Today the Simon Communities in Ireland, Senator Colette Kelleher and Mercy Law Resource Centre are jointly hosting ‘A Right to Housing’ seminar in Trinity College Dublin. This seminar will bring together key stakeholders including national and international housing and homeless experts, academics, civil society organisations, employers, unions, constitutional and legal experts to outline the importance of enshrining a right to housing in the Irish Constitution and to map out the next steps to achieve this. Currently there is no right to housing in Ireland. This means is that we cannot legally challenge the failure of the State to provide people with access to secure and affordable homes. Our housing system is in crisis and we urgently need a different approach. Enshrining a right to housing in our Constitution would provide fundamental protections for all. To date the Government has not acted on the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention that the Right to a Home should be included in the Constitution. It is time to progress this issue as a matter of urgency.
Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities in Ireland said people who are homeless are often excluded from society.
‘There are at least 7, 699 men, women and children trapped in emergency accommodation. People experiencing homelessness are often denied access to basic things such as a kitchen where they can cook their own meals, privacy, and a quiet space to do homework or an address from which to apply for jobs. They are excluded from society and their basic rights are often denied. Discrimination is both a cause and a consequence of homelessness. Many people living in emergency accommodation; hotels, hostels, B&Bs are forced to wander the streets during the day until such time as they can return to their accommodation and hope for a bed for the night. Others remained trapped for months or even years on end in temporary accommodation that was never meant to be accessed long term.’
‘A right to housing would not mean that everyone would instantly receive a key to his or her own home. Instead, it would provide a ‘floor’ in respect of access to basic adequate housing for all. It would oblige the state to reasonably protect and fulfil that right. For example, where the gap between Housing Assistance Payments and market rents are so great that most people cannot afford to rent a home, the right to housing would allow this to be constitutionally challenged. Across the world, the right to housing is included in eighty-one Constitutions. It is clear the housing market is not working: it hasn’t been for some considerable time now. In the absence of sufficient supply of social housing, the private rented sector is not capable of delivering the housing needed to respond given the sheer scale of the problem.’
‘Housing should not be viewed as a commodity. Under international human rights obligations, housing is not a commodity; housing is a human right. Everyone must be entitled to a safe, secure and affordable home appropriate to their needs. Central to this, acting as an anchor, is the inclusion of a right to housing in the Irish Constitution. ’
Senator Colette Kelleher said we must ensure we never experience a housing and homeless crisis of this magnitude again.
‘Our housing sector is in crisis with devastating consequences on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. We must re-write the rules and fundamentally rethink our approach to housing in Ireland.
At the core of that, I believe we need to enshrine a constitutional right to Housing in Bunreacht na hÉireann. In 2014, 84% of members of the Convention on the Constitution voted in favour of enumerating such a right. Tackling homelessness and housing insecurity is a key human rights issue. From the right to play, to the right to shelter, to the right to education, to the right to work, to the right to privacy and the right to health. We can do more to protect and empower people experiencing homelessness by enshrining the right to housing in law. This would strengthen security of tenure, allow people live well and fully participate in Irish society as we cannot exercise other fundamental rights without a secure roof over our heads.’
Maeve Regan, Managing Solicitor, Mercy Law Resource Centre said that the current housing and homeless crisis is due to a policy failure.
‘Every week, Mercy Law Resource Centre meets with people and families who are homeless, living in their cars or having each day to find accommodation for that night. They are in this situation because they cannot access housing, be it emergency accommodation, the private rental sector or social housing. We meet families who are stuck in emergency accommodation, which is grossly inappropriate for their needs, for their health and for their dignity. They are often unable to cook their own meals. Right now, rights around the edges are all that can be used to attempt to challenge this. The gap in the law is clear.’
‘A right to housing in the Constitution would mean that the courts could look at the State decision or policy as to whether it was ‘proportionate’ by reference to the right. It would mean that Government and State policies and actions would have to respect the right. Legislation and policy would have to be “proofed” to ensure they reasonably protect the right to housing. It would mean that the policies in relation to housing and homelessness could not be on a political whim but would have this grounding, this obligation to respect the right to housing. It would be an enduring protection. The right to housing in our Constitution would be a positive, strong step for the future to create enduring fundamental protection of home for every adult and every child. It would require the State in its policies and decisions to protect the right in balance with other rights.’
This seminar will bring together key stakeholders to outline the importance of a constitutional right to housing and to map out the next steps, working collectively, to advance the right to housing from a policy, legislative and constitutional perspective.’
For media queries and interview requests
Tel: 01 671 1606/ 085 806 5141
About the event
A Right to Housing Seminar
Date: Thursday 13th July 2017
Time: 10.00am – 2pm (including lunch).
Venue: Emmet Theatre, Trinity College, Dublin.
About Simon Communities
The Simon Communities in Ireland are a network of eight regionally based independent Simon Communities based in Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, the Midlands, the Mid West, the North West and the South East that share common values and ethos in tackling all forms of homelessness throughout Ireland, supported by a National Office. The Simon Communities have been providing services in Ireland for over 40 years. The Simon Communities deliver support and service to over 8,300 individuals and families throughout Ireland who experience – or are at risk of – homelessness every year. Whatever the issue, for as long as we are needed, Simon’s door is always open. For more information please log on to www.simon.ie
About Mercy Law Resource Centre
Mercy Law Resource Centre (MLRC) is an independent law centre, registered charity and company limited by guarantee. MLRC provides free legal advice and representation for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. It also seeks to advocate change in laws, policies and attitudes which unduly and adversely impact people who are at the margins of our society. MLRC provides five key services: free legal advice clinics; legal representation in the areas of housing and social welfare law; legal support and training to organisations working in the field of homelessness; policy work; and a befriending service. MLRC’s clients are local authority tenants and people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. They include people who are trying to move away from homelessness who may be struggling with issues often linked to homelessness e.g. addiction, leaving prison, mental illness and relationship breakdown. MLRC has built strong working relationships with organisations working in the field of homelessness, including Focus Ireland, Crosscare, and Dublin Simon. Since our inception in 2009, MLRC has provided advice and/or court representation in public interest litigation to approximately 3900 individuals, families and organisations. For more about our work, please see www.mercylaw.ie
Senator Colette Kelleher
Colette has been working for the past three decades to advance the rights and supports for children and young people, people who are homeless, people with disabilities and dementia in Ireland and the UK. She held Chief Executive roles at Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Cope Foundation, Cork Simon Community and Daycare Trust. Colette was an adviser to Margaret Hodge MP and was appointed to the Seanad by An Taoiseach in May 2016. Colette attended the University of Southampton and UCC and holds a Bachelor of Social Science, a CQSW and an MBA. Colette recently became a Practioner in Change and Consulting at the Tavistock Institute. Colette lives in Cork City and is married with two grown up children.