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]
Duncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
Deputy Cian O'Callaghan has just given a fantastic speech and described in five minutes exactly what is wrong with the Government's approach. It is mixed up and contradicting itself and it makes no sense. It is all over the place. I commend this Bill and we will support it. Deputy O'Callaghan also said that this concept is now mainstream thought. This is not fringe or radical thought - it has reached the political and economic mainstream. As usual, the last to get on board with any kind of progressive move across any issue, be that social or economic policy, or, in this case, housing policy, are the two biggest Government parties. There is an opportunity here, in the context of a referendum to enshrine a right to housing in the Constitution, for a unified and positive cross-party approach, if it is just looked at from a different perspective from those held by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael
This is what people want. We were here a few hours ago in the context of statements on Traveller accommodation. The motivation to have that debate on the schedule this week arose from recent reports regarding the destitution and absolute squalor that people, families and children in this State are living in. They have been denied any kind of basic rights, basic human dignity and the basic right to housing. The Constitution has for too long been used as an artificial barrier blocking people from accessing these basic rights. It has allowed the interests of the right and private interests to leverage the Constitution in their favour. Where are we now? We are in this housing crisis, which has now lasted for more than a decade. According to the ESRI, unless investment is put into housing now, this crisis will last another decade.
We are losing not just one generation. We have lost two so far, and there will be two more unless something is done. When we peel back all the complex reasons, this issue comes down to some very simple things. It comes down, in many ways, to the price of land. If we look at the Kenny report, which has been gathering dust now for 50 years, what has stopped that from being implemented? It is the threat that it would be shot down in the courts and might be unconstitutional. Let us tackle that issue. We can do that by testing the report in the courts, by amending our Constitution or by doing both. However, we must do something and we have to do it quickly. What is being done is too slow.
I hope we will be able to get to a stage where we can look back from a position where the housing crisis has been resolved. It seems so far away now that people cannot even imagine such a situation. I hope we do reach that stage though, and people will look back, wonder and scratch their heads in incredulity regarding how long politicians and Governments in this country did not do the right thing. The last election might seem to have been a long time ago, but it was not. It was just over a year ago. In the lead-in to that election, many parties, including mine and those of the proposers of this Bill, and the parties of the previous two speakers as well, had this commitment in their manifestos and in their campaigns.
This is now a mainstream approach and it has broad public support. We do not want to give campaign advice to the Government parties going into the next election, but if those parties were to bring in a right to housing, they would benefit electorally from it because it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do economically and ethically to solve this housing crisis and it must be done. We ask the Government to completely orient its thought regarding and position on the right to housing.