Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I had a chance to read the constitutional amendment Bill introduced by Deputy Harty and we had a chance to discuss it at Cabinet. We were all very much of the view that it should not be dismissed out of hand and that it is something that deserves proper consideration by the committee, as has been proposed, if not in this Dáil then certainly in the next one. I have always had an open mind on including socio-economic and cultural rights in the Constitution, whether it is housing, education or health, but I also think we need to be realistic about it too. All of us in this House know that rights may exist in law or they may be put into the Constitution, but that does not mean that they are realised on the ground. Eighty-three countries have a statutory right to housing but every single one of those has homeless people. Just making something a right in law or in the Constitution does not necessarily mean that it happens on the ground in the real world. It does not provide resources or money when money is not available. It does not help one to find staff if the staff are not available. It does not build buildings that do not exist. Governments have to do that, in particular by running an economy well to produce the resources to allow them to do that. No constitutional provision can change that reality or that fact of life.
The second thing we must bear in mind as well is that we need to be cautious not to create new rights and new legal obligations that may put people in a position whereby they can sue the State and receive compensation for not having those rights vindicated. None of us wants to see hundreds of thousands of euro being paid in compensation payments to people who did not get healthcare when that money could have been spent on healthcare, or hundreds of thousands of euro being paid to people because their right to housing was not vindicated when that same money could have been spent building a house. We need to be smart about these things. If we are going to put something into the Constitution, we must fully tease out the sequelae and the unintended consequences. That is the reason I think we are taking the right approach by referring it to the committee for detailed consideration either in this Dáil or the next.