Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Since 1973 when Ireland signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ESC rights, and since its ratification in 1989, rights covered by this treaty have slowly and progressively been eroded by successive Governments intent on the ever increasing commercialisation of our public services. As we emerge from an economic recession, it is becoming ever more evident that every person has traded in something for this recovery at their expense. Most people do not know how to describe or understand what that something is and do not use the terminology we throw across the floor of this House but they do sense a general feeling of unease as if we are heading in the wrong direction, and they are right. What they are feeling is an encroachment of the commercialisation of many aspects of their lives, most vitally, the public services that provide basic security for people in this country and which they are fundamentally entitled to. Why is there such opposition to water charges, the property tax, closure of post offices and Garda stations, and cuts to bus services and health services, including mental health and disability supports? Not to mention the catastrophic housing crisis or, as I prefer to call it, crisis of inaction by this Government, caused by its reliance on encouragement of the private sector to fill the void of an ineffective Government housing policy and which has thrown people out into the streets and families into hotel bedrooms over the Christmas period.

People are asking why can their family members not get a public hospital bed when private beds are lying empty. What they are really asking is, "Where is our right to health care?". It is an intolerable fact that health outcomes are determined by wealth and poverty. Dr. Robert O'Connor, the head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, confirms this, noting that cancer deaths in Mulhuddart are three times those in Castleknock despite them being bordering areas. People ask if their children will get the necessary resource teaching hours or special needs assistance in their local school and if they will have to face third level student loans which will have to be repaid over a lifetime. Workers are asking why they feel less secure in their jobs and more fearful of life in retirement and how they will provide for their families if work dries up. People are asking these questions because during the recent austerity programme from 2008 to 2013, the bottom 10% of people experienced an income contraction of 22% compared with the average fall in income of 13%.

All of this offers a grim picture but it is the reality for many as a result of the ideology pursued by this and previous Governments that commercialisation or privatisation of our public services is best for everybody. That is why, time and again, people feel compelled to protest. They know this ideology is a lie. It is corrosive. The best example is the community led nationwide protest against water charges. Something about the symbol of our water being sold off to private companies caught people's imagination and represented for them where they did not want this country to go. Fine Gael's reaction to this was an example of a Government out of touch with its people and its contempt for the so-called "criminal" protestor was a reaction from a place of blind loyalty to the vision of global capitalism.

The Bill I present offers the exact antidote for which people are searching. It is a countermeasure to all of the corrosive policies of Fine Gael and previous Governments which have led to the breakdown of vital public services, successive cuts to social welfare supports, health services and social housing, supports for schools and cuts to wages, including terms and conditions of work. These policies have perpetuated wealth inequality, gender inequality and social inequality. My Bill seeks to counteract these effects by enshrining fundamental rights such as the right to housing, health care and education in our Constitution by way of referendum.

In the ninth and final meeting of the Constitutional Convention in February 2013, 85% of the members voted in favour of amending the Constitution to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. A majority of members of the convention voted in favour of a constitutional provision to realise such rights progressively, subject to the maximum available resources, and to enshrine that this duty be cognisable by the courts. The convention voted on whether specific additional rights should be enumerated in the Constitution and voted in favour of a proposal that all of the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights be enumerated within the Constitution. The Bill is intended to give effect to that determination. In March 2014, the Constitutional Convention sent a recommendation to the Government to implement these rights and the Government was due to respond by July of that year.

I introduced the Bill during the last Dáil in May 2015 but it was voted down by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour at the time. Two years later and after a general election in 2016, the programme for Government had watered down commitments on economic, social and cultural rights to the point of only committing to referring the report of the Constitutional Convention to the new Oireachtas committee on housing for consideration. Despite this watered-down commitment, the Government has also failed on this promise. A year into new politics we are still waiting for the Government to address proactively the status of these rights. The proposed wording in the Bill is intended to be in addition to the text of Article 45 of the Constitution to the effect that the State shall progressively realise, subject to its maximum available resources and without discrimination, the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and that this duty be cognisable by the courts.

Prevailing myths and misconceptions about economic, social and cultural rights, combined with a lack of political will, have hindered their application in Ireland. These misconceptions do not stand up. The first myth that economic, social and cultural rights should not be intended to be part of the judicial system is a misconception. Decisions in courts in other countries have proven time and again that these rights are legally enforceable. These rights have been recognised through a wide range of legal systems found in but not limited to Finland, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, Argentina, South Africa, India, Brazil, Kenya, Colombia and Mexico. Rights currently protected, including freedom of expression and the right to privacy, are as broadly worded as economic, social and cultural rights which has not prevented the courts from adjudicating these issues.

According to the second myth, there is a lot of anxiety about the separation of powers principle. Many who have voted against this Bill reiterate that only Government should decide matters of taxation and distribution. Of course, laws are a matter for the Legislature, but there is also a complementarity as well as a separation between the different parts of the State. The Irish Judiciary has been acutely conscious of not stepping into areas of decision-making that rightly belong with the Executive and the Legislature. A large body of case law on economic, social and cultural rights has emerged from countries such as South Africa showing that courts have remained conscious of their role when adjudicating economic, social and cultural rights claims. A reasonableness doctrine was incorporated as a doctrine which has been held in court proceedings.

A final prevailing myth relates to how Government could possibly meet the huge demand that justiciable rights could create if people can claim these rights through the courts. Economic, social and cultural rights are not unqualified rights. Progressive realisation means that states must provide according to available resources. Reasonableness is another important concept of human rights law interpretation. As such, it simply is not the reality that everybody will be looking for a key to their own house overnight. These myths only reflect the lack of interest on the part of those in government in being held accountable for policy decisions because fiscal policy takes front stage at every turn. "Progressive realisation" is the key term here. The courts can apply the principle of proportionality and weigh it up against other policy considerations.

Right now, people can only argue against peripheral issues as opposed to the fundamental issue, for example, unfair procedures in accessing housing. Incorporating these rights will have a trickle-down effect into all policy areas at every level of power. If the right to housing was introduced, it would not mean a person would be given a house. It would mean that when the Government was drafting housing policy, it would have to take into account and be aware of the right to housing and be obliged to develop policy with this in mind. It is intended to hold Governments to account, not dismantle them so that if they do not have the resources, they will at least have to show how they came to the decision not to allocate resources which would better defend the rights inherent in this Bill. This will be particularly valid in the lead up to budgets which continuously leave out a balanced approach to economic and social matters.

Enshrining these rights in our Constitution will not change things overnight. We have to be reasonable. It may not translate into an Act, a statutory instrument or even a circular but it will compel decision makers to vindicate these rights as far as they can, subject to the availability of resources. Most importantly, it would fundamentally change the decision-making culture within Government and place it on a rights-based footing.

Thanks to Deputy Thomas Pringle, we are discussing an amendment to our Constitution. The first question is what a constitution is about. When I looked it up to be totally sure, I saw that it is a body of fundamental principles or system of beliefs according to which a state or another body is acknowledged to be governed. In effect, it controls the exercise of power. When I look at that definition, it makes perfect sense to me that human rights, economic, cultural and social, as contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights should be in our Constitution. Ireland ratified that covenant in 1989 but we have yet to incorporate it into either domestic Irish law or the Constitution. Enshrining economic, social and cultural rights in our Constitution is an important step in the improvement of Irish society.

I attended a press conference organised by Deputy Pringle this morning at which Fr. Peter McVerry identified what he and many others believe are the basic human rights. They are the right to adequate food, a right to health care, a right to education, a right to work and a right to housing. Housing is central because unless one has a decent house or home, one is not going to be able to eat adequately. It is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to continue in education. It will be difficult to access or maintain a job. Poor and inadequate or no housing has detrimental effects on a person's physical and mental health. Enshrining those rights in our Constitution will send the message that we value our citizens and want them to live fulfilled lives, reach their potential and function as active members of society. Enshrining these rights would show that we have a rights-based approach to legislation. If that had been done years ago, the issues facing the north inner city, as I outlined during Leaders' Questions yesterday, would not have reached the devastating levels that developed over the years on foot of the lack of respect for the rights of people living in the north inner city. It also happened in other parts of Ireland. The common denominator was the lack of a human-rights based approach to policy and legislation so that some citizens and communities did not have the same rights to housing, education, a fulfilling lifestyle and a safe, pleasant environment as other citizens. Drugs were allowed to devastate those communities because the rights of the people living in them were not respected.

I turn to cultural rights. We are becoming increasingly multicultural and our Constitution needs to reflect that. The constitutional recognition of cultural rights would go a long way toward making new communities feel welcome and valued in Irish society. The recent recognition of Traveller ethnicity was a welcome step towards ensuring respect for minority cultures, but there are a lot of barriers to accessing education, housing and employment among Traveller communities which have to be addressed. Statistics from local authorities show that there are huge waiting lists and a number of Traveller families living in overcrowded or unsafe conditions. In terms of new communities, non-EU migrants are 11% more likely to be in poverty than Irish people. There are education barriers to those from new communities because their status has not been resolved. Those inequalities across cultural groups demonstrate the importance of access to the courts to remedy current inequalities. We had a very powerful presentation yesterday in the AV room on the consequences of the new International Protection Act and the reality of life for those living in direct provision. We heard repeatedly of the lack of concern for the asylum seeker and his or her rights. As one person put it, seeking asylum is not a crime.

There is a very definite scarcity of respect for human rights. I was struck by a quote from a US court of appeal that the denial of an opportunity to earn a livelihood is the equivalent of a sentence to death by means of slow starvation. Researchers tell us socio economic scarcity has a consistent effect on the human brain of limiting and distorting our skills and impairing our ability to think ahead or engage beyond the immediate circumstances of scarcity. This contributes to poverty cycles and in overall engagement with the wider world. If these economic, social and cultural rights were enshrined in the Constitution it would provide people with greater opportunities to become active citizens.

I was a member of the Constitutional Convention which voted overwhelmingly in favour of amending the Constitution to strengthen the protection of these rights. The Government responded to some issues from the Constitutional Convention but it did not respond to this, so it is overdue.

We again propose to incorporate the covenant in the Constitution, something we should have done a long time ago. The Labour Party introduced two Private Members' Bills which proposed to do the same thing as Deputy Pringle's Bill, one by Ruairí Quinn in 2000 and a second more recent one by the then Deputy and now Senator Kevin Humphreys in 2012. The Labour Party voted against the Bill in 2015, and it will be interesting to see how it votes this time.

On the previous occasion Deputy Pringle discussed the Bill in the Dáil in May 2015, the Labour Party, speaking on behalf of the Government, argued there was no need to incorporate the covenant because we had the appropriate policies in place. It would say that. According to figures from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, in May 2015, 1,122 children were homeless in Dublin and 677 adults with children were homeless. In January 2016, 1,570 children were homeless in Dublin and 1,042 adults with children were homeless. The policies of the Labour Party and Fine Gael Government obviously contributed to the problem. In January 2017, 1,353 adults with dependent children were homeless and 2,046 children were homeless. Since we last discussed the Bill in the Dáil the number of homeless in Dublin has almost doubled. Will the Government's response be different today? Will it state it has allocated resources and implemented the right policies? The last time those claims and reassurances came from Government benches they were empty, and they have not been supported by reality. We will not accept the assurances of empty promises now. This is just the housing crisis.

Mental health services are a disaster in this country and we also speak about a mental health crisis. The situation in Wexford is particularly bad. Our suicide rate is almost double the national average. If any child or adolescent in south Wexford reports to a mental health service with an emergency he or she will not be seen by anyone or receive any treatment if the child psychologist is on holiday. The HSE knows for months in advance when these holidays are due to fall, but it does not send someone to cover the position. This has led to children who had expressed a wish to take their own lives simply being sent home or sometimes kept on a ward in a general hospital in extreme distress for days on end while nurses do their best to calm them down. This is a violation of the child's human rights.

Add to this the simple fact the State refuses to provide adequate talking therapies for children and adolescents and instead is busy prescribing drugs to them by the bucket load. As the executive clinical director for community healthcare organisation, CHO, area 5 explained to one of my staff at a meeting in November, there is no point talking to the mentally ill, as he calls people with mental health issues, as the most scientific approach to treat mental illness is to prescribe medication, he argued. The best results internationally on mental health are in countries where people are moving away from the medicalised model of care and towards empowering people to make decisions about how their care proceeds. Autonomy is a human rights issue and the bedrock of self-respect. What hope do people in distress have when those running the show in Ireland hold views that would not be out of place in the 18th century? Here, we come at mental health issues from a biological perspective. We label people with so-called illnesses, which are nothing more than different collections of outward behaviours given names. The vulnerability stress model with which the HSE works presupposes that people with mental health issues have a biological disposition towards certain types of so-called mental illnesses. This is just a theory which is impossible to prove. It just presumes people are born with defects even when no one really knows what a healthy mind should even look like. Once diagnosed, people and families must suffer the stigma associated with being labelled biologically defective.

Mental health care is a human rights issue. Housing is a human rights issue. People should have legal recourse surrounding these areas and the Bill would allow this. There is a precedent. We are in the dark ages when it comes to caring for the vulnerable and we still do not do accountability in this country. Is this what the Government is really scared of, justice for those who suffer at the hands of the State? That is what it certainly looks like. The Government states it has the appropriate policies in place and is allocating resources in the right places. This is not the reality. We are speaking about a mental health crisis and a housing crisis. We know the problems are getting worse, inequality is rising, and people are suffering and these problems are connected. Deputy Pringle's Bill would enshrine the protection of people who need the help of the State. The Bill would put a responsibility on the State and prevent it from reneging on looking after those who most need its help. This is why the Bill should be passed. I commend Deputy Pringle on tabling it.

I thank Deputy Pringle for again introducing the Bill, which seeks to incorporate in the Constitution rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and make them cognisable by the courts. As Members are aware, economic, social and cultural rights was one of two additional topics selected for consideration by the Constitutional Convention, and its recommendations are covered in the convention's eighth report. The House previously considered this issue in 2015 and it is referred to in A Programme for a Partnership Government, which includes a commitment to refer the Constitutional Convention's report to the new Oireachtas committee on housing for consideration due to the substantial raised questions on the balance of rights, proper governance and resources. I do not propose to repeat the detailed background information on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights set out by the Government when the matter first came before the House in May 2015. The Government believes it is essential the proposal is analysed in detail by the Oireachtas committee because of its potential ramifications.

I assure the House the Government is fully committed to ensuring the progressive implementation of economic, social and cultural rights in Ireland and in the context of international co-operation. A Programme for a Partnership Government clearly demonstrates a commitment to tackling the most pressing challenges Ireland faces in areas such as housing and health while continuing to focus on increasing employment throughout the country. The potential impacts of the Bill are immense and require very careful and informed consideration. The Government's response in the Dáil in January last year on the eighth report pointed out this matter was considered by the Constitutional Convention, which endorsed the proposal in principle. In turn, A Programme for a Partnership Government committed to referring the report to an Oireachtas committee given the substantial questions raised on the balance of rights, proper governance and resources. A Programme for a Partnership Government states the eighth report of the Constitutional Convention on economic, social and cultural rights recommended the State progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights subject to maximum available resources, that this duty be recognisable by the courts and that specific additional rights on housing be inserted in the Constitution. Due to the substantial questions raised on the balance of rights, proper governance and resources we will refer the report to the new Oireachtas committee on housing for consideration.

While the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has not been incorporated into domestic law, the substance of a number of the rights contained in the covenant are already protected by the Constitution and legislation. Article 45 of the Constitution sets out directive principles of social policy for the general guidance of the Legislature. The Bill proposed would make these issues cognisable by the courts. There is already power by legislation to confer rights and to determine expenditure via primary and secondary legislation. As signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Ireland reports periodically on its implementation before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, most recently in 2015. Important progress continues to be made throughout the Government in giving effect to the covenant's provisions.

The issues that arise with the Bill are not about its substance. Rather there are some serious ramifications for the separation of powers, which lies at the heart of any democracy. The effective separation of powers creates a system of checks and balances between the three branches of administration to avoid concentration of power.

This fundamental tenet is at the heart of our Constitution, which created the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, each of which has its own particular functions. The primary difficulty with the proposals before the House today is that if the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were to be incorporated into the Constitution, and therefore become cognisable by the courts, the Government and the Oireachtas would give up the ultimate responsibility for making decisions on the allocated limit of public resources. Decisions on resource allocation and taxation issues are at the heart of politics in a democracy and are the essence of the choices that political parties offer when seeking support from their voters. To put the ultimate responsibility for these choices beyond the control of Government and the Dáil could insulate them from the wishes of the electorate. Candidates offer different political visions and put forward different policy priorities for society to the people at election time. The voters make their choices known when they exercise their democratic right to select who will represent them in the Dáil and ultimately who will form a Government and make decisions about public policy priorities. As elected representatives, we remain answerable to the people.

The Constitution is the bedrock of our legal system and it sets out the fundamental principles by which we are governed. However, it does not comprise the entirety of our law but is reinforced and augmented by legislation passed by the Oireachtas. It is, therefore, not the only means we have of giving legal effect to commitments and obligations we have entered into when acceding to international treaties and agreements. While the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights has not been incorporated into domestic law, the substance of a number of rights contained in the covenant is protected by the Constitution and by legislation, reflecting the priority successive Governments have attached to these policy areas. The Government ensures that the State's obligations to implement the covenant are met through policies aimed at improving the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including by fighting persistent poverty and social exclusion.

Ireland implements these policies in a number of ways. The rights of the family, based on marriage, are protected by Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution and the right to education, including free primary care education, is protected by Article 42. The right to freedom of association, including membership of trade unions, is guaranteed by Article 40.6.1° of the Constitution, and the right to work and earn a livelihood is guaranteed as an unnumerated personal right under Article 40.3 of the Constitution. Ireland signed the optional protocol to the covenant in 2012, thus reaffirming our commitment to the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights. The Department is currently consulting with all relevant Departments on the measures necessary to enable us to move to ratification.

Among the many remarkable achievements of the past few years, we can all take pride in the fact that Ireland was the first country in the world to achieve marriage equality through a public vote. The large majority by which the 2015 referendum was passed shows how committed Ireland is both as a State and as a people to equality and to promoting the rights of our LGBTI community. More recently, the Taoiseach, with the support of all parties in the House, announced the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority on 1 March. Following this historic step, we are putting the finishing touches to a new Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy, which will be completed over the coming weeks. Ireland has come a significant way in recent times with the matter of mental health and we have turned from a country that did not believe in recovery or prevention to our sole focus being on a recovery-based model and prevention. While we have difficulties with staffing levels, we are beginning to see change with it. Throughout Ireland's economic crisis, we prioritised protecting the most vulnerable in society. In 2016, the three key areas of health, education and social protection accounted for over 80% of gross Voted current expenditure. As set out in the expenditure report 2017, real increases to public spending can continue to be made on a substantial basis to deliver both on economic priorities and also on the social goals for a fairer and more inclusive society.

As we look forward to a period of more economic stability and growth, we will pursue our commitment to protect our most vulnerable and to provide a fair and just society for all. The promotion of human rights will remain as a central focus to our domestic and foreign policies and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to realise our common goals and to make our human rights obligations and aspirations a reality.

As the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution is being referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government for consideration, I ask the House to reject the Bill to allow us to fulfil our commitment in the programme for Government, having regard to the serious issues involved. I thank Deputy Pringle for having provided the opportunity to debate these important issues.

Is there a copy of the script?

We will arrange that. I call Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

I would like to share time, with the House's permission, with Deputies Jim O'Callaghan and Pat Casey.

I thank Deputy Thomas Pringle and commend him on the good intent behind this Bill. We are committed as a party to the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights for all citizens in this State. We should all strive towards that goal. We recognise that many people are living at the margins of society due to poverty and social exclusion and that there has been no economic recovery for many. The latest survey on income and living conditions shows that consistent poverty is 8.7%, while the number of those at risk of poverty is just short of 17%. Moreover, when we look at the segments within that, lone parent households have a consistent poverty rate of over 26%, while the deprivation rate for this household type remains far too high at almost 58%. We have much work to do. That is one of the things that we all need to be acutely aware of, that many people have not shared and have not seen any type of recovery. That is why the debate here today and the publication of the Bill is certainly useful.

However, at this juncture we do not regard this Bill, which would explicitly enshrine rights in the Constitution, as the appropriate mechanism right now to address these issues and we have several concerns which I will go into in a moment about the consequences, unintended or otherwise, of the legislation. Bunreacht na hÉireann, our 1937 Constitution, makes only limited reference to economic, social and cultural rights which are by and large referred to in Articles 40 to 44 of the Constitution. However, the courts have recognised that personal rights are not limited to those expressly set out or enumerated in the constitutional text. Changing this to explicitly enshrining economic, social and cultural rights in the Constitution is in itself not the problem per se but it is how we define such rights and also the parameters of such rights, while also having in place effective and efficient methods for the enforcement of those rights that this Bill will enshrine in the Constitution.

A key issue that was raised during the discussions on this matter at the Constitutional Convention was whether enshrining socio-economic rights would mean handing decisions on the allocation of Exchequer resources, limited as they are right now, away from the Oireachtas and to the Judiciary. This is a key question and requires further investigation. Another element would be the implications such a move would have for our court system. Would it result in a significant increase in cases against the State? What are the unintended consequences of enshrining such rights in the Constitution, including the financial burden that it could place on the State? Would it take responsibility away from Government in allocation of resources, and would it take responsibility and power from the Oireachtas, and the Dáil in particular, that the people vote for freely at election time?

This Bill, if enacted, while desirable in principle, and I genuinely mean that, does not have precise definitions or clear proposals. Before such a change should be introduced, we need a detailed and considered analysis of what such a move would mean for the individual, society and the State as a whole. While economic and social rights should be viewed as more than an aspiration or more than a lofty ideal, the practicalities and implications of enshrining such rights in our Constitution cannot be discounted or dismissed, particularly when the economic recovery is as fragile and fragmented as we have it right now.

The issue of enshrined economic, social and cultural rights is a complex and contested area not just in Ireland, but in political debate internationally. It is a debate that I welcome, and while Fianna Fáil is opposing this Bill, at this time, I note that we are in agreement with the principles behind this Bill. It is central to our thinking as a republican party that the provision of rights for citizens is a proper function of Government. In point of fact, I will argue that political debate in this area will be one of crucial importance to the future of democratic governance in the western world.

I have long held the view that citizens should be entitled to a broader scope of rights than those that currently exist. However, a wider portfolio of rights places greater responsibilities on the State and this must be rooted in some semblance of reality and in the capacity to deliver.

Human rights are one of the pillars upon which modern democratic societies have put forward basic human needs that must be met by a functioning state. Rights-based societies have grown since the foundation of the United Nations. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a significant broadening of the scope of human rights that is not without controversy. We know, however, that even the most basic of human rights are not universally upheld internationally. If even the most basic rights cannot be delivered by many democratic governments, then many people would argue that we are lowering the value of rights by widening them to cover every aspect of human life. This is a powerful and wide-ranging conversation that needs much more debate and analysis than this Bill allows.

I have been of the view for most of my political career that the State needs to be more ambitious in the range of public services that an Irish citizen can rightly expect in a modern 21st century republic. One of the reasons I joined Fianna Fáil is that I believe that at crucial times in the history of this Republic, Fianna Fáil has broadened and deepened the range of public services that citizens can expect. It was Fianna Fáil that introduced a detailed written Constitution in 1937, including rights for citizens when the rest of Europe was burning books and entering a new dark age. It was also Fianna Fáil that decided that every child deserved free secondary education, and that a minimum State pension was a necessary contribution for every older citizen. It is that republican tradition that needs to be built upon. What separates Fianna Fáil from those on the far left, for example, is that rights need to be based on what can be delivered in reality. There is no point in having several additional rights enshrined in the Constitution if they have no bearing on what the State can deliver for every citizen.

I take rights seriously. I believe that if we declare something to be a right, the State should be obliged to deliver it. I come from a business background, so I do not make a commitment unless it can be backed up. In fact, one of the reasons that many citizens feel fed up with politics is that they are sick of hearing grand plans and theories that are never delivered upon. That type of fantasy land politics does not help the very people who most need our help.

I am strongly of the view that in the area of housing, a minimum housing provision should be considered a right to which every citizen is entitled. I am fully aware of the obligations that this ambition places upon the State, but I believe that housing is an area where too many Irish citizens are in too much need. Housing in 2017 is where the Irish Government and this House need to be radical and determined.

Every Irish citizen should have a right to a home. It is an abuse of human rights that Irish families are living in hotel rooms. It is an abuse of human rights that Irish citizens are sleeping in doorways. The Irish know their history well. There is a particular sympathy for those in need of housing that stretches far back into our history when we were a dispossessed people. This Dáil needs to move towards viewing the provision of homes as a right and every citizen should feel it is the State's obligation to meet a minimum standard in this regard.

I note that Rebuilding Ireland begins with a declaration that housing is a basic requirement. There is a difference between a requirement and a right. It is one of the reasons I believe that this Government is being far too timid in dealing with housing. I will be pursuing this ambition further both within my party and in the House.

I thank Deputy Pringle for introducing this Bill. As a result of it, focus has been placed on Article 45 of the Constitution, which is one of the most remarkable articles in that document. It reveals what a progressive Constitution we introduced back in 1937. Article 45 sets out a series of directive principles that this House and the Seanad should adopt when deciding on what laws to introduce. It sets out a series of requirements that we should take into account by way of guidance when deciding how we introduce laws. It seeks to ensure that the State will prioritise justice and charity when it comes to the introduction of laws. It also seeks to ensure that citizens will have jobs to enable them to find the means of making reasonable provision for their domestic needs.

The article seeks fair ownership of the material resources of our community. It seeks that free competition would not result in the concentration of the ownership or control of essential commodities in the hands of a few individuals to the common detriment. It seeks to ensure that credit would be available for the welfare of the people as a whole. In addition, it seeks to allow as many families to live on the land in economic security as was practical. It seeks to promote private initiative in industry and commerce. It also seeks that private enterprise would be reasonable and efficient, and would not be used to permit unjust exploitation. It seeks to safeguard the economic interests of the weaker sections of the community. It seeks to protect the infirm so that they would not have to enter vocations unsuited to their infirmities.

I think all of those principles would be supported by every Member of this House. That article should be recognised as a guide for Members of the Oireachtas when it comes to drafting our laws. Not only should it be a guide, but in the past that article has been an inspiration to other countries. Article 45 was the inspiration for Articles 37 to 39, inclusive, and 46 of the Indian constitution, yet people may legitimately ask why it is that Article 45 has not got the political or judicial attention that many believe it deserves. The reason no doubt is that the provision expressly states that the social principles will not be cognisable by the courts. It means that one cannot go to court to say that individuals have been denied rights or access to certain benefits because the principles of Article 45 have not been complied with.

It is interesting to note that when the Constitution was being drafted, many of the provisions in Article 45 were contained in an earlier draft of Article 43. That article did make them cognisable before the courts. At the time that the Constitution was being drafted by Mr. Hearne and Mr. de Valera, there were serious objections from the Department of Finance and the Department of Justice as to the consequences of making Article 45 cognisable before the courts. A senior official in the Department of Finance, Mr. James McElligott, was particularly concerned about making the provisioning of Article 45 rights that could be used and availed of by citizens before the courts. He said:

These declaratory phrases, while individually unobjectionable as a statement of social policy, might, if launched into the void in the draft Constitution, recoil like a boomerang on the government of some future day in circumstances not anticipated by the originators.

I derived that information from Gerard Hogan's book on the foundations of the Irish Constitution, which reveals exactly how the changes took place in respect of the Constitution. Lobbying by the Department of Justice and the Department of Finance had an effect because afterwards Mr. de Valera decided that the rights in Article 43 would be put into Article 45 and would expressly not be cognisable by the courts of this land. It is also instructive to note that Mr. de Valera was contacted by individuals in America who welcomed the fact that the rights were not going to be given cognisability before the courts.

Nonetheless, Deputy Pringle's proposed amendment to the Constitution seeks to insert after the introductory paragraph in Article 45 a further paragraph that refers to another document, which is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As we are aware, this country signed up to that convention back in 1989. The criticism that is made is that we have not ratified it or introduced it into Irish domestic law. However, when one looks at Part 3 of the convention one will see that many of the rights set out in it have in fact been incorporated into Irish law over the years. In fact, some of them predated the signing of the convention in 1989.

For instance, Article 6 refers to the rights of everyone to "the opportunity to gain his living by work, which he freely chooses or accepts". I would have thought that the right to earn a livelihood is already an unenumerated right in the Irish Constitution.

There is also a provision in Article 7 of the convention regarding the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work. We have good employment legislation in this country that ensures that workers are protected. Article 8 deals with the rights of individuals to join trade unions. Not only is that a right recognised under the Irish Constitution in terms of the right of association, but there is also legislation in place which ensures that individuals, in practice, have the right to join trade unions. Article 9 refers to the right of everyone to social security. I would have thought in terms of the social security system that rights exist in Irish law at present. Article 10 refers to the protection given to the family. Under our Constitution those rights exist.

Article 11 is a particularly interesting provision and there is a question as to whether the rights contained within that article exist in Irish law at present. At the heart of Deputy Pringle's proposal is the fact that many people legitimately think that a specific right to housing should be inserted into the Constitution. If one looks at Article 11 of the convention, it states that the State parties will "recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing".

I have an open mind in respect of whether we should have a right to housing in our Constitution. If it results in individuals getting more housing and more housing being built, I will be in favour of it. I remember this was discussed before in the context of whether we should amend the Constitution to have a right to housing. My only concern about it is that having a constitutional amendment can make the political class feel very good about itself. We can go on to argue about how it is so important to have a right to housing in the Constitution, but the reality of it is ultimately, if such a right is introduced, it may not assist as many people in practical terms as we hope it would. For instance, are there many people in this House who think that the rights of the children in this country have significantly improved, or improved at all, since we introduced the children's rights referendum? I question whether they have improved.

One of the factors to be taken into account in terms of including a right to housing in our Constitution is what the practical impact of that would be. I can see the benefits of it. At present the Government has not recognised the emergency nature of the housing problem that we have in this country. I have said before that we need to introduce emergency legislation, similar to the emergency legislation that was introduced to protect and uphold our financial system a number of years ago. We need to introduce such legislation and it needs to specify that extraordinary powers are to be given to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to ensure measures can be taken, with immediate effect, to commence the construction of housing.

The one real benefit of a right to housing in our Constitution would be that such legislation would be less easy to challenge before the courts. There is no doubt that if such legislation was introduced and gave a Minister the right to, perhaps, transfer the land from NAMA, to seize land held by State entities or to insist that land zoned for residential use is built on within a short period of time, that legislation would be challenged. If, however, there was a right to housing in the Constitution it may protect that legislation from challenge. That is a matter that can be looked at in more detail in due course.

To address the downside, there have been examples before where rights existing in the Constitution, such as the right to free primary education, have been challenged before the courts to ensure its full and adequate vindication. One thing that is noticeable, and has happened in the past, is that an advantage is given to the people who are well-informed enough to get good lawyers to represent them and challenge the State on their behalf. They then go to court and get a judgment vindicating their rights, but the effect of that is only in respect of the individual who takes the case. The effect of court judgments vindicating the constitutional rights of individuals in such circumstances is that the individual gets provision in respect of primary education.

Similarly, it would be the case, in my opinion, in respect of housing. There would be people who are well-informed and who are able to get good lawyers and they would be able to establish that they have a constitutional right to housing and the State would be obliged to provide it. It does not take into account that such issues, where there are individual rights, require a general policy decision by Government that will involve protecting the rights of everyone and ensuring that as much as possible can be done for the community at large.

I commend Deputy Pringle on introducing this Bill. The whole issue of economic, social and cultural rights is an area that is developing and one to which we will undoubtedly return to again.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following: “Dáil Éireann: notes that the Convention on the Constitution, in its eighth report, recommended greater constitutional protection for economic, social and cultural rights, making them amenable to supervision by the courts in certain circumstances, and extending in particular to:

— housing;

— social security;

— essential health care;

— rights of people with disabilities;

— linguistic and cultural rights; and

— rights covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;

further notes the response by the Government to the Constitutional Convention recommendations, given in this House on 14 January 2016, which response neither accepted nor rejected the recommendations but decided that the report should be referred to an Oireachtas committee for consideration of the various issues that arise from it; believes that the proposals require detailed consideration by an all-party committee, with the assistance of expert advice; resolves that:

(a) a special all-party committee, which shall be called the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, shall be established, to consider the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention in its eighth report;

(b) the committee shall be made up of 14 Members of the Dáil, of which four Members shall be appointed by the Government, three members by Fianna Fáil, two members by Sinn Féin, one member by the Labour Party, one member by Independents 4 Change, one member by the Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit, one member by the Rural Independent group and one member by the Social Democrats–Green Party group, and four shall constitute a quorum; members may be substituted as provided under Standing Order 95(2);

(c) notwithstanding Standing Order 93, the committee shall elect one of its members to be chairman, who shall have one vote;

(d) the Ceann Comhairle shall announce the names of the members appointed under paragraph (b) for the information of the Dáil on the first sitting day following their appointment;

(e) the committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 85 other than paragraphs (3), (4) and (6);

(f) the committee shall hold hearings in public with expert witnesses, invite and accept written submissions, draw up a report, make findings and recommendations;

(g) the committee shall produce an interim report, containing also its proposed work schedule, to be debated at a meeting of the Dáil no less than one month after its establishment; and

(h) the committee shall publish its final report within eight months of its establishment; and accordingly declines to give a Second Reading to the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2016.”

I, too, am very happy to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill because it raises a profoundly important question - in truth a number of profoundly important questions. I congratulate Deputy Pringle on tabling it and initiating this discussion. It is too important a subject for any knee-jerk response. It deserves careful analysis, study and reflection so that we actually achieve the objective, because I agree with Deputy O'Callaghan that quite often in this House we like to pretend we are achieving an objective that may not actually have the consequences the House intends.

Recourse to the courts to address socioeconomic issues is not new. Test cases, specially selected by social campaigners and argued by lawyers with a campaigning agenda, are a familiar part of the landscape, particularly in recent times. If what is being sought is a radical transformation of society then, frankly speaking, public interest litigation alone will never be up to that task. The Bill proposes to put such litigation centre-stage, as a means of vindicating the rights of citizens of this State. That is a very important objective.

My starting point in considering the proposal is to assert that all democratic politics eventually come down to where one stands between two, sometimes competing, sets of claims - the claim of social cohesion and that of individual liberty. On the one hand, personal freedom is a fundamental human right and, on the other, no society is truly free unless all the men and women who make up that society are free individuals. Poverty, homelessness, unemployment and ignorance are all profound enemies of personal freedom.

Even if we are mostly agreed as to our common purposes across this House, there is still room for debate as to how we achieve those objectives. There is objection on the part of some to the idea of judges as contestants in the process rather than as umpires. That is something we have to think about. We have democratic accountability in this House. We are elected with a mandate from the people. We need to ensure that we jealously guard that right.

There is a range of objections to the idea that the courts should get involved with socioeconomic rights and that these rights should be judicially enforceable. We would be familiar enough with the valiant efforts to pursue this course of action before the courts, and how so often, unfortunately, it has failed. At the start of this century, the families of so-called out of control children, of children at risk and of children with profound intellectual and learning disabilities became engaged before our courts in a great civil rights campaign. Theirs was an insistent demand for dignity and independence and they sought from the courts a response under our Constitution. Unfortunately, they were disappointed.

Two cases, Sinnott v. Minister for Education and T.D. v. Minister for Education, succeeded in the High Court, but the appeals taken by the State against the decisions were upheld by the Supreme Court and senior members of that court signalled their strong opposition to the idea that what are called socio-economic rights enjoyed constitutional recognition and protection. I have no doubt but that constitutional provisions dealing with socio-economic rights can be carefully crafted so that the courts would always have to take into account the State's financial position and make decisions in the context of resources that are available.

We need to acknowledge that the Constitution already contains a socioeconomic right to free primary education, as Deputy O'Callaghan has already instanced, by imposing a duty on the State to provide for it. The express obligations of the State towards children in the children's rights amendment also give rise to clear socio-economic rights. On the other hand, there are no provisions of the Constitution expressly requiring the State to provide medical services or social protection of any kind, for any of our citizens.

This gives rise to further questions. Does anyone really believe that, for want of constitutional protection, there is any risk of our health services being dismantled? Does anyone think that, because it is constitutionally protected, our education system is somehow profoundly stronger than our health system?

We should, therefore, be cautious in ascribing too great an effect on simply including a constitutional change. I accept that protecting socioeconomic rights is primarily a matter of political interest. The main reason for accepting that is that the political process has much more room for manoeuvre when it comes to formulating policy, not to mention democratic underpinning.

Why, for example, do people with disabilities and their families persist in demanding human rights-based legislation? Their position is based on their insight and experience from the lives they have lived, resulting from various forms of maladministration and being on the receiving end of dubious services yielded by a charity model of service delivery. The drive to move away from charity and towards a rights-based system is also motivated by the fear of families as to what will happen to those who rely on them when they are beyond making choices for their loved ones.

I am reminded of the Department of Finance’s response to the report of Mr. Justice Flood’s commission on the status of people with disabilities. The report included a recommendation that every disabled person be given a statement of needs. This passport would entitle them to public services without having to argue their case repeatedly with Departments and agencies. The Department of Finance's reaction to this recommendation was included in the report Towards Equal Citizenship. It stated:

The Department of Finance cannot accept these recommendations, which imply the underpinning by law of access to, and provision of, services for people with disabilities as a right. This right, if given a statutory basis, would be prohibitively expensive for the Exchequer and could lead to requests from other persons seeking access to health and other services without regard to the eventual cost of providing these services.

That is it in a nutshell. The underpinning by law of access to and provision of services as a right imposes non-discretionary spending obligations which, according to the Department of Finance, could lead to requests from other persons. We need to address these issues.

The whole point about constitutional rights is that they endure and survive economic cycles and changes of Minister and Government. My amendment would give the House an opportunity to fully debate how we will advance this in a way that will have a real impact on and meaning for all of our people. I hope the House will support it.

As I listened to the speakers from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael talk about why they will not support the adoption of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Constitution, for some reason the word "sophistry" sprang to mind. I looked up the definition of sophistry. It comes from the Greek sophist, and refers to the use of clever but false arguments especially with the intention of deceiving. That is what we got from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, namely, very erudite and clever arguments as to why we should not sign up to basic rights like equal rights for men and women which might, for example, address gender inequality and the pay gap.

The covenant refers to just and favourable conditions of work, equal pay for equal work, the right of trade unions to function freely, the right of protection and assistance for young persons and the right of everyone to housing and the continuous improvement of living standards and the right to education. Does any Government need the discretion not to deliver on those things? Is that some sort of defence of democracy? It is not; it is all about money.

We heard the quote from Mr. McElligott from the Department of Finance, which removed references in the original Constitution to try to make the rights in it cognisable by law so that they were more than just pious aspirations and were instead rights that citizens could legally enforce from the State. The Departments of Finance and Justice and Equality said that they could not possibly give legally enforceable rights to people. In other words, they did not want to give them rights that mean anything at all on basic things like those I have mentioned.

I want to say why we desperately need legally enforceable rights. I have received a call from a young student and journalist in DIT, one of our major national educational institutions. I have been told about a decision that will affect students on the access programme in DIT. The programme enables students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend third level education. As of this year, DIT is insisting that all students on the access programme have to be Garda vetted before entering the institution. This has never happened in any other college.

The rest of the student body in DIT who enter through the normal CAO system are not Garda vetted unless they are studying a specific course related to working with children, such as social work. Only a small number of the general student body will be Garda vetted for specific reasons related to their courses, but those from disadvantaged communities will, as a matter of course, be Garda vetted. It is a specific form of discrimination against people from disadvantaged communities, and suggests that they are somehow more prone to criminal behaviour, the possible abuse of children or other behaviours which mean that the Garda needs to look into their character, background and history. It is outrageous.

Students who are victims of that policy should be able to take legal action against DIT because it is denying them a right under the covenant, which states that higher education should be made equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity. This DIT policy is outrageous and students should have legal recourse and rights that are enforceable against DIT.

Young teachers are working beside people who are doing the same job. They should receive equal pay for the same work, but because they happen to have been recruited a couple of years later than those they are working with they can be paid less. It is a form of blatant discrimination which has no justification or basis. They should have legally enforceable rights to hold the State or their employer, which, in most cases, is the State, responsible for addressing that discrimination.

Housing is a critical issue and has been referred to by many Deputies. I recently mentioned a young mother with a four year old daughter, a family which has suffered a terrible history of abuse. I will not go into details. They are currently homeless and were told by homeless services that despite the fact that the girl attends school in Monkstown Farm and the family comes from the greater Dún Laoghaire area, they will have to stay in a hostel above a pub in Francis Street.

Many vulnerable young mothers and children are being sent to completely inappropriate so-called homeless accommodation which means that the welfare of children is at risk. The future, protection and welfare of those children is at risk, not to mind that of their mothers. It is completely unacceptable and is a result of the failure of the State to provide adequate and secure housing for them.

We have a long history of an absolutely chronic, systematic and cruel failure of the State in respect of our vulnerable young people that goes back to the Tuam babies, the Magdalen laundries and the industrial schools. These people were from working class and poor backgrounds and in those institutions they were degraded, abused, tortured and killed. Should those people not have a legal right of recourse to protect them and a right of recourse against the State if it fails to vindicate those rights and, in particular, fails to protect children and to provide the basic right of putting a roof over one's head?

How can the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties, or the Labour Party which it would seem is sitting on the fence, state that a Parliament needs discretion not to give those rights? That is what they are saying in a very sophisticated way, like the Sophists. There is no reason for any civilised society not to give those legal and enforceable rights to its citizens.

I call Deputy Joan Collins, who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Catherine Connolly and Clare Daly.

I am pleased to support the Bill, which is a matter of some urgency given the failure of the State throughout its history to provide basic rights. I disagree with some of the points Fianna Fáil made. I supported the Bill that was proposed by Deputy Pringle in 2015 when the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour parties voted against it. The Labour Party had previously supported it, but it seems to have changed its mind again.

I was horrified last week to read an article in The Irish Times in which Tanya Ward, the CEO of the Children's Rights Alliance, stated that some 25% of Traveller and Roma children do not have access to sanitation and running water. She stated that this probably goes some way to explaining why their infant mortality rate is almost four times higher than that in the settled community. If they were provided for in the Constitution, the right of access to water and sanitation would be one of the economic, social and cultural rights. I do not see why families should not be able to take the State to task for not providing those basic human rights.

It is also the case that Traveller families experience overcrowding in their living accommodation. The figure is 8% for settled communities. We know that the local authorities are handing back money to the State because they have not used it. If the right to housing was provided for in our Constitution and money was allocated and not spent, should those people not have the right to challenge the State for not providing the housing given the money was available? The resources are in the coffers of the local authority but at this stage they can be handed back without anyone being able to challenge the situation. This is simply an outrage in a prosperous country in the 21st century.

One third of all children live in poverty or are at risk of poverty. Some 2,500 children are in emergency accommodation. Despite the promises of the Minister, most of them will still be there after June of this year. We know that to be the case because more families are entering emergency accommodation than are leaving it. We have inherited a situation of historically low levels of public services and are unique in Europe with a health service that has no universal entitlement. We are also unique in that our welfare provision has only one universal entitlement, which is child support payments.

I am a member of the Committee on the Future of Healthcare. As a consequence, my parliamentary assistant has carried out a lot of research into the health service, how it operates, the history of its development and so on, and a clear thread has emerged: There is no concept whatsoever that affordable health care is a right. This does not just apply to the health services. The Bill proposed by Deputy Pringle seeks to insert such a right into our Constitution, based on resources.

I raised a question today relating to families in St. John of God's who cannot access multidisciplinary teams due to the cuts to the services over the past eight years. I have a copy of a letter from the HSE which states:

Referrals to the MDT are prioritised by the school principal. [In this school, the team] lost a number of positions for therapy staff during the moratorium on recruitment and has limited capacity for the provision of therapy interventions. Under the current system a duel referral for services is not accepted. In effect a referral for a child attending a special school with it's own MDT [which this school does not have] such as [St. John of God's] will not be accepted by another MDT.

If the right to health was provided for in our Constitution, those families could challenge the State and say that they should be able to go somewhere else to get a multidisciplinary team to look after their children given they cannot access basic speech therapy, psychotherapy and so forth.

We are still providing health care for those who cannot afford to pay as an act of charity. It is still the case that the mindset has hardly moved on from the 19th century. The mindset that the State can abdicate its responsibility to provide services that are a right and can farm out its responsibilities to charities has had horrifying consequences. Putting economic, social and cultural rights into the Constitution at the same level as civil and political rights would be a significant step forward. There would still be a question of resources and willpower, but campaigners would be in a better position to fight for economic, social and cultural rights for all citizens.

I urge Deputies to support the Bill.

Deputy Connolly is not taking part in this session so Deputy Collins and I are dividing the time between the two of us.

It is at the pleasure of the House.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I compliment Deputy Pringle on proposing the Bill. Our job as parliamentarians is to look at the world turned upside down or, as we would say, right side up. There is an incredible irony in the current juncture. We live in a world where society has more resources at its disposal than ever before, yet things that our parents perhaps in some ways took for granted are being threatened. The idea that one would have a right to health care when sick, to access food when hungry, to a roof over one's head and to an education and that one would hold out the prospect that one's children could have a better life than one's own is being stood on its head. The rights that people thought were there for life such as the right to a pension on retirement are under threat. In that sense, the Bill is to be hugely welcomed because it puts the focus on where things should be, starting at how we meet the needs of citizens in this country and around the globe.

I do not have much time, but I want to deal with the same aspect on which many Deputies focused. The Bill has the potential to bestow the right to housing. At this juncture, this is absolutely critical. Of all the instruments of international law and UN conventions that Ireland is party to, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides the most comprehensive protection for the right to housing and, God only knows, we need that at the moment. There is a disgusting irony in the fact that our Constitution protects property rights but not the right to housing, which is really telling about the priorities of successive Governments in this State. We must put it on the record that we are an exception in global terms or certainly in European terms in that regard. Ireland is one of only three countries in the EU 15 in which people have neither a constitutional nor a legislative right to housing. Such a right is therefore not even that radical. Most European countries have it already.

In 2012, a poll commissioned by Focus Ireland found that 80% of the public supported a constitutional right to housing. It would probably be 98% now given the crisis that has unfolded. The housing crisis is not an accident but Government policy. Throughout the country, thousands of people are homeless. In my area, 300 people are without a home and those are only the ones that the council know about. Tens of thousands of people are barely hanging on, having to fork out 50% to 60% of their income to keep a roof over their heads. All of this is to prop up the banks and the elite. It is reprehensible.

Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy described Ireland's housing crisis as a debased currency. It is not new to use housing as a gambling chip in Ireland, but the grim end game is very much apparent now. I do not think anyone here is saying that if we pass this legislation it will be a magic wand to address the situation. It certainly is not, but it will go some way towards re-tilting the balance in favour of citizens and giving some form of redress.

I find it astounding that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, on the back of a housing crisis, recently stated the following: "Homelessness is explained by a shortage of accommodation and while an increase in rent might push an individual family into homelessness, the rental unit vacated will accommodate another family." With such a sociopathic callousness - that is the only way to describe it - at the top of the Department of Finance, is it any wonder we have reached this point? Perhaps the Minister picked up this valuable insight in one of the 65 meetings held between his officials and vulture funds between 2013 and 2014.

The future will be incredibly bleak for citizens if we continue to let the market dictate our basic rights. The Government has repeatedly rejected rent controls on the basis they may distort the market. What we are trying to do with this legislation is ensure political and civil rights are enshrined in the Constitution. It is difficult to create a market for those areas that are protected by rights. What we are trying to do is remove the commodification of basic rights. This Bill is an excellent step forward and addresses precisely the type of issue the Oireachtas should address. I compliment Deputy Pringle on bringing it before the House.

I thank Deputies for the wide range of arguments and analyses put forward in this debate. This is an important debate which addresses our common desire to see the economic, social and cultural well-being of all our citizens looked after. There is no doubt that this is a priority for all parties represented in the House.

The advancement of human rights is at the centre of Ireland's values and foreign policy. For this reason, we can take very seriously our engagement with international human rights institutions. Ireland has been actively engaged with the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights precisely because we believe the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are essential to ensuring a life of dignity for all Irish citizens. In June 2015, Ireland was reviewed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which welcomed the significant steps made in this State, including the referendum on marriage equality and the establishment of the low pay commission and Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Most recently, as Deputies will be aware, the Taoiseach announced the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group. Ireland also underwent a peer review through the universal periodic review mechanism in the United Nations in May 2016. The United Nations treaty monitoring bodies play an important role in holding states to account and the Government will continue to actively engage with them.

By signing and ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Ireland has already agreed to progressively achieve the full realisation of these rights. The core question for debate is how these rights are best given effect. As previously outlined, the Government is firmly committed to promoting the economic, social and cultural well-being of our citizens and we have made significant progress in advancing these policy priorities. This is seen across all relevant areas, from creating steady, stable economic growth and reducing unemployment to its lowest level since 2008 to putting the finishing touches on the new Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy, which will be published shortly, and providing a system of social transfers which remains among the most effective in Europe. This demonstrates the effective role of the Parliament and Government in advancing the economic, social and cultural well-being of citizens through the annual allocation of resources and development of national policies.

While the international covenant has not been incorporated into domestic law, the substance of a number of the rights contained in it is protected by the Constitution and legislation. The right to education, for example, is recognised as a fundamental right in the Constitution. There is no doubt that the question of the suitability of the Constitution as a vehicle for providing for the detailed rights provided in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a significant question that requires careful consideration. For example, the incorporation of the covenant in the Constitution would have the effect of transferring to the Judiciary the power to review decisions of the Government and Oireachtas affecting the allocation of resources. Decisions on resource allocation and taxation are at the heart of the politics of democracy and, as legislators, we all have a fundamental responsibility to make these decisions. Placing them beyond the control of the Government and Oireachtas and under the aegis of the courts would result in the electorate losing its say on issues such as the maximum level of resources the State should deploy at any particular time or what competing priorities would utilise available resources. This is one of the reasons the Oireachtas committee needs to give serious and detailed consideration to these proposals.

The State has learned several lessons in recent years on which it would be appropriate to draw today. First, through the economic and fiscal crisis, when Ireland's underlying general Government deficit reached more than 30% of GDP, we learned that sustainable public finances are necessary to be in a position to provide the necessary social supports and deliver essential services. In 2016, the three key areas of health, education and social protection accounted for more than 80% of gross voted current expenditure. As set out in the expenditure report 2017, real increases in public expenditure can continue to be made on a sustainable basis to deliver on economic priorities and the social goals of a fairer and more inclusive society. Second, the Constitution, as the bedrock of our legal system, displays the progressive and inclusive convictions of the nation's founders, which have fostered generations of Irishmen and Irishwomen with a respect for human dignity.

At this point, it is unclear what this amendment could mean from both a resource and expenditure perspective. Amending the Constitution to enshrine such rights could affect the ability of the Government and Oireachtas to allocate, prioritise and reprioritise expenditure to best meet social policy objectives. The decision we are faced with today is not a matter of whether we support the provision of these rights, but how that provision is best implemented. As promised in A Programme for a Partnership Government, the recommendations made in the eighth report of the Constitutional Convention, particularly on the balance of rights, proper governance and resources, will be referred for consideration to the new Oireachtas committee on housing. For this reason, the Government will vote against the Bill. In the meantime, we will maintain our focus on developing policies and legislation, which will most effectively realise the rights set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Ireland signed the optional protocol to the international convention in 2012 but has not yet ratified it. The optional protocol will provide for victims of violations of the rights under the convention to have access to a complaints procedure. The question of ratification of the optional protocol will require considerable examination across all Departments.

The Government is committed to ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as quickly as possible, taking into account the need to ensure all necessary legislative and administrative requirements under the convention are first in place. We will shortly finalise and publish a new national disability inclusion strategy under the aegis of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath.

The European Convention on Human Rights Act was enacted by the Oireachtas in 2003 to give further effect to the European Convention on Human Rights in Irish law. The Act contains some of the rights provided for in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and, therefore, is an example of existing legislation which protects those rights. The brevity of the international convention is both its strength and weakness. By enshrining the covenant in the Constitution, we would place decisions on resource allocation and taxation issues, which are at the heart of democracy, beyond the control of the Government and Oireachtas and under the aegis of the courts. It is unclear what implications this would have.

I thank again Deputy Pringle for introducing this important Bill for debate. When I was Chairman of the Committee on Justice and Equality we established a sub-committee on human rights in the justice and equality area. Many parliaments have committees which deal specifically with human rights and perhaps we should consider doing likewise. This is an important and welcome debate. Unfortunately, however, the Government will not be in a position to support the Bill for the reasons outlined.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak briefly on the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2016. I commend my colleague, Deputy Thomas Pringle, on bringing the legislation before the House and the tremendous work he has done on the Bill in this and the previous Dáil.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or ICESCR was ratified by Ireland almost 30 years ago in 1989, yet we have still not incorporated it in the Constitution and domestic law. Despite the UN's reviews in 1999 and 2002 which called on Ireland to adopt the ICESCR, we are still evading doing so and the Minister of State has not given any hope that the position will change. The vast majority of members of the Constitutional Convention - 85% - voted in favour of these rights being protected in the Constitution, yet the Government has avoided following through on the convention's decision. Instead, it has offered referendums on issues of lesser importance, including the referendum the Taoiseach announced last weekend. At the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention in February 2014, members voted to highlight certain rights which should be expressly stated in the Constitution, namely, the rights of persons with disabilities; the rights to housing, health care and social security; linguistic and cultural rights; and the rights provided for in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,

Earlier, when opening the debate, Deputy Pringle dealt comprehensively and efficiently with one of the key critiques of the amendment, which is that it is merely aspirational because of the expression, "subject to its maximum available resources", but this is an unfair interpretation by people who have criticised the motion in that regard, because it means if the amendment had been made to the Constitution, Governments would have had to make decisions to best utilise the resources available to ensure these rights were protected, progressed and improved and would have to had to protect the most vulnerable in society during the draconian cuts of the austerity years since 2008. Passage of this Bill and the amendment of Article 45 would also trigger support for these citizens' rights from the Judiciary in the mere fact of upholding the Constitution. The section which states, "This duty shall be cognisable by the Courts", is important.

Former Deputies, Ruairí Quinn and Kevin Humphreys, attempted in 2000 and 2012 to bring forward similar legislation. They had the opportunity during a long number of years in government to bring the legislation through the Dáil and have it easily passed in a referendum. In the last general election, I stood as an Independent candidate, alongside my colleague Deputy Pringle, as a Right2Change candidate. We believe strongly in the rights to water, jobs, decent work, housing, health, debt justice, education, democratic reform, equality, sustainable environment, and natural resources. The Bill reinforces those principles and will enshrine certain rights in law by amending Bunreacht na hÉireann.

The ICESCR includes the rights to work and just and favourable conditions of work, to form and join trade unions, to social security to protection and assistance for the family, and to an adequate standard of living. All those rights are provided for in the Bill if the House wishes to pass it. Some of the ESC rights are provided for under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Over the years, attempts have been made to realise key elements of these rights. I brought forward the first trade union recognition Bill in the history of the State in the Oireachtas, but, in many respects, since the 1980s, we have seen vigorous attacks on people’s economic and social rights. Having these rights enshrined in our Constitution would ensure they were protected and not at the mercy of the Government of the day. It would also ensure a more consistent application of the rights even when Governments change.

I have just completed reading Professor Joe Stiglitz's book, The Price of Inequality, a powerful advocacy for ending the gross inequality that has developed since the mid-1980s, in particular. Professor Stiglitz recalls how President Reagan, who is so reminiscent of the current US President, and Mrs. Thatcher and her Tory gang led all-out assaults on these fundamental rights in the UK and US and began turning back the social equality gains of the 1960s and 1970s. The onset of financialisation from the early 1990s facilitated outrageous regressive developments, including whereby mortgages of families were bought and sold in bundles and the commercialisation of basic social services was developed. In this country, the Progressive Democrats Party was the cancerous element along with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, that influenced the adoption of these changes.

I warmly congratulate Deputy Pringle. It is time for this Bill to be brought forward and to give the electorate a say. If the Bill is put to them, 98% will vote overwhelmingly to incorporate the amendment in the Constitution. I warmly welcome it.

I thank my colleagues in Independents 4 Change for their support for the Bill as well as the AAA-PBP Members. They outlined in their contributions the necessity to have ESC rights enshrined in our Constitution and how, rather than debating them in the House, we should debate them with citizens. As Deputy Broughan said, I have no doubt the amendment would be passed by an overwhelming majority.

Perhaps that is what Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are afraid of because it would make Governments accountable for the decisions that they make. The common theme in the contributions of both parties to the debate is that they do not want to be accountable for making decisions that destroy people's lives across the State. I will deal with the contributions of both parties together because they are similar. I would summarise them in two points. The first is "Leave your rights with us and we will look after them". We have seen how that has worked for people. Both Ministers cited that fact that Traveller ethnicity was recognised a few weeks ago in the House. Is it something to be proud of that it took 30 years to get to the point where the House would recognise the citizenship rights of an ethnic minority? The second is "You can have your rights but not just now so you have to wait". The Minister of State outlined that the Government would progressively deal with these rights but they cannot be inserted in the Constitution.

The crux of the argument is that doing so would remove power from the Dáil and hand it over to the courts. Obviously that shows that he has not read the convention because it refers to "the principle of progressive realisation". That means that states are subject to resource constraints and, therefore, the convention recognises that. It also means that states are expected to act as best they can within the means available to them, which further strengthens this. That concept is perfectly in accordance with constitutional obligations on ESC rights. Portugal, Latvia and other countries have enshrined these rights in their constitutions and the world has not stopped turning. The lights have not gone out and everything has not collapsed. Those countries are still functioning democracies and judges are not running around making laws, ruling the state and deciding what taxation should be used for. This is not rocket science. This is about accountability and changing the culture of Governments whereby they can bestow virtues on people and bestow tax cuts, etc., on them.

If these rights had been enshrined in our Constitution, the Government might have been restrained in giving away €2.5 billion in tax breaks over the past few years and could have used that money to deliver housing for people and to deliver a health care system that they could be proud of and use to care for themselves. It could have made the past eight or nine years of austerity less burdensome on people because, for example, when the Latvian Government was negotiating with international lenders, it was able to use the fact that ESC rights were enshrined in its constitution to ease the burden of the conditions that were placed on the state in its bailout programme. That is what ESC rights could have for our Governments rather than placing constraints on them and making it more difficult for them.

One of the most startling issues concerns the right to housing and the fact that, as Deputy Wallace outlined, thousands of children and families are living in hotels while there are thousands of unused houses throughout the country. However, the Government parties will not act in this regard because they insist on ensuring that banks are able to pump up and falsely build their balance sheets in order that they can be sold off at the best price. They have manufactured a crisis rather than dealing with the issues and the problems. Scotland has enshrined the right to housing in legislation. The provision of housing is more cost effective there than it is here because the country has those rights. That is the difference they could make.

I did not deal with the Labour Party amendment but that is okay because there is no need to. I thank the ESC Rights Initiative for its work on this. It was a pleasure to work with Aiden Lloyd, especially, on this. He is present in the Visitors Gallery. I would also like to thank Fr. Peter McVerry of the McVerry Trust and Bríd O'Brien of the INOU who attended the launch of the Bill earlier. It is disappointing that the Government would not accept the legislation and that Fianna Fáil wants us to put the amendment on the long finger and wait another 20 or 30 years for it to be realised but that is not surprising. We will keep going and we will keep pushing. We will get there eventually.

Cuireadh an leasú agus faisnéiseadh go rabhthas tar éis diúltú dó.
Amendment put and declared lost.

We now move to the substantive motion. The Labour Party amendment was defeated and there is no vote. We now move to the substantive motion.

Cuireadh an cheist.
Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time which will be on Tuesday, 28 March 2017.