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Referendum on constitutional right to housing could be held next year

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien will today visit the Housing Commission.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Updated Mar 1st 2022, 4:00 PM

A REFERENDUM ON inserting a right to housing into the Constitution could be held next year, the housing minister has said.

Darragh O’Brien said that it is important to hold a referendum as it would “underpin” people’s housing rights.

It comes as members of the Housing Commission held their first in-person meeting today.

The government’s Housing for All plan contained a commitment to establish a Housing Commission that would bring forward proposals for a referendum.

John O’Connor, chairman of the commission, said it has established a referendum subcommittee to consider the constitutional issues and to propose appropriate wording which would be put to the public.

The subcommittee is chaired by Alibhe O’Neill, a barrister and constitutional expert, and include members Patricia King, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Pat Doyle, the chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust and former chief justice Frank Clarke, among others.

The Housing Commission aims to submit its proposals on a referendum by the end of the year.

O’Brien said that the commission is undertaking important work.

“We’ve appointed, in my view, a very diverse commission, and people with lots of experience in different areas of housing,” he added.

“This was a key commitment in the Programme for Government.

“I want this government to be the one that looks longer term on housing.

“We’re dealing with the short and medium term issues around affordability, homelessness, and social housing through Housing For All, but we need to look further about what should a stable housing sector in Ireland look like.

“How it should serve its people, and how we should look at the regulations and the laws that underpin it.

“A very important step forward that the Commission has taken is to establish the subcommittee to look at the referendum on housing.

“As someone who was involved in the negotiations on the Programme for Government, a key commitment there is that this government will hold a referendum on housing.

“Under the chairpersonship of Alibhe, with a very good subcommittee, the Commission is going to work through our options and report back to government before the end of the year.”

O’Connor said: “The Commission on housing is looking at the future of housing and creating a long term, sustainable housing housing system.

“Twelve members have been appointed to the commission and they have an independent mandate to look at what we need to do.

“Housing is a home for people and a place where people take part in their community and we really need a sustainable system where we have affordable housing, both for renting and purchasing.

“Everybody in society can be part of our society and have affordable homes.

“The Commission will be looking at the long-term housing system in the country and how do we get to that sustainable system.

“One thing we announced is the setting up of a subcommittee on the referendum on housing in relation to housing rights.”

O’Connor said inserting a constitutional right to housing puts an obligation on politicians to address the rights of Irish people, and Governments are held accountable to meeting those rights.

“It doesn’t mean that people will get keys in the morning and everybody is to be provided with a home, but it means there’s an actual obligation for us to do that,” he added.

A referendum on the right to housing has been mooted for some time with politicians from government parties and the opposition among those who have pushed for it. 

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Opinion polls have shown that more than six out of 10 Irish people believe the right to housing should be enshrined in the Constitution.

There are differing views as to the effect of such a change but proponents argue that a Constitutional amendment would lead to more aggressive legislative change in the area of housing. 

Speaking to The Journal last year, constitutional law professor at Trinity College Dublin David Kenny said that and an amendment on a right to housing “is what we call an economic, social, cultural right that touches directly upon socio-economic distribution”.

“It touches upon our core matters such as social policy and that’s much different to the kinds of rights we protect in the Irish Constitution. The only other right that’s like it in the Constitution at the moment is the right to free primary education,” he said.

With reporting by Press Association and Christina Finn

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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