“The right to housing in our constitution would be a positive, strong step for the future to create fundamental protection of home for every adult and every child”
On Thursday, 13th July 2017, Mercy Law Resource Centre was honoured to participate in ‘A Right to Housing’ seminar in Trinity College Dublin, in conjunction with Simon Communities of Ireland and Senator Collette Kelleher. The focus of the seminar was the urgent call for the right to housing to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution. The seminar brought together international and national homeless experts, academics, journalists, civil society organisations, trade unions, employers, and constitutional and legal experts. The panel of speakers included Niamh Randall (Simon Communities of Ireland), Kitty Holland (The Irish Times), Dr Rory Hearne (NUI Maynooth), Karan O’Loughlin (SIPTU), Maeve Regan (Mercy Law Resource Centre), Professor Gerard Whyte (Trinity College Dublin), and Adrian Berry (Barrister, UK).
Each speaker, whilst discussing their area of expertise, outlined how important it is to have the right to housing included in the Irish Constitution and mapped out certain ways to achieve this. As each speaker took the podium the current homelessness crisis was highlighted by not only the rapidly increasing figures of homeless people in Ireland but also by harrowing stories of the experience of homelessness told by Kitty Holland, such as a mother forced to make her children’s lunches in the front seat of a car while her three children slept in the back seat.
Another item that was hugely emphasised was the legal and political struggles faced every day by individuals and organisations when attempting to resolve the crisis. As Maeve Regan noted, a legal argument cannot rely on a person’s right to adequate housing, rather their battle must rely on other rights such as the right to privacy, the right to family life, or right to bodily integrity. This makes it extremely hard for a person’s battle for housing to be legally successful.
“A right to housing in the Constitution would mean that the courts could look at the State decision or policy as to whether it was ‘proportionate’ by reference to the right. It would mean that Government and State policies and actions would have to respect the right. Legislation and policy would have to be ‘proofed’ to ensure they reasonably protect the right to housing. It would mean that the policies in relation to housing and homelessness could not be on a political whim but would have this grounding, this obligation to respect the right to housing. It would be an enduring protection.”
Karan O’Loughlin highlighted one of the main issues contributing to the crisis by comparing the national average rent per month with the minimum monthly wage. The national average rent is €1131 and the minimum monthly wage when working 30 hours a week is €1110, meaning that after a person has paid rent they are left with 21 euro for the month. With a Constitutional right to housing, there may be scope to challenge the unsustainable rent increases; the current legal framework however provides little scope to bring such a challenge.
Overall, the event marked the beginning of an alliance of people from a multitude of backgrounds, all with the common goal of establishing a basic floor of protection which would require the State to consider the right to housing and balance it with other rights when formulating policy and law. This would not mean a key to a house for all but rather it would be the first step in abolishing the crisis that currently exists in Ireland.