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The Right to Housing in Comparative Perspective

The Mercy Law Resource Centre, one of the ESC Rights Initiative members,  launched its Second Right to Housing Report: The Right to Housing in Comparative Perspective

The report will be formally launched by Dr Carol Coulter,Director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP), honorary Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, NUI Galway.Professor Paddy Gray, Emeritus Professor at the University of Ulster, will give an address on best practice in relation to the provision  of emergency accommodation in the UK.

Through considering the legal systems of Finland, Scotland, France and  South Africa, “The Right to Housing in Comparative Perspective” engages with well-ventilated arguments in Irish political discourse over legal protection of the right to housing. In doing so, MLRC seeks to offer a comparative perspective on the principled and practical concerns raised by proponents and opponents of a justiciable right to housing.

The comparative analysis highlights that there are a wide variety of structural and institutional means by which the right can be guaranteed: there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. The variety of institutional means available to vindicate the right to housing demonstrates that concerns frequently expressed against economic and social rights – particularly separation of powers concerns – can be addressed.

The simple fact is that guaranteeing the right to housing does not necessarily equate to a significantly increased constitutional role for the judiciary.

In terms of the efficacy of legal protection, the MLRC analysis suggests that a legally enforceable right to housing- while not a panacea- provides a valuable floor of protection. However, the experience of all the jurisdictions considered in this report also highlights that the effectiveness of the right to housing is heavily contingent on the existence of sufficient and enduring political will to vindicate such rights through difficult budgetary, policy, and legislative choices.

Poverty and Discrimination: Two sides of the same coin?

On the 22nd March 2018, Equinet – the European Network of Equality Bodies and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission hosted the conference Poverty and discrimination: two sides of the same coin in Dublin.

Joined by keynote speaker David Stanton T.D., Irish Minister of State for Justice, experts representing the UN OHCHR, European Fundamental Rights Agency, European Committee of Social Rights, Eurofound, as well as national governmental and non-governmental organizations and equality bodies, discussed what can be done at EU and national levels to break the vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion and make equality a reality for all in Europe. The conference aimed to:
• Review the mutually reinforcing links between poverty and discrimination
• Take stock of recent initiatives introducing socio-economic status as a discrimination ground
• Explore the manner in which grounds such as race and gender intersect with poverty to result in aggravated forms of social exclusion
• Discuss what can be done at EU and national levels to break the vicious cycle of social exclusion

Combating poverty is a key undertaking of the European Union. This is reflected in the European Pillar of Social Rights, and Europe 2020, the EU’s ten-year jobs and growth strategy.

And crucially, one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations to which the European Union and all Member States committed is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

According to Marianne Thyssen, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility: “Too many people in Europe cannot develop their full potential due to the vicious cycle between poverty and discrimination. The European Pillar of Social Rights guides our actions in combating poverty and social exclusion and promoting equal opportunities. Now that the Pillar has been endorsed by all Member States, concerted action at all levels of responsibility will be necessary to ensure that everyone can live a life in dignity.

As two closely linked and mutually reinforcing types of injustice, poverty and discrimination reflect different aspects of inequality. Inequality of resources and inequality of recognition both create barriers to participation in society and in the economy. “Poverty and discrimination, unfortunately, work together. That is why the fight against poverty and the fight for equality must go hand in hand,“ stressed Tena Šimonović Einwalter, Chair of the Equinet Executive Board and Deputy Ombudswoman of Croatia.

Despite this link, the policy responses to poverty and to discrimination continue to be fragmented and characterised by different strategies and approaches.

National equality bodies have a particular contribution by infusing economic and social rights with an ambition for equality. Equality bodies that have a mandate to challenge discrimination and inequalities on the ground of socio-economic status are particularly well placed to make this contribution.

Emily Logan Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) stated: “Understanding poverty is complex, it is multi-dimensional and as today’s discussions explore, its direct link to discrimination is tangible, our shared destination is to enable a society where we see equality in practice – where people can reach their full potential, in all aspects of their lives.

Here are some quotes from the various speakers attending the Conference:

Updates on the EU implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights

On the 13th March, the European Commission has published a Communication on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The communication provides an overview of Commission initiatives and proposals which are intended to support the implementation of the Social Pillar.

The communication is accompanied by a working document, which is a more technical document providing an in-depth overview of the 20 principles of the Social Pillar. This is an updated version of the last working document on the European Pillar of Social Rights of April 2017. It provides information on the legal basis of each principle and explains the scope of the principle and the changes introduced by the Social Pillar. Furthermore, it includes an update concerning the implementation of the Social Pillar, describing the steps the Commission has taken for the implementation so far and what Member States and Social Partners can do.

These two documents come almost one year after the publication of the Commission’s proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights and just four months after it has been jointly proclaimed by the three EU Institutions at the Social Summit in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017. They are a sign of the Commission’s commitment to keep the European Pillar of Social Rights on the agenda and push forward its implementation. As Ireland has made a commitment to implement the Social Pillar, the documents can be used to remind them their promises.

The ESC Rights Initiative writes to the Oireachtas Joint Committees for Finance

On 27th February 2018, the ESC Rights Initiative wrote to John McGuinness TD, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, to submit a working paper on the matter of the Government response to
the Eighth Report of the Convention on the  Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

In 2014 the Convention on the Constitution undertook a full examination of economic, social and cultural human rights protection in Bunreacht Na hEireann and concluded (in its report of March 2015) by a large majority (85%) ‘favouring changes to the Constitution in order to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights.

It is now the initiative understanding, from statements made by members of government that government intends to carry through on its commitment to the Constitutional Convention by referring the Eighth Report to the Joint Committee
Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach.
.
In light of this situation a submission to this Committee in the belief that it
will be given due consideration.

Joint Committee Stage for the Private Bill on the Socio-Economic Ground of Discrimination

On 24 January Niall Crowley the Equality and Rights Alliance Chair & Anne Lyne, ERA board member represented many NGOs at Joint Oirechtas Commitee on Justice and Equality as they discussed the Private Bill to include the socio-economic status as a ground for discrimination to be banned by Equal Status legislation.

The transcription of the debate here!

More about the steps of the Private Bill here!

See also the video here!

The European Committee of Social Rights says Ireland lacks adequate overall and coordinated approach

On 24th January 2018, the European Committee of Social Rights published its Conclusions 2017 in respect of 33 States on the articles of the European Social Charter relating to the thematic group “Health, social security and social protection” showing 175 situations of non-conformity and 228 situations of conformity with the provisions of the Charter.

General conclusion here!

Here is the report of the Committee review of Ireland.

17 November 2017 – Proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights

The European Pillar of Social Rights has been proclaimed jointly by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the Social Summit, which took place in Sweden on Friday 17 November 2017. The Summit was a key moment to steer the work forward, in line with the broader discussion on the social dimension of Europe.

This proclamation by European leaders of the European Pillar, if followed through and actioned by member states, provides an opportunity to restore the social priorities which were so much a part of the European agenda in the early years of the expanded EU.

The ESCRI urged the Irish government to proactively engage with the European Pillar of Social Rights by responding constructively to the 2015 recommendations of the Constitutionnal Covention to strengthen the protection of such rights in our constitution. This would provide a framework through which the Pillar of Social Rights could be applied in policy and practice in Ireland.

Since the early years of the expanded EU, Europe has been beset by economic downturns, austerity and poverty – 118 million Europeans are now living in poverty. Widespread unemployment, especially among the young, and a fading of the guarantee that employment income can underpin a sustainable family life are the inevitable outcome of creating an unregulated, socially neutered model of development. The Social Pillar provides a basis for a restoration of the balanced social and economic development model which maximised both citizen and business benefit prior to the introduction of pernicious and destructive neoliberalism.

While people benefit from economic development they are not merely the consumers of economic product. People also have a social existence which gives them dignity and meaning. Human rights gives people dignity, respect and self-worth. The range of social rights outlined in the European Pillar of Social Rights gives expression to economic, social and cultural rights while addressing their indivisibility from civil and political rights.

The agreed Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights was initially published by the European Commission in April of this year following an extensive Commission consultation throughout 2016 on the EU Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar of Social Rights covers 20 specific policy areas under three broad categories:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market: Education, training & life-long learning; gender equality; equal opportunities ; active support to employment.
  • Fair working conditions: Secure and adaptable employment, wages, information about employment conditions and protection in case of dismissal; social dialogue and involvement of workers; work-life balance; healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection.
  • Social protection and inclusion: Childcare and support to children; social protection; unemployment benefits; minimum income; old age income and pensions; health care; inclusion of people with disabilities; long-term care; housing and assistance for the homeless; access to essential services.

At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of 23 October 2017 in Luxembourg, EU Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs expressed their unanimous endorsement of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar will be proclaimed by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, taking place on 17 November in Gothenburg. The Council also agreed on a general approach regarding the Commission’s proposal to revise the rules on the posting of workers.

Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, in charge of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, welcomed the agreement and said: “The Pillar marks an important step forward for social Europe. The unanimous endorsement of the European Pillar of Social Rights shows that all Member States are committed to striving for better working and living conditions throughout our Union, in light of challenges such as an ageing society, globalisation and digitalisation.”

Irish Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina
Doherty attended the Council of Ministers and explained: “Since the idea of a European Pillar of Social Rights was first mooted, Ireland has been fully
engaged throughout the process. The Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights will be an important political commitment which provides guidance to Member States and the EU institutions. Its aim is to ensure that we have a social system which is robust in the face of 21st century challenges such as globalisation and the changing nature of work. The Government is fully supportive of the principles set out in the Proclamation and so I am delighted that my European colleagues and I agreed the text so that it can be proclaimed at the Social Summit in Gothenburg on 17th November”.

More background and reactions

At his 2015 State of the Union address, EU Commission President Juncker first mentioned the idea of a European Pillar of Social rights: “I will want to develop a European pillar of social rights, which takes account of the changing realities of Europe’s societies and the world of work.” A first outline of the Pillar was presented on 8 March 2016, followed by a broad consultation of Member States, EU institutions, social partners, civil society and citizens. On 26 April 2017, the Commission presented a final text, which contains 20 principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems, serving as a compass for a renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions among EU Member States.

“Some hope is in the horizon.” says Sérgio Aires, President of EAPN. “The discussions about the future of Europe are an opportunity for the EU to show we care about the 25% of citizens living at risk of poverty. That’s the scenario that should drive the overall discussions. It is an opportunity to show we recognize our mistakes and restart the European project towards its original objective: peace and social cohesion. On 17th November this year an important step towards poverty eradication can be concretized. The Gothenburg Social Summit must be able to show the political determination to make a definitive step forward in this direction by agreeing on a mandatory implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights – and not only for the Eurozone. The Pillar must be implemented with good participative governance including civil society and those who are most affected by the current lack of social rights. It must be backed by adequate financing, enabling governments to invest in adequate social protection systems, quality services and jobs and a stop to austerity cuts. Above all it must lead to concrete positive improvements in the real lives of people experiencing poverty across the EU!”

Read Make Social Rights the beating heart of Europe! EAPN position on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Read also:

Will new Social Dialogue include and value the most deprived? – ATD Ireland

A youth perspective – European Youth Forum

Policy position paper – Eurochild

Priority 19: Housing! – FEANSTA

Will the European Pillar of Social Rights reach the most vulnerable in the EU? – ATD Europe

Social Rights First – European Trade Unions

Eurostat Pillar Data

 

A Major Step for the Recognition of a Socio-Economic Ground of Discrimination

In June 2017, Deputy Jim O’ Callaghan and Deputy Fiona O’ Loughlin
introduced a Private Bill in front of Dáil Éireann to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s social and economic background.

After an adoption of this first step in June 2017, the “second step” debates took place in the Parliament on the 8th and 9th November 2017 and the The Dáil divided in this way: Yes 85; No 48; Abstained.

This is an historic step forward gained mainly by activists and volunteers from the  “Equality and Rights Alliance” which published in 2016 ‘An analysis of the introduction of socio-economic status as a discrimination ground’, a report examining the existence and use of the ground in equality law and policies across Europe.

Follow all the Dáil Éireann proceedings here!

On the very same day, All Together in Dignity Europe published a position paper to call for an all EU recognition of the “socio-economic ground” in national and European equality and anti-discrimination laws.

 

Ireland Has Failed To Provide Adequate Housing Conditions on Local Authority Estates

Tenants  in Ireland led by Community Action Network (CAN) and other NGOs such as FLAC Welcome European Committee of Social Rights Finding That Ireland Has Failed To Provide Adequate Housing Conditions on Local Authority Estates.

The Committee found Ireland in violation of Article 16 of the Revised Social Charter, which protects the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, including the provision of family housing.

This is the beginning. The Decision means that the Irish Government must now take stock of the housing conditions, and put in place a timed programme with clear targets to address the issues. They will have to report on progress to the Council of Europe at regular intervals.

The Community Action Network (CAN) and Flac, two active members of the ESC Rights Initiative, have been working with local authority tenants across Ireland who live in deplorable conditions – a violation of their Human Rights.

The Council of Europe provides for groups whose Human Rights as set out in the EU Revised Charter of Fundamental Rights are not being protected by the State to take a Collective Complaint. CAN organised tenants to gather the evidence needed to substantiate the Complaint, supported by The Centre for Housing Law, Right and Policy at NUI Galway and Ballymun Community Law Centre. In 2014, a complaint was finally submitted by a recognized European Human Rights body FIDH, to the Council , with the support of affiliate member FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) along with PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance). After two years of deliberation, the Committee finally announced its decision on October 23rd 2017!

The Committee found Ireland in violation of Article 16 of the Revised Social Charter, which protects the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, including the provision of family housing.

At a press conference on Monday 23rd October, following the announcement, Cecilia Forrestal of Community Action Network said that she was hopeful that the Government would see the European decision as a positive contribution to its overall housing vision and would take the necessary steps to bring its laws, policies and practices back into line with European housing standards. Member states are obliged to take steps to address any violations found by the European Committee.

‘This is an important benchmark decision and it demands a serious response,’ she said. ‘We urge the Minister for Housing particularly to see this decision as a positive contribution to Irish housing policy. Nobody wants to see Irish State housing being run down. These Irish citizens have a right to a decent home, in particular the children living in State housing.’

Debbie Mulhall, a resident and community leader in Dolphin House said: ‘This decision recognizes for the first time that that it is the state’s landlords, the local authorities, that have failed to take the adequate measures necessary to ensure our basic right to proper housing.’

This is the beginning. The Decision means that the Irish Government must now take stock of the housing conditions, and put in place a timed programme with clear targets to address the issues. They will have to report on progress to the Council of Europe at regular intervals.

CAN, Flac and other Irish Community Groups want to thank all those who helped us to reach this point, and particularly those residents who have worked tirelessly to assert their rights. They look forward to building on this momentous result.

The full legal Decision on Merits by the European Committee of Social Rights is available here.

Read Pila’s article here.

To read the case report by the IHREC click here.

Further Background:

The Revised European Social Charter was ratified by Ireland in 2000. The Charter sets out legal standards in economic, social and cultural human rights, in areas such as housing and accommodation, education, social welfare and protection, and in employment. It also protects vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities and older people. It is the Council of Europe’s counterpart for economic, social and cultural rights to the European Convention on Human Rights.


In contrast to the European Convention on Human Rights, the supervision of the European Social Charter provides for a ‘collective complaints’ mechanism where representative organisations of employers, of workers, and certain international non-governmental organisation holding participatory status with the Council of Europe may take a legal challenge concerning a general situation rather than a breach for an individual person. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)  is one of the NGOs recognised by the Council of Europe for the purposes of collective complaints procedure.

The article of the European Social Charter which Ireland has been found to be in violation of, is as follows:

Article 16, Part I:The family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development. 

Article 16, Part II: The right of the family to social, legal and economic protection. With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life by such means as social and family benefits, fiscal arrangements, provision of family housing, benefits for the newly married and other appropriate means.”

  • The legal basis for the decision on merits is Article 16 of the Revised European Social Charter. Ireland has not accepted Article 31 of the Charter which guarantees the right to housing, and the Irish government argued that the complaint focuses on matters that ‘in substance fall within Article 31 of the Charter’. However, the European Committee of Social Rights decided that some of the issues also fall within the scope of Article 16 of the Charter in so far as they relate to family housing. (paragraph 24 of the Decision on Merits)
  • The European Committee of Social Rights stated that assessments of the conditions of local housing are carried out at ‘considerable intervals’ and that ‘no national timetable for the refurbishment of local authority housing stock exists’. (paragraphs 115 and 120)
  • The European Committee of Social Rights also noted ‘that many of the local authority estates were some time back, ear-marked for regeneration, amounting to Government recognition that they were, inter alia, in poor condition’. Although new regeneration programmes have subsequently been developed, ‘not all of these to date have been completed, with the result that certain local authority tenants remain living in substandard housingconditions’. (paragraph 117)
  • The Committee found that sewage invasions, contaminated water, dampness, and persistent mould raised ‘serious concerns’ for habitability. It particularly noted ‘the high number of residents in certain estates in Dublin complaining of sewage invasions (for example the Dolphin House complex) years after the problems were first identified’. (paragraph 119)

See also the ATD Human Rights Leaflet prepared at the occasion of our 2017 conference.

A Basic Need, A Human Right! Housing Conference on Habitat Day!

On World Habitat Day 2017, the South Dublin County Public Participation Network and the Rights Platform will launch a major Housing report at the conference “Housing – a basic need, a human right”


The primary aim of this conference is to highlight and seek solutions to the national housing and homelessness crisis as it relates to availability and affordability of housing as it impacts on South Dublin County.

In doing so the speakers hops to provide clarity with regard to the existing housing context, identify barriers to the resolution of the housing crisis, both at a policy and implementation level, and make policy and implementation recommendations that will enable central and local government to deliver its housing targets. A number of housing experts will provide the context of the national and local housing policy and implementation issues, and offer solutions to the crisis.

Free download: the conference paperthe conference infographic

The conference will also act to strengthen the capacity of the South Dublin County Public Participation Network (SDCPPN) to contribute to housing strategy at local government level.  Parallel workshops will be hold and aimed at offering the space for individuals to express their solutions as the SDCPPN develop a position on housing which can be referenced in the relevant arenas within South Dublin County Council.

Louis Fitzgerald Hotel – 2nd October
Naas Rd – Newlands Cross – Clondalkin, Dublin 22

09:30am – Registration and Refreshments
10:00am – Chair Anna Lee – Welcome note
10:05am – Aiden Lloyd – setting the context
10:30am – Simon Brooke – National Housing Policy
11:00am – South Dublin County Council – Strategy to deliver social housing in South Dublin, including challenges and constraints
11:30am – Orla Hegarty – Solutions to Affordability
12:00pm – The workshops

  • Social housing
  • Traveller accommodation
  • Disability and Housing Needs
  • Homelessness

13:00pm – Lunch
13:45pm – Feedback from workshops by Siobhan Lynam
14:30pm – Rory Hearne – Housing Approaches and Rebuilding Ireland
15:00pm – Panel discussion with Simon Brooke, Orla Hegarty, Rory Hearne 15:30pm – Final comments and closing

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