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The speakers at the ESC Rights Conference! More pictures!

“Making ESC Rights Meaningful” in video

You can watch the different contributions at the conference here!

From Toronto to Dublin… Housing is a human right, not a commodity

An Opinion Piece by Leilani Farha  UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing published by The Globe and Mail on

“Toronto’s overheated housing market is now being called a crisis, and evidence has been offered to support wildly divergent opinions on its causes. Some suggest it’s a problem of unprecedented demand for housing; others say it’s all about lack of sufficient supply. I’d like to suggest it’s neither.

What’s happening in Toronto is not new, it’s a phenomenon seen elsewhere – in Vancouver and places across the globe such as Hong Kong, London, New York, Singapore, Sydney, and Stockholm. Vancouverite and urban planner Andy Yan has termed them “hedge cities” – places that offer us insight into the heart of the matter.

Housing is now predominantly valued as a commodity, traded and sold on markets, promoted and invested in as a secure place to park unprecedented amounts of excess capital. The view of housing as a human dwelling, a place to raise families and thrive within a community, has largely been eroded. Despite its firm place in international human rights law, housing has lost its currency as a human right.

In Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere, residential and commercial real estate have become the “commodity of choice” for corporate finance, and the uber rich. Global residential real estate is now valued at $163-trillion (U.S.), more than twice the world’s total GDP. In Canada in 2016, real estate represented the third-largest segment of our economy but accounted for half the country’s GDP growth.

The consequences of placing the interests of investors before human rights are stark.

In hedge cities, housing prices have increased to levels that moderate- and low-income residents can barely afford. In the Greater Toronto Area, for example, in the last 30 years (1986 – 2016) housing prices have increased by 425 per cent, whereas in a similar 30-year period (1985 – 2015), average family income has only grown by 133 per cent. Housing prices have increased at three times the rate of income. No longer commensurate with household income levels, housing prices are driven instead by demand for high-end assets among global investors.

In other countries, the result has been devastating. In the U.S., in the five years after the 2008 mortgage crisis, nine million households were evicted due to foreclosure; in Spain during the same period, 300,000 were evicted. Legendary Wall Street short-seller Marc Cohodes has predicted that this is the direction in which Canada is now headed.

Large-scale foreclosure-related evictions should give rise to outrage about a lack of oversight by governments and mass violations of human rights. Instead, countries responded by favouring the interests of financial institutions while wagging patronizing fingers at those who have lost their homes; the failure to regulate financial markets and prevent predatory lending occurred with relative impunity.

While the recent federal budget would have you think otherwise, financial markets and global housing investments are not, in fact, beyond the control of governments.

Policy responses to the financialization of housing aimed at curbing its excesses are starting to dot the domestic and international landscape, with all levels of government participating. British Columbia has imposed a 15-per-cent tax on foreign investment in residential real estate, and the City of Vancouver has instituted a 1-per-cent tax on self-reported vacant homes. Both interventions are directing revenues toward affordable-housing options. A number of jurisdictions, including China, have introduced a property speculation tax, and others, such as the City of London, pushed a requirement that developers include a proportion of affordable units in new builds. Barcelona is one of a few governments to affirm the social function of housing, facilitating temporary expropriation of vacant housing and prohibiting foreclosures and evictions that would result in homelessness.

While these types of measures can mitigate the effects of the financialization of housing, the assumption that countries should simply allow markets to work according to their own rules, subject only to the requirement that private actors “do no harm,” is simply not sufficient. Human rights set a more robust standard of accountability. States are required to take an active role in ensuring low- and middle-income people can enjoy housing as a home; they must insist that markets meet housing needs, including affordability.

From a policy perspective, this means a profoundly different approach by countries in decision making. Whether it is taxation policy, land-use planning, zoning, or broader housing policy, decisions must be guided by the needs of residents for adequate, affordable and secure housing, as opposed to the financial security and gain of investors. Enjoyment of human rights would be the goal.

And so, what is presented as the private market gone mad is, in fact, something far more deliberate: the failure of governments to govern in a manner that is consistent with human rights. The solution requires a fundamental shift – one that prioritizes human interests over economic ones.”

Early pictures of the “Making ESC Rights Meaningful” Conference

Here are a few pictures of
the “Making ESC Rights Meaningful” Conference.

More extensive and better picture and video coverage coming soon!



The true measure of any society – Dr Mary P Murphy

An opinion piece by
Dr Mary P Murphy, Maynooth University, at the occasion of the “Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful” conference – 29 March 2017, Mansion House Dublin. This opinion piece has been published today in The

Dr Mary Murphy is a lecturer in Irish Politics and Society at NUI Maynooth. She is also a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative is a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations that support strengthening the protection of these rights in the Irish constitution. The group is hosting a high-level conference entitled “Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful” on Wednesday 29th March. 

Mary Murphy argues that constitutional change is required to underpin key economic and social rights if Ireland is to get to grips with the significant crisis across issues including health, housing and homelessness.

IRELAND’S HEALTH AND housing systems are at breaking point. Men, women and children are left languishing for years on waiting lists wondering when they will get desperately needed medical procedures. Meanwhile, over 100,000 households are on housing waiting lists.

The figures make stark reading. A record total of 7,167 people are homeless. 7,890 patients lay on hospital trolleys last December.

The majority of the people suffering are on low incomes as well as those who are marginalised. If you have private health insurance you can access vital healthcare. If you can afford it you can provide a home for your family.

When access to vital services and housing becomes dependant on the ability of the individual to pay, society only goes one way. It becomes more unequal.

Vital services can be decimated in the interest of balance sheets. These result in crises such as those in Ireland’s health and housing sectors.

It is time to do things differently

Constitutional change is required to underpin key economic and social rights if Ireland is to get to grips with the significant crises across issues including health, housing and homelessness. The belief that constitutional change is vital in order to overcome these problems is not a lofty idealist approach.

States that have legally protected and enforced economic, social and cultural rights (ESC) show real improvements in practical access to housing and health. The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative (ESCRI) is a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations that support strengthening the protection of these rights in the Irish Constitution.

The Irish people want these rights strengthened. An April 2015 Red C poll found that 96% of Irish people think laws protecting human rights are important in order to create a fairer more equal society, while 93% cared deeply about making Ireland a fairer place to live.

In 2014 the Constitutional Convention (made up of members of the public) recommended to government that “A Right To A Home” should be put to referendum. This has not happened. Nor have the government signalled any interest in doing so.

Public support is not enough

Political will is needed in order to bring about constitutional change. In short, nothing changes if nothing changes. Without a framework of constitutional rights to guide government – and hold them to account – the State will continue to respond to crises inadequately, failing to address underlying structural problems.

Successive governments took years to respond to massive rent increases which contributed to the current homelessness crisis. A “right to a home” would have provided clear instruction to legislators in the development of policy and legislation.

We do not need to look too far from home for evidence; Scottish responses to tackle homelessness have been better and more cost-effective because the political direction to tackle housing issues in Scotland is underpinned by housing rights.

See individuals not targets

Similarly, the State’s approach to health needs to change from one which sees individuals as a fraction of a target. People forget that a failure to meet targets corresponds to real human suffering.

We sanitise our language and forget that people’s lives are at stake. The right to timely and equal access to healthcare for all must be a constitutional right.

The current unacceptable reality of our health system is that the difference between life and death can often come down to your ability to pay. Similar to housing policy we have seen many inadequate policy responses, with some notable exceptions.

An April 2016 a survey of Irish GPs (commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society and carried out by the Irish College of General Practitioners) found “public patients can be left waiting up to 20 times longer than private patients for vital cancer tests,” with “some public patients left waiting up to 480 days for important tests”.

We’re lagging behind in terms of human rights

Bunreacht Na hÉireann was quite progressive, but we have since lagged behind in our understanding of human rights. Ireland has not incorporated United Nations guidance to promote human rights in our constitution.

Concerns about State finances have been raised, but UN guidance is clear. Economic and social rights are to be progressively realised and are subject to the State’s maximum available resources.

It is time for us to now speak clearly as a people to the government of the day. We do not want to live in a society where equal access to vital healthcare often depends on your pay packet. Or in a society with a record number of 2,407 children homeless.

As Ghandi said: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”



The documents of the “Making ESC Rights Meaningful” Conference!

Programme and Speakers of the ESC Rights Conference

Press Briefing of the ESC Rights Conference

The 7 ESC Rights Conference “Fact Sheets”

  1. Housing
  2. Health
  3. Employment
  4. Education
  5. Social Security
  6. Migration
  7. Linguistic Rights

The Enforceable Right to Housing in France – Fact Sheet prepared by ATD Ireland

Making Human Rights Work for People Struggling in Persistent Poverty –  About the work of ATD Ireland (one of the member of the ESC Rights Initiative)

6 principles to deliver the right to health – On Human Rights day 2016, 29 leading national organisations working against poverty and inequality in the Community Platform pointed Ireland’s failure to deliver on the human right to health and wellbeing for all


Enda Kenny signs the “Rome Declaration”: a raodmap towards the EU Pillar of Social Rights!

On Saturday 25th March 2017, with the other EU leaders gathered in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD signed the Rome Declaration, in which with Jean Claude Juncker and all the heads of states he commits to work towards ““A social Europe: a Union which, based on sustainable growth, promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence, while upholding the integrity of the internal market; (…) a Union which promotes equality between women and men as well as rights and equal opportunities for all; a Union which fights unemployment, discrimination, social exclusion and poverty; a Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent”.

A few days before the ESC Rights initiative major conference , this move is of great signification for the future of protection of Economic, Social & Cultural Rights in Ireland.

The Rome Declaration clearly backs the process of the adoption by the EU of a European Pillar of Social Rights. As the Head of the European Commission underlined it in January 2017: ” I have made clear that I wanted a more social Europe. We have taken important first steps to achieve that. This year 2017 will be crucial. Following the broad public consultation, it is time to establish the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Social Summit in Sweden on 17 November 2017 will help us to deliver the momentum and put social priorities where they belong: at the top of Europe’s agenda.” (European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, 23 January 2017).

In March 2016 the Commission launched a public consultation to make an assessment of the present EU social “acquis”, to reflect on new trends in work patterns and societies and to gather views and feedback on the principles identified in a preliminary outline of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The consultation ran until 31 December 2016 and its results will contribute to the final outline of the Pillar and help to identify the scope of future action where necessary. A consolidated version of the European Pillar of Social Rights should be presented on the 26 of April 2017. The proposals on European Pillar of Social Rights will be accompanied by initiatives on access to social protection, the revision of the Written Statement Directive, the
implementation of the Working Time Directive and the challenges of work-life balance faced by working families.

Once adopted, the Pillar should become a reference framework to screen employment and social performance of participating Member States and to drive reforms at national level.

European Pillar of Social Rights for a more social Europe – EP Briefing (Sept 2016)
European Parliament resolution on a European Pillar of Social Rights (19 January 2017)
Last Chance for Social Europe? EAPN Statement on European Pillar of Social Rights (Sept 2016)
European Economic and Social Committee opinion on the European Pillar of Social Rights, adopted by the EESC Plenary on 25th January
The time for timidity is over – the EU needs an ambitious European pillar of social rights not just principles – EAPN letter to JC Juncker (Feb 2017)
The Road from Rome: A social Europe – EU leaflet (25 March 2017)

 EP Podcast:

Thomas Pringle TD and the ESC Rights Initiative called on Government to support an ESC Rights Bill

Deputy Pringle’s  Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Bill reached second stage debate in the Dáil yesterday seeking to enshrine economic, social and cultural rights also known as ESC rights in the Constitution by way of referendum.

The Bill references a range of fundamental human rights including the right to housing, healthcare, education and the right to earn a decent living.

Speaking in support of Deputy Pringle’s Bill and in particular on the right to housing, Peter McVerry of Peter McVerry Trust says “the right to housing is the most basic fundamental human right, because without proper housing, the other basic human rights are inaccessible: a person will not eat properly, their health will deteriorate and they will find it almost impossible to access education or employment”.

Aiden Lloyd, Chair of the ESC Rights Initiative said ”It is important that citizen consultative processes, such as the Constitutional Convention are followed through on, if we are to retain the confidence of the electorate in the democratic process, and we call on all parties, and individual members, to support measures to progress the recommendations of the Convention. ” (full text here).

Deputy Pringle states that “in the time since Fine Gael voted down this Bill when I first introduced it in 2014, an escalating housing crisis has emerged never seen before in this country. We’re also witnessing a continuing decline in access to healthcare services including mental health, access to educational and disability supports including basic social welfare payments. Workers’ wages including their pay and conditions are being eroding over time while wealth inequality is increasing”.

“Fine Gael’s ongoing commercialisation of state services has left a policy deficit where private entities have stepped in to fill the void. We saw this with the housing market while Fine Gael halted social housing development which allowed the private sector to take over. The over-reliance on the market to ‘kick in’ hasn’t worked and has in fact left many people extremely vulnerable.
“It’s time for the Government to rights-proof decision making and bring the rights of the individual to the core of policy-making. Only then can we address the ongoing crisis in this country and prevent any reoccurrence of the same in the future. The Constitutional Convention overwhelmingly voted for further protection of these rights in the constitution by 85% but was dropped from Fine Gael’s agenda” says Pringle.

Peter McVerry furthermore stated that “the Government’s primary responsibility is to ensure that everyone has their basic human rights provided and hence the right to housing should be the most important priority for Government. Inserting the right to housing in the Constitution is an expression of a society’s values and of its commitment to meeting those priorities. The refusal to insert the right to housing in the Constitution sends a message to all those who are homeless, or waiting on housing, that their needs are not a priority”.

To conclude, Deputy Pringle and three members of the ESC Rights Initiative (Brid O’Brien, Peter McVerry and Aiden Lloyd) have repeated their call on the Government to support the ESC Rights Bill as it progresses through to second stage debate in the Dáil.

Media coverage:

Irish TimesOcean FMHighland Radio

The ESC Rights Initiative Welcomes Thomas Pringle’s Private Members Bill to Amend the Constitution

Read here the ESC Rights Initiative statement on Thomas Pringle TD’s Private Members Bill on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

A press briefing on Thomas Pringle’s Private Members Bill will take place on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 at 11am in Buswells Hotel (with attendance of Peter McVerry and Brid O’Brien

The ESC Rights Initiative welcomes Thomas Pringle’s Private Members Bill to amend the Constitution to progressively realise economic, social and cultural (ESC rights). The Bill would implement the Constitutional Convention recommendation that Ireland’s constitution be amended to explicitly protect economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights. 85% of Convention delegates voted in favour of this recommendation.

In January 2016 Government referred the Convention recommendations to an Oireachtas committee on housing and homelessness. There was no mention of ESC Rights, including housing rights, in the subsequent report of the Oireachtas committee. Clearly, political will to address the recommendation is severely lacking.

In the absence of a Government response, Thomas Pringle’s Private Members Bill aims to give effect to the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation. This Bill will be debated in the Dáil this evening.

Incorporating the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights into domestic law would provide a strong impetus to government to develop effective legislation and robust implementation mechanisms to address housing needs, health inequalities and endemic poverty among other issues.

We are a wealthy nation with an ambition to develop a dynamic and innovative presence at the European and global level. That will not be achieved if we remain a nation riven by poverty, disadvantage and inequality.

We call on all parties, and individual members, to support measures to progress the recommendations of the Convention. It is important that citizen consultative processes, such as the Constitutional Convention are followed through on if we are to retain the confidence of the electorate in the democratic process.

The Context of the Private Members Bill

Economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights are those human rights relating to issues of poverty, health, housing, education, employment conditions and participation in cultural life. ESC rights compel governments to progressively realise an adequate standard of living for everybody, including appropriate shelter and sanitation, access to proper healthcare, adequate nutrition, social security, and protections within the workplace. Along with civil and political rights they are part of the international body of human rights as set down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ireland is a signatory to both the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights but only civil and political rights are firmly embedded in the constitution and are justiciable, resulting in a situation where there is no compulsion on the state to progressively realise both sets of rights as set down in the Covenants.

This has brought criticism from the UN examining committees and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty. This amending Bill would create the conditions for the state to address poverty, housing needs, employment rights and accessible healthcare.

For further information please contact: Aiden Lloyd 087 9191 026 (Chair of the ESC Rights Initiative)

Full Text of Thomas Pringle’s Private Members Bill

Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful – ESC Rights Conference on the 29th March 2017

Wednesday 29th March from 10.30am to 3.30pm
ESC Rights Initiative Conference
Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful
Oak Room, Mansion House, Dawson St., Dublin 2

The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative (ESCRI) is a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations that support strengthening the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the Irish Constitution.

We are happy to invite you to “Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful”  an event will bring together a range of stakeholders to discuss how enforceable ESC Rights such as housing and health would impact on individuals and groups in Ireland, drawing on experiences from other States where ESC Rights have been given legal protection.

Download here the programme and a presentation of the key speakers!

Keynote address: Jamie Burton – Public Lawyer, Doughty Street Chambers


  • Dr. Helen Johnston – National Economic and Social Council
  • Professor Colin Harvey – Queen’s University
  • Professor Gerry Whyte – Trinity College Dublin
  • Siobhan Curran – Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre
  • Eoin Carroll – Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
  • Dr Austin O’Carroll
  • Debbie Mulhall – Dolphin House Community Development Association and founding member of Rialto Rights in Action
  • Dr Mary Murphy – Maynooth University and Member of IHREC
  • Eilis Barry – FLAC
  • Dr Pádraic Kenna – NUI Galway
  • Michael Farrell

To register to attend please go to

For further information contact  the initiative by mail for further details.

the Irish Human Rights and Equality Grant Scheme
This conference is funded by
the Irish Human Rights and Equality Grant Scheme 2016-2017.

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