Tuesday, 14 May 2019
An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (An Ceart chun Teaghaise) 2016: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]
It is worth recalling that in January with great pomp and ceremony we all decamped from here and went around to the Mansion House to mark the centenary of the first Dáil and, in particular, its Democratic Programme. That Democratic Programme was very clear that our country would "be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all". It is worth recalling what the programme said on the issue of housing. It stated "we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare". It stated "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter". In total contradiction, the Irish Constitution protects the right to property.
Perhaps previous Governments had a much more honest position to events such as 1916, the Proclamation, the First Dáil and the Democratic Programme. The anniversaries of these events were largely ignored by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Perhaps this was a better position than the verbalised republicanism of the establishment parties of these times.
At the Mansion House event the Taoiseach described the first Dáil as a bold, profound and decisive statement about the future of Ireland. It is a great pity he does not agree with that bold, profound and decisive statement. One hundred years later, citizens in this state have no legal right to a home. James Connolly, the great Irish revolutionary in 1899 predicted all of this. He wrote:
After Ireland is free, says the patriot who won’t touch socialism ... if you won’t pay your rent you will be evicted same as now. But the evicting party ... will wear green uniforms and the Harp without the Crown, and the warrant turning you out on the roadside will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic.
Today the courts regard a lending institution as having superior rights over those of the occupier or homeowner. Citizens and families with children in crèches have no effective remedy through the courts. In 2005 the State opted out of Article 31 of the revised European Social Charter, which concerns the right to housing. That brings us to the nub of the problem, which is that the Irish establishment does not believe in a citizen's right to a home. That has to change. The programme of the Government states it will be judged on how it addresses the issues of housing and homelessness. Out of its own mouth it is condemned. No amount of fancy words, spin or plámás can disguise the Government's disastrous housing policy, its failure to prevent increases in rents and to end evictions, the huge number of people on housing waiting lists, the fiasco of local councils refusing to draw down available funds for housing for Travellers and the number of citizens, especially children, who are homeless. All of this exposes the inability of the Government to govern in a fair way.
By any measure the Government has failed. It has failed families, pensioners and children. The March figures were the worst ever for homelessness, with 10,305 people homeless, including 3,821 children, despite the massaging of the figures. In my part of the State, that is, counties Louth, Monaghan and Cavan, there were 60 people homeless in March 2018, but in March this year the figure was 173. The past eight years have seen a 490% increase in the number of homeless children, while the level of family homelessness has increased by 40%. The level of pensioner homelessness has also increased dramatically, by 80%. There are generations of people who, in bad times in this state and on this island, at least had a home over the heads. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. Now we have a generation of working people who cannot afford to buy a house.
I urge Teachtaí Dála to support the Thirty-fifth amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016 and ask people to turn out on Saturday to attend the Raise the Roof demonstration in Dublin. It will be an important opportunity to demonstrate public opposition to the Government's housing strategy.