Referendum on constitutional right to housing could be held next year

Darragh O’Brien said that it is important to hold a referendum as it would ‘underpin’ people’s housing rights.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and chairman of the Housing Commission John O’Connor speaking at Dublin Castle (Cate McCurry/PA)
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and chairman of the Housing Commission John O’Connor speaking at Dublin Castle (Cate McCurry/PA)

A referendum on inserting a right to housing into the Constitution could be held next year, the housing minister has said.

Darragh O’Brien said that it is important to hold a referendum as it would “underpin” people’s housing rights.

It comes as members of the Housing Commission held their first in-person meeting on Tuesday.

John O’Connor, chairman of the commission, said it has established a referendum subcommittee to consider the constitutional issues and to propose appropriate wording which would be put to the public.

The commission has been given a budget of 700,000 euro.

The subcommittee is chaired by Alibhe O’Neill, a barrister and constitutional expert, and include members Patricia King, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Pat Doyle, the chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust and former chief justice Frank Clarke, among others.

The Commission aims to submit its proposals on a referendum by the end of the year.

Mr O’Brien said that the commission is undertaking important work.

“We’ve appointed, in my view, a very diverse commission, and people with lots of experience in different areas of housing,” he added.

“This was a key commitment in the Programme for Government.

“I want this government to be the one that looks longer term on housing.

“We’re dealing with the short and medium term issues around affordability, homelessness, and social housing through Housing For All, but we need to look further about what should a stable housing sector in Ireland look like.

The Commission on housing is looking at the future of housing and creating a long term, sustainable housing housing system

John O'Connor

“How it should serve its people, and how we should look at the regulations and the laws that underpin it.

“A very important step forward that the Commission has taken is to establish the subcommittee to look at the referendum on housing.

“As someone who was involved in the negotiations on the Programme for Government, a key commitment there is that this government will hold a referendum on housing.

“Under the chairpersonship of Alibhe, with a very good subcommittee, the Commission is going to work through our options and report back to government before the end of the year.”

Mr O’Connor said: “The Commission on housing is looking at the future of housing and creating a long term, sustainable housing housing system.

“Twelve members have been appointed to the commission and they have an independent mandate to look at what we need to do.

“Housing is a home for people and a place where people take part in their community and we really need a sustainable system where we have affordable housing, both for renting and purchasing.

“Everybody in society can be part of our society and have affordable homes.

“The Commission will be looking at the long-term housing system in the country and how do we get to that sustainable system.

“One thing we announced is the setting up of a subcommittee on the referendum on housing in relation to housing rights.”

Mr O’Connor said inserting a constitutional right to housing puts an obligation on politicians to address the rights of Irish people, and Governments are held accountable to meeting those rights.

“It doesn’t mean that people will get keys in the morning and everybody is to be provided with a home, but it means there’s an actual obligation for us to do that,” he added.

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