The United Nations (the UN) Special Rapporteur for adequate housing, Leilani Farha has recently called on Ireland to make the right to housing a constitutional right or to take legislative action to address the current housing crisis.

Ireland, along with other countries worldwide, has committed to ensuring access to housing for all by 2030. However, the Government has been in crisis management in its efforts to address the current housing shortage with an estimated 10,000 people currently in emergency accommodation. In a recent speech at the launch of a new paper by the Simon Community entitled “Making the Case for a Right to Housing in Ireland”, Ms Farha questioned how Ireland could meet its international human rights obligations if it continues to deliver housing units at the current pace.

What protections are currently in place?

Ireland has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which prescribes for the State to take “all appropriate means” to provide for the the right to adequate housing based on the availability of resources. The Irish Constitution also contains certain explicit property rights but, there is currently no clear statutory right to adequate housing which can be legally enforced by the Irish Courts.

Efforts have been made in the past to rectify this situation. The Right to Housing Bill was introduced in 2017 and proposed to insert a right to housing into the Irish Constitution. However, the Bill was rejected by Dáil Éireann.

What might legislative change look like?

The UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights has identified the minimum criteria for securing adequate housing, which are:

  • Security of Tenure
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure
  • Affordability
  • Habitability
  • Accessibility
  • Location
  • Cultural Adequacy

The Government could incorporate these criteria into legislation as a mandatory minimum when seeking to formulate a long-term housing strategy.

Are there any possible challenges to a new legislative approach?

Any amendments to the Irish Constitution or any approach to legislating for a right to housing will have to balance the rights of landowners. In 1982, the Court found that the Rent Restriction Act, which obliged landlords to accept below market rents, was an unjust attack on the property owners’ constitutional property rights. Nonetheless, there have been successful legislative measures to assist with meeting social housing needs, such as Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which provides that up to 10% of a new housing development, must be reserved for social housing.

How can a legislative approach make a difference?

As it stands, Ireland is unlikely to reach their target of housing units by 2030. A legislative approach would ensure that the Government has a comprehensive, realistic and cohesive plan to address the housing shortage. By placing the right to housing on a constitutional or statutory footing, this would ensure that any plan to address the housing shortage would survive a change in Government or a shift in Government priorities, which could offer a real long-term solution to the current housing crisis.