There is a housing crisis in Ireland. Everyone knows it – every politician, every policy-maker, every citizen.
It’s an economic, social, and human crisis. The lack of decent, affordable and secure housing is hampering economic growth and development. It’s damaging communities, forcing thousands of men, women and children into homelessness, often leaving young people with little choice but to emigrate or to remain living in cramped conditions with relatives.
Above all, it’s destroying families. It’s hurting the development of children, leaving scars that will last for years.
Everyone knows that this is not a crisis that can be fixed overnight. We need to build. We need to release land for building homes and communities. We need to end legal and bureaucratic rows that are in the way of decent planning and proper provision.
Government tells us there is no shortage of money to solve the problem. Endless schemes and plans have been put in place. The community and voluntary sector has put its shoulder to the wheel. Yet only temporary solutions have been advanced. And all the time the end to the crisis seems as far away as ever.
This is why Threshold is calling for the right to housing to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution. Without a Right to Housing, there is no duty on the Government to ensure all people have access to adequate housing.
Access to adequate housing is the basis from which one can realise all their other rights. Without a right to home, citizens can only be considered marginal rights holders. A right to housing would provide a solid floor of protection, below which no one should fall; home is a fundamental element of human dignity and must be protected.
In order for the right to housing to be formally inserted into the Irish Constitution, there needs to be a referendum to insert a standalone right to housing in the Constitution. Threshold, as a member of Home for Good, is actively campaigning for this referendum.
We propose this stand-alone right, of equal value to the right to private property to bring about balance to the Constitution. This is deeply significant as Article 43.2 of the Constitution allows the Government to regulate private property according to the principles of social justice. However, these principles have not been sufficient to allow those providing legal advice to policy makers to endorse housing policies that would infringe on or regulate private property.
A stand-alone right would resolve the tension between private property rights and the common good, by allowing the right to private property and that to housing to be balanced against each other. The express recognition of the right to hosing would open up policy discussions and considerations more widely, to devise and implement solutions to our housing and homeless crises. It would become the touchstone against which all action or inaction by the State would be measured.
A referendum to insert a right to housing into the Constitution will give the people of Ireland the opportunity to instruct the Government on its role in ensuring access to housing. This would require the Government to take necessary, progressive steps of institutional reform to ensure access to secure, affordable and suitable homes for all.