Thursday, 3 June 2021
An Bille um an Naoú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Ceart chun Tithíochta) 2020: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]
Eoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
I am happy to take five minutes to ensure that others get to speak. I thank People Before Profit, Solidarity and Rise for re-tabling this legislation. Sinn Féin was happy to support it in the previous Dáil and we will be enthusiastically supporting it this evening. We tabled a similar Bill in the previous Dáil and have introduced one on First Stage this year as part of our commitment to enshrine a right to housing in the Constitution. We are active supporters of the Home for Good coalition, which has produced the most superior wording for a referendum that I have seen to date. I look forward to that legislation being brought forward to ensure we get a referendum, preferably by the Government but if not, by the Opposition.
I listened very carefully to the Minister of State. He rightly said that changing the Constitution is a significant thing to do. We have to take our time, do it right and ensure there are no negative impacts or unintended consequences for other aspects of the Constitution. My problem with that argument is that the Government has been taking a very long time. It was 2014 when 85% of people participating in a constitutional convention supported the proposition to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. It was 2016 when the previous Government promised in its programme for Government that it would allow the Oireachtas housing committee to consider this matter. By way of a deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it snatched that away and inappropriately gave it to the finance committee to consider, then ensured the committee never actually did so.
The fact that there is a very ambiguous commitment to a referendum on housing in the programme for Government shows that there is no agreement between the coalition partners on this issue. Recently, there was a very significant development at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage when Home for Good presented its wording for a referendum to us. That wording was produced in consultation with some of the country's leading constitutional experts on property rights, land and housing. For the first time, Fianna Fáil fully expressed its support for that wording and a referendum, which I welcome. Unfortunately, Fine Gael was unable to do the same but it was at that point that the committee wrote to the Minster to urge him to meet Home for Good. I welcome the fact that he has done so. He also has said that he supports the constitutional right to housing. However, the point I am making is that from 2014 to 2021 is a very long time for Fine Gael to be trying to make up its mind on this matter. I do not believe it will take a housing commission or any considerable length of time for us to decide if we need to move forward. I recommend that the Government bring Home for Good's wording to the Attorney General to get his view and then decide on whether that wording or some other version of it is to be brought forward.
People should understand why a right to housing in the Constitution is important. Such a right would not guarantee everybody the right to a home the day after such a referendum hopefully passed. It would, however, place a legal obligation on any government to progressively vindicate that right over time and ensure we do not have the same situation in the future that we have today, where thousands of adults and children are living in emergency accommodation, in many cases for three or four years, and thousands of people in both the public and private sectors are unable to put a secure and affordable roof over their heads. Just like all the other rights in the Constitution, it would ensure that the Government complies with those obligations. How a government does that is a matter for the democratic process. It is a matter for parties and voters to decide which combination of political parties and policies are used in a future government to ensure that right is secured. The obligation itself is crucial. It is one of the many tools we need to ensure future governments do not repeat the mistakes of the current Government and previous ones, which have consistently failed to ensure people have that right to secure and affordable accommodation, particularly for the most vulnerable in our society.
A constitutional right to housing, combined with the kind of investment and policy proposals that the Economic and Social Research Institute outlined today, is where we need to go. We have had ten years of Fine Gael led housing policy, including under a Government with a Fianna Fáil housing Minister, and those policies are patently failing. That is why the ESRI stated today that the Government needs to double direct capital investment in the delivery of social and affordable homes to produce 18,000 public homes a year, though many of us would prefer something in the order of 20,000 genuinely affordable homes. Let us pass Second Stage of this Bill tonight and move forward to the referendum that many of us want, but let the Government also start putting its money where its mouth is. There is no point talking about affordable housing. We need to double capital investment and produce 20,000 genuinely affordable, social, cost rental and affordable purchase homes a year, starting next year. That is what it is going to take to tackle this crisis.