Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

Right to Housing: Motion

 

9:30 am

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)

I move:

That Seanad Éireann: believes that:
- a secure home is a basic human right;

- Covid-19 highlights the essential protection a secure home provides;

- far too many of our citizens are homeless;

- essential middle-income workers are struggling to secure an affordable home;

- young people should expect to secure an affordable home;

- the State has responsibility to protect citizens right to a home;
acknowledges:
- the Government’s historic housing and homeless prevention budget;

- the Government’s radical and ambitious Affordable Housing legislation which will see the State, under this Government, lead the provision of social, affordable and affordable cost rental homes;

- the statutory establishment of the Land Development Agency to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to maximise the use of State lands to sustainably develop social and affordable homes for purchase and rent;

- that historically the State provision of housing was determined by prevailing and changing political will;

- that post-Covid Ireland aspires to a society where everyone has a safe place to call home;

- that Bunreacht na hÉireann explicitly protects private property rights in Articles 43 and 40.3 but does not include a corresponding right to a secure home;

- a constitutional right to housing would permanently assert the State’s responsibility to ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing;

- a constitutional right to housing would permanently propel the State to sustainable housing policies designed to ensure access for all to secure housing;

- a constitutional right to housing would not guarantee everyone a free home;

- that the Programme for Government ‘Our Shared Future’ commits to establishing a Commission on Housing to examine issues such as tenure, standards and sustainability in the provision of housing;

- that the Programme for Government commits to holding a referendum on housing;
and calls:
- on the Government to exercise every resource to achieve a sustainable post-Covid future where every Irish citizen has a safe and secure home;

- for all Irish citizens to be given the opportunity through a constitutional referendum to mandate future Governments to pursue sustainable housing policies which ensure every citizen has a secure home by amending Bunreacht na hÉireann to include a right to housing;

- for Article 43 of Bunreacht na hÉireann to be amended as follows:
- ‘The State recognises, and shall vindicate, the right of all persons to have access to adequate housing.

- The State shall, through legislative and other measures, provide for the realisation of this right within its available resources.’
- on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to advise on the holding of such referendum to allow the Irish people insert a constitutional protection to secure housing for every citizen in Bunreacht na hÉireann.

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. He has spent almost as much time here as we do at the moment. That is a reflection of how important this House is treating the issue of housing. I am glad to welcome him to the House today and to move the motion on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, which reads: that Seanad Éireann believes that a secure home is a basic human right; that Covid-19 highlights the essential protection a secure home provides; that far too many of our citizens are homeless; and that essential middle-income workers are struggling to secure an affordable home. We believe that young people should expect to secure an affordable home in our country and that the State has responsibility to protect our citizens' rights to a home.We acknowledge the Government's historic housing and homelessness prevention budget and its radical and ambitious affordable housing legislation, which will see the State, under this Government, lead the provision of social, affordable and affordable cost-rental homes.

We also acknowledge the statutory establishment of the Land Development Agency, LDA, to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to maximise the use of State lands to sustainably develop social and affordable homes both for purchase and rent. We acknowledge that, historically, the State provision of housing was determined by the prevailing and changing political will and that, in post-Covid Ireland, we aspire to be a society where everyone has a safe place to call home.

Bunreacht na hÉireann explicitly protects private property rights in Article 43 but it does not have a corresponding right to a secure home. A constitutional right to housing would permanently assert the State’s responsibility to ensure access for all our citizens to adequate, safe and affordable housing. A constitutional right to housing would permanently propel the State to sustainable housing policies designed to ensure access for all to secure housing. A constitutional right to housing would not guarantee everyone a free home. The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commits to establishing a commission on housing to examine the issues around housing such as tenure, standards and sustainability in the provision of housing and to holding a referendum on housing.

On that basis, we call on the Minister of State, on behalf of the Government, to exercise every resource to achieve a sustainable post-Covid future where every Irish citizen has a safe and secure home and for all Irish citizens to be given the opportunity, through a constitutional referendum, to mandate not just this Government but future Governments to pursue sustainable housing policies, which ensure that every citizen has a secure home by amending Bunreacht na hÉireann to include a right to housing and, specifically, to amend Bunreacht na hÉireann to include two provisions, namely, hat the State recognises, and shall vindicate, the right of all persons to have access to adequate housing, and that the State shall, through legislative and other measures, provide for the realisation of this right within the available resources. We call on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to advise this House on the holding of a referendum to allow the Irish people to insert a constitutional protection to secure housing for every citizen in Bunreacht na hÉireann.

I do not believe any Member of this House does not recognise the crisis in housing that is gripping our society and country. We all consider it unacceptable, as does the Minister of State, that more than 6,000 people are homeless.

Tens of thousands of working people cannot afford to own their own home and tens of thousands of people are renting in unaffordable situations with insecure tenure. Teachers, nurses, gardaí and other front-line workers, such as bus drivers, healthcare workers and shop assistants, are either locked into unaffordable rents or locked out of owning their own home. It is really important for our children, grandchildren and everyone else that this Government has made housing such a priority and is doing everything it can to address the housing crisis.

The question probably arises as to where we are going with this motion. We are going beyond this Government, this House and politics. We are going to Bunreacht na hÉireann, our Constitution, which basically captures the values to which we aspire for our society and want to uphold and deliver for our citizens.

In terms of this Government and the historic budget of €3.1 billion, €2.2 billion of which is for capital spending, this will be the biggest social housing programme in more than a decade. It will deliver 12,000 social homes and provide €220 million for homelessness prevention.In the short term, it is essential to addressing the housing crisis. The Affordable Housing Bill 2021 that we have been debating here in recent days will establish a lead for the local authorities and the State in the provision of affordable homes for purchase and rent.

The affordable cost-rental model, which was created in Vienna after the Second World War when Austrian society decided it wanted to ensure everyone had an affordable home, is very important. That is why we are championing this affordable cost-rental model in Ireland. We fully support the Government's efforts to introduce that model in the Affordable Housing Bill 2021. It will ensure the State will take the lead in the provision of affordable homes for purchase and rent, as well as social homes for those who cannot afford to purchase and protections for those who are homeless. It will also use and seek to use any private homes being delivered through Part 5 and double the social and affordable element in every private development. It will go further still by providing financial support through the shared equity scheme to people paying more in rent than they would for a mortgage and who want to buy their own homes.

The Land Development Agency is being established to strategically manage public land owned by the Departments of Health and Defence and other State authorities. These State lands will be used to deliver affordable homes. That is a game-changing approach which will deliver for generations to come. It will allow the State to use public lands for maximum public benefit. The Minister and Department are working on a new housing for all programme. In July, that programme will deliver even further in respect of multi-annual targets and budgets. Once we pass the legislation, it will make sense to then add more funding, including significantly more capital funding.

I note the welcome and timely report from the ESRI, which encourages the Government, based on the need for housing and the prevailing financial environment, to increase further the capital budget over the coming decade. I believe the Government will do that.

We are in a crisis and it is one which did not develop overnight. This brings us back to the fundamental question of how we compel the State to take the lead permanently in ensuring that it delivers on the right for people to have access to secure and affordable homes. Morally, politically, economically, socially and in every other respect, the right thing to do is to provide a right to housing in our Constitution. Only when people have a stake in society and feel like they belong to society is it possible to achieve cohesion. Far too many of our citizens do not feel a sense of ownership as they do not own a home.

We want to have a sustainable society in post-pandemic Ireland, one which captures our values. I believe the majority of Irish people, if not all, believe that a right to housing is a basic human right. On a European stage, we must accept that Ireland is lagging behind our European neighbours in this regard. Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries already have constitutional protections and provide for the right to a home. Germany, France, Austria and Luxembourg have all legislated for such a right. The United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights calls for such a right, the European Social Charter commits to it and the United Nations sustainable development goals to which we have signed up require us to ensure that every citizen has access to a secure and affordable home.

This issue boils down to a fundamental question. Do we believe that access to a home is a basic human right? If so, will we call on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to ask the people of Ireland their opinion on this issue? Do we want to give people in Ireland, through a referendum, the choice to mandate not just this Government but future Governments in respect of such a right?It is not a decision just for politicians to make. This is a decision for all the people of our country to make. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to put this question to our people and give them the opportunity to express their preference regarding the values they want for our country post pandemic.

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