costs.

Can my Access to Information on the Environment request be refused?


A public authority can refuse an AIE request. They may also only allow a partial release of information – which means only some of the information is permitted to be shared.

If you are refused information, you must be given a reason for the refusal. You can appeal to the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information and ultimately to the courts if refused information. If you appeal a case, you don’t have to pay for the cost of the other side if you are unsuccessful.

AIE request template


[Address of authority]

Dear Sir/Madam,

Under the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 (SI 133 of 2007, as amended) (the AIE Regulations) and Directive 2003/4/EC (the AIE Directive), I am seeking the following records:

[Whatever you are looking for goes here: Any documents (including but not limited to correspondence (letters, e-mails, etc.), briefings, reports, notes of telephone conversations, and notes of meetings) relating to ______.]

I would prefer to receive this information electronically, that these documents are provided in their original format, along with a schedule of documents.

Yours Faithfully,

[Your Name]

How does Community Law & Mediation support your environmental rights? 


Community Law & Mediation is an independent community law centre providing free legal advice, advocacy, mediation and education services. In 2021, we set up a dedicated Centre for Environmental Justice offering free legal advice, community education, and law reform services in the area of environmental justice.  

We run monthly clinics helping members of the public with environmental issues such as health concerns arising from air or water pollution, illegal dumping or lack of access to clean water. We deliver training to organisations, community groups, and activists. At a broader level, we seek to advance legislative and policy change through strategic casework and law reform. 

Support with environmental justice:


If you are experiencing environmental justice issues and want more legal advice, please contact Community Law and Mediation:

–           Phone: (01) 847 7804

–           Email: info@communitylawandmediation.ie


This blog is the first of our three-part Environmental Rights blog series. Our next blog about public participation, will be available to read next week.


In October, we ran a three-part Environmental Rights webinar series. To watch back on our Environmental Rights Webinar Series 2022, click here.

CLM Housing Law / Prevention of Homelessness Training Course 

This training course will examine the law relating to homelessness in Ireland – what is the State’s obligations to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. 
 
This course will look at Social Housing supports, the application process and the scheme of allocations. It will explain tenancy rights, evictions, what constitutes an unlawful eviction, and how can this be challenged?  
 
The main outcomes will be: 

  • the prevention of homelessness for individuals and families who are at risk of losing their home; 
  • empowerment of individuals to advocate on their own behalf in respect of their housing and tenancy rights 
  • to up-skill other advocacy services and organisations in the area of housing and tenancy rights. 

Location This course is a one-day course split over 2 ½   days on Zoom 
 

Cost €200 


Date: Wednesday 2nd November and Friday 4th November. 

Times 10am to 1pm on both days  

For an application form click here. Please send you application forms to   please email education@communitylawandmediation.ie  

Blog – Budget 2023: focus now must be on the Energy Poverty Action Plan and a long-term strategy to alleviate energy poverty while also meeting our climate targets

With short-term relief very much the priority in Tuesday’s Budget, the focus must now  be on delivering structural change through the Energy Poverty Action Plan and the Climate Action Plan 2023, both due to be published shortly.  Long-term solutions to the energy and climate crises must be delivered, centring on the needs of low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers and the Traveller community.

The Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that 43% of households could now be in energy poverty. The energy poverty crisis is compounded by the fact that almost half (48%) of Ireland’s housing stock is energy inefficient, with poorly insulated homes locked into fossil fuel dependence. Our damp and energy inefficient housing stock accounts for almost one-fifth of Ireland’s carbon emissions, with Irish homes being 60% more energy-intensive than the average EU home. While the measures introduced in yesterday’s Budget will provide some short-term relief from increasing energy prices, much more is needed to ensure low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers, and the Traveller community in particular can enjoy warm homes and low energy bills. The failure to increase the fuel allowance scheme in Budget 2023 puts increased pressure on households already experiencing energy poverty, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Ireland’s Energy Poverty Strategy lapsed in 2019, creating a vacuum in accountability and in long-term planning and policy in relation to energy poverty and leaving many in our society exposed to the latest energy price shocks. In the forthcoming Energy Poverty Action Plan, it is essential that  low income households, tenants, rural dwellers and the Traveller community are protected  in relation to both energy poverty and climate challenges.

The Action Plan must be rooted in a rights-based approach to ensure that – through consultation and collaboration with relevant anti-poverty, housing, health, community, social justice and human rights bodies – it is poverty and equality proofed. Access to adequate levels of energy is a precondition to the realisation of many rights impacting our lives, health and living standards.

Our submission on the Energy Poverty Action Plan can be read in full here and calls for the following:

  • Double the Fuel Allowance rate from €33 to €66 and widen the eligibility for the Fuel Allowance by including those receiving Working Family Payment and those in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance for less than one year.
  • The retrofit of Ireland’s entire social housing stock to a B2 standard this decade
  • A tailored retrofit plan for the Private Rental Sector with clear milestones, targets and funding. Also, introduce new grants for deep retrofits for landlords in the private rental sector on the condition that long-term leases and rent control are guaranteed to tenants
  • Targeted measures to ensure that low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers, and the Traveller community can avail of energy upgrades and SEAI grants
  • A dedicated retrofitting programme for households solely relying on solid fuel heating systems, as recommended by @irishrurallink
  • Deployment of Local Community Energy Advisors throughout every local authority to engage and inform people who would most benefit from energy efficiency upgrades, as recommended by @SVPIreland
  • Acceleration of the phase-out of fossil fuels and prioritisation of Energy Efficiency: The Review of Ireland’s Energy Poverty Strategy recognises the “growing connection between alleviating energy poverty and achieving national climate action objectives”
  • Regulation of energy pricing: Provide for the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) to remove standing charges on energy bills and to ensure all energy providers allocate the lowest energy rate to all their users.
  • Consistency with Climate Justice: We recommend that the new Energy Poverty Strategy prioritises win-win climate action policies that help address inequality and ensure that the cost of climate mitigation and adaptation measures does not fall unfairly on marginalised and vulnerable groups
  • Nationalisation of the Energy System: Consider nationalising Ireland’s energy system to facilitate the just development of efficient, clean energy for the public good.
  • Place the Energy Poverty Action Plan on a statutory footing to ensure policy coherence and a whole-of-government approach. To ensure accountability and long-term political commitment towards the eradication of energy poverty, the Action Plan should commit to delivering an Energy Poverty Act in 2023.

 

RTE News 21st September – Calls for reform of ‘outdated’ civil legal aid scheme

This TV and radio report by RTE highlights Community Law & Mediation’s 10th anniversary in Limerick and our calls for reform of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme and means test to access legal aid. The event was attended by Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell.

Read the article in full here:

Calls for reform of ‘outdated’ civil legal aid scheme – RTE News 21 September 2022

Blog: A referendum on housing

Right to 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.

Proposed wording:

The wording for a standalone right to housing could take the following form:

“Housing

Article 43A

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.

Socio-economic right

We are calling for an express socio-economic right to be inserted into the constitution.

Environmental Justice

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,[1] 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.

 

Blog: The Energy Poverty Action Plan

How we can combat energy poverty while also meeting our climate targets

A new Energy Poverty Action Plan will be published by the Government in the coming weeks. The Plan will include immediate measures to ensure winter-readiness for those at risk of energy poverty, while also setting out medium-to-long term measures to alleviate energy poverty.

Access to adequate levels of energy is a precondition to the realisation of many rights impacting our lives, health and living standards. Energy poverty is not due to excess energy consumption, but inadequate income, poorly insulated housing, and energy prices.

Experiences of energy poverty at our community law centres

At our community law centres, energy poverty frequently presents as an underlying issue when a person or family comes to us with a housing, debt, health or employment problem. The ESRI estimates that 43% of households are now living in energy poverty, a record high.  Energy upgrades and SEAI grants are not a realistic prospect for most of the people we work with, many of whom are on low incomes, rent their homes or live in social housing. Members of the Traveller community are particularly exposed to energy poverty yet have consistently been overlooked when it comes to upgrade or retrofit initiatives.

Energy inefficient housing stock

The energy poverty crisis is compounded by the fact that almost half (48%) of Ireland’s housing stock is energy inefficient, with poorly insulated homes locked into fossil fuel dependence. Our damp and energy inefficient housing stock accounts for 19.8% of Ireland’s carbon emissions, with Irish homes being 60% more energy-intensive than the average EU home.

The Energy Poverty Action Plan – an opportunity

The Energy Poverty Action Plan presents a unique opportunity to equip and empower low income and marginalised communities to take action in relation to both energy poverty and climate challenges. In our submission, we call for the implementation of measures that both alleviate energy poverty while also actively addressing the climate crisis and our climate targets. We call for a range of targeted measures to ensure that low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers and the Traveller community can avail of retrofit initiatives. We call for a rights-based approach to the development of the Action Plan, to ensure it is poverty and equality proofed.

Read our recommendations here.

Read our Budget 2023 recommendations here.

Joint statement on Energy Poverty

In July, Community Law & Mediation issued a set of recommendations for a new Energy Poverty Strategy, endorsed by Age Action, Clondalkin Travellers Development Group, Community Work Ireland, Fridays for Future, FLAC, Friends of the Earth Ireland, Independent Living Movement Ireland, the INOU, The Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Rural Link, the Irish Traveller Movement, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, National Traveller MABS, the Northside Partnership, Not Here Not Anywhere, Pavee Point, The Society of St Vincent de Paul, TASC and Threshold. We are also cosignatories of the recent joint statement by environmental and anti-poverty NGOs on Energy Poverty and Energy Pollution.

How can we help you?

If you are experiencing energy poverty, or would like to find out more about our services, please contact us on 01 847 7804 / 061 536 100 or click here for more information.