On 31 March the Constitutional Convention recommended to the Government, by an overwhelming majority of 85%, that ESC rights be given enhanced protection in the Constitution. The Government was due to respond to the recommendation by the end of July. Disappointingly and in breach of the Conventions’ terms of reference, we now understand that this response will not be given until the autumn. MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initiative, is calling on the Government to accept the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation. On 26 September, MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initiative, submitted open letters to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste calling on the Government to accept the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation.
Background to Convention Recommendation
In February, the Constitutional Convention voted overwhelmingly in favour of amending the Constitution to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. 85% of the delegates voted in favour of increased protection of these rights in the Constitution. The majority also voted for the strongest possible protection option – of inserting a provision in the Constitution that the State shall progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, subject to maximum available resources and that this duty is cognisable by the courts, i.e. that the courts can consider and adjudicate on these rights.
The Convention also voted that, along with a general protection provision, specific economic, social and cultural rights should be expressly stated in the Constitution. Those specific rights include the right to housing, with 84% of the Convention voting in favour of including that right in the Constitution. The formal recommendation by the Convention was made on 31 March 2014 to the Government.
MLRC is a member of the Economic Social and Cultural Rights Initiative, which includes Amnesty International Ireland and Focus Ireland.
The right to housing
The right to housing is currently not protected in our Constitution nor in legislation. The right to housing is one that is within the category, as recognised in international human rights law, of economic, social and cultural rights.
Economic, social and cultural rights are currently protected in a very limited manner in the Constitution. The Convention heard from academic experts Dr Liam Thornton, Aoife Nolan and David Fennelly on what economic, social and cultural rights are, how they are protected in the Constitution, and models from other jurisdictions of how these rights are incorporated into national constitutions. These concise, clear reports are available on the Human Rights in Ireland website: http://humanrights.ie/children-and-the-law/the-constitutional-convention-briefing-papers-on-economic-social-cultural-rights/
The Constitutional Convention
The Convention on the Constitution is a forum of 100 people, representative of Irish society and parliamentarians from the island of Ireland, with an independent Chairman. The Convention was established by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas to consider and make recommendations on certain topics as possible future amendments to the Constitution. The Government has undertaken to respond to the Convention’s recommendations within four months by way of debates in the Oireachtas and where it agrees with a particular recommendation to amend the Constitution, to include a time-frame for a referendum.
Call to the Government
MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initiative, is calling on the Government to accept the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation. If further examination of this issue is deemed necessary, for example through the establishment of a working group to consider the implications of constitutional incorporation of these rights and to formulate the appropriate wording for a referendum bill, MLRC, as part of the ESC Rights Initative, urges that such a process be quickly put in place. We urge that any such further examination process should:
- Be open and transparent;
- Draw on internal analysis of relevant Departments, as well as external expertise, including from civil society organisations;
- Have clear and public terms of reference;
- Have an expeditious and defined time-frame for reporting;
- Be mandated to make public its findings and reasoning.
An important step towards a constitutional right to housing and ending homelessness
The inclusion of these rights in our Constitution would greatly strengthen the protection of Irish citizens who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. MLRC welcomes the Convention’s Recommendation as an important positive step towards a constitutional right to housing.
Open Letter to An Taoiseach, 26th September 2014 – read here
Open Letter to An Tánaiste, 26th September 2014 – read here
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