Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

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

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

I am hoping it will be third time lucky for my Thirty-seventh amendment of the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill. We debated it first in the Thirty-first Dáil in May 2015, then in the Thirty-second Dáil in March 2017 and now in the Thirty-third Dáil today.

Why do I keep resubmitting this Bill for debate? It is because of its importance to our human rights. It is because of the constitutional protections we would have, namely, the right to adequate housing, to join a trade union of our choice, to health and mental health, to participate in culture and to benefit from scientific progression. All of those are very important human rights, but even more so in the shadow of Covid-19.

I keep resubmitting this Bill in the hope of some light bulb moment where the majority of Deputies would realise that it is right to do the right thing. I do so because we signed up to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1973, ratified it in 1989, and have done nothing on it since. It is because a previous Government set up a Constitutional Convention which, in its final meeting in February 2013, discussed this exact issue and 85% of members voted in favour of amending the Constitution for inclusion of these rights, to be realised progressively and within available resources.

I am not naive enough to believe that the Government will accept this important human rights Bill this time around. To think that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would accept a Bill that would mean legislation would be based on human rights is laughable. I have heard all the arguments against accepting the Bill over the years and still none of them stack up. If anything, this past year of unprecedented times in a global pandemic has shown us that this Bill is important now more than ever.

Over the years, most of the Opposition parties and groupings have spoken in support of the Bill and voted for it. I note also that, in the Thirty-second Dáil, when the Green Party was on the Opposition benches, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin, who are now Ministers, supported this Bill. Does that mean that the Green Party will ensure that the Government will accept the Bill and that all of its Members will support it this time around? What arguments could they possibly have against it, although they have changed their tune regarding the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and seem to be haemorrhaging members?

In fairness, the Labour Party originally introduced this Bill back in the 2000s and then again in 2012 but by the time they were in government in the Thirty-first Dáil and I attempted to bring it forward, they had found reasons to vote against it. I note that now that its Members are on the Opposition benches they have returned to their original policy stance. It is amazing to see how policies and priorities change once a party gets into government.

The economic, social and cultural rights initiative, ESCRI, was a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations that supported strengthening the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the Irish Constitution. More than 60 organisations, including Amnesty International, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Children’s’ Rights Alliance, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and many others, were involved. In 2017, the ESCR initiative held a conference in the Mansion House in Dublin entitled Making Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Meaningful. The event brought together a range of stakeholders to discuss how enforceable economic, social and cultural, 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.

Imagine having legal protection. There was much momentum and goodwill behind this important campaign.

In preparation for this debate, I contacted some of those civil society organisations and also Mr. Aiden Lloyd, who was integral to the initiative. To my dismay, Mr. Lloyd told me that they "wound up the ESCR Initiative a few years ago as it was clear that the Government had no intention of implementing the recommendation of the Convention on the Constitution". Mr. Lloyd continued, stating "prior to winding up we had spoken to ICCL about taking on the brief, but they are already operating with meagre resources to fulfil their civil and political rights objectives." Based on his years of campaigning, Mr. Lloyd said "I think there is good support among some politicians and civil society groups for ESC rights to be written into the Constitution but unfortunately without resources it was impossible for us to continue as an advocacy group."

It is a pity to see dedicated and active campaigners and organisers become so despondent with Government policy that they cannot continue their fight. The Minister of State will say that some of the things the Government brought about included the referendum on marriage equality, but that happened because of people power, public readiness and willingness for that campaign and people sharing their stories and mobilising in their communities. He will also say that the Government made history when it declared that members of the Traveller community are an ethnic minority. Do not get me started on how this and previous Governments have and continue to let down members of the Traveller community in the most heinous ways. I will come back to this point.

Amnesty Ireland still has an informative section on its website relating to the campaign for economic, social and cultural rights, which had been funded through the Atlantic Philanthropies. Amnesty's website states:

We are working to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, like the rights to health, housing and to an adequate standard of living in Ireland. By putting ESC rights into Irish law the Government would be guaranteeing everyone in Ireland a life of dignity to the extent that our resources allow. It would mean decisions made by the Government must contribute to the delivery of these rights. This includes a guarantee that every single one of us can access, at the very least, an adequate standard of living.

There is also a useful section relating to frequently asked questions and other resources and information that can be used to bust myths, including fallacious claims about the separation of powers between the Executive and the Judiciary and that the Oireachtas would lose powers in respect of taxation legislation. I have been in touch with Amnesty, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the European Anti-Poverty Network and others because in non-Covid times we would have held a press conference and a photocall and tried to raise the profile of this important Bill.

I will outline reasons why I feel so strongly about the need for this Bill. When the troika went to Portugal, it was not able to destroy its public housing system because it is constitutionally protected. We need that here. The right to join a union should not be left to the whim of a political class that has always danced to the tune of big business. The Convention on the Constitution scrutinised this provision. Some 85% of the members of the convention - ordinary, everyday people - agreed that these rights need constitutional protection. Why have successive Governments failed to act on the will of the people? It is the people's Constitution after all.

This Bill would be an anchor for the rights to housing, health and education to be provided for on the basis of need at all times. It would give Irish citizens a strengthened right to hold the Government to account for how the State manages affairs and would put the people of Ireland at the centre of Government. The right to a home is fundamental to happiness and the foundation for so much else in society as it gives people stability to plan and participate in an active, positive life. The separation of powers argument does not hold water. More than 11 countries, including such radical places as Germany, Portugal and Finland, have these rights protected in their constitutions. Why can we not do it here?

As a nation, we are renowned for our contribution to music and the arts. Being able to enjoy both is an important part of a fulfilling life. It should not be the preserve of the rich. Everyone should have the right to take part and enjoy cultural life.

Covid-19 has brought devastation to our island and to the world but it has given us an opportunity. I believe that we need to follow a zero Covid strategy and use the time this would give us to plan and reset. The Constitution is used as a barrier to much progressive legislation by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil but in March of last year we saw a different type of governing. The pandemic and the global crisis showed that steps could be taken for the majority and not just the few. Evictions were stopped, rents were frozen, private hospitals were taken into the public service and there was new-found appreciation for the front-line workers in our supermarkets, food delivery services and the eye-watering demands that are placed on the health service. Communities came together.

We were told that we were all in this together and people believed it, until the Government faltered. While formation of the grand coalition took place, it actually led to the falling apart of the governing of our country. Egos got in the way of public good. Personalities wanted to be to the fore to make big announcements and some went off to Clifden to celebrate the lockdown with golf and a dinner. The difference with the elite classes and the idea of there being one rule for them and another for us started to grate. Residents of nursing homes died as the virus spread so quickly. Residents in direct provision were also left behind. Workers in meat factories were made to work, which led to Covid-19 outbreaks. It is happening again now.

The property rights in the Constitution are constantly used and regurgitated as reasons we cannot have an effective solution to the housing crisis. Yet, the Minister will say there is no need for a right to housing in the Constitution, because the Government should be trusted to provide legislative measures to ensure there is sufficient and affordable housing. The housing and homeless crisis is of the Government's making. It is the fault of the present and previous Governments that there are thousands of children who are forced to experience homelessness, that people have died by suicide because of their housing situations, never mind their inability to access timely mental health support. It is the fault of the present and previous Governments that more homeless people have died on our streets in the past year than in many other years. This crisis and these tragedies are of the Government's making. Then the Government asks the Opposition and the public to trust it, tells us we do not need constitutional protection and that it will look after us all. It only looks after the rich and the landlord classes, the real estate investment trusts and those who profiteer from this basic human right: the right to shelter, to an adequate place to live, to a home. Last week RTÉ investigated an issue which some of my colleagues have been raising here consistently. That is the difference. I will talk about it later but that is why I will not be accepting the amendment the Government is putting forward. I do not believe it is well meant.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus gabhaim buíochas le mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Pringle. Is é seo an tríú huair uaidh chun an Bille seo a chur tríd an Dáil. Theip air sa dá uair dheireanacha ach ní raibh an locht air ach is ar na Rialtais éagsúla a bhí sé mar nár ghlac siad leis an mBille in ainneoin na ndualgas atá againn faoin gCúnant Idirnáisiúnta maidir le Cearta Geilleagracha, Comhdhaonnacha agus Cultúir seo. Níl i gceist anseo ach cearta bunúsacha agus nílimid ag iarraidh ach leasú a chur sa Bhunreacht a leagfaidh síos gur de réir a chéile, ar bhonn céimnithe, a bhainfimid na cearta seo amach. Is é sin an méid atá i gceist. Ní rud radacach ach rud thar a bheith réasúnta agus bunúsach atá i gceist.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic and I thank my colleague, Deputy Pringle for his persistence and hard work. It is the third time he has put this Bill before the Dáil. On the last occasions he did not succeed but the blame certainly was not on him. It was on the two Governments that failed to support it, notwithstanding our very serious obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That covenant was signed and arose out of the horror and the pain of the Second World War. It was introduced on 16 December 1966, and came into law in 1976. We signed it on 1 October, as my colleague said. We signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We took our time until we ratified it. We waited until 1989, I believe, 16 years later. We signed the optional protocol in 2012 but we did not ratify it. This is very important because without ratifying it, there is no recourse for the citizen who is affected by the failures of various Governments.

It is interesting that later today, we will be asked to sanction the appointment of two new members to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, one of whom is Emily Logan, a much respected woman. I am singling her out because she was a commissioner in the Irish Human rights and Equality Commission that made a very strong submission on the last occasion we were examined by the UN committee on how we were implementing this covenant. I read as much as I could of the submission, which runs to over 100 pages. It refers to the Constitutional Convention that recommended that we amend the Constitution and look at implementing it in national legislation.

That recommendation has been ignored. Ms Logan, together with her small, hard-working team of colleagues at the time, drew attention to many issues, including the harsh impact of the austerity cuts on services and supports for the most marginalised. She referred to the absence of the incorporation into our legislation or Constitution of rights that would give a basic threshold below which any Government could not go when it is implementing austerity cuts, some of which are still in being.

I have read the Government amendment and it is an insult. I am sure my colleague, Deputy Pringle, will come back to this. The Government is proposing that the Bill be deemed to be read a Second Time in 18 months without any explanation as to why that postponement is necessary. We are not asking the Government to rush through legislation in the manner in which it has rushed through so many Bills in the past year. Against our better instincts on occasions, we helped the Government in that regard and stood in solidarity with it for the greater common good. This Bill is for the greater common good. Why it would be put back for 18 months is beyond my comprehension. I struggle to understand why the Government would do that. The amendment suggests that it is to give time to tease out the "complex issues concerned". There is nothing complex about basic human rights in the matter of social, economic and cultural issues. Certainly, the implications of the provisions in the Bill may have consequences for any Government that it would not like. I can understand that part, but the rights themselves are not complex. We talk about rights all of the time. The Government is going to put the Bill back for 18 months and, in the meantime, the Department is going to look at it. I have no faith in that proposal whatsoever and I am not sure how the Green Party can accept it. I really do not want to bring parties into this but I have to bring in the Green Party because its Members supported my colleague's Bill on the previous occasion. How has its position changed and why do we need another 18 months of a window to consider the Bill? It is just not acceptable.

Many countries have not only signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights but they also have ratified the protocol to the convention. We are talking about 171 parties or signatories. I mentioned the Convention on the Constitution back in 2013 and 2014, where the members voted in favour of amending the Constitution to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. They also recommended that there should be a constitutional provision to the effect that the State would provide progressively - I ask the Minister of State to listen to that word - not overnight, but progressively, for those rights. That is provided for in the wording of the Bill that Deputy Pringle has before the Dáil today. It sets out that the Government would progressively realise the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens and that this duty would be cognisable by the courts. The Convention on the Constitution went on to identify a number of specific rights in regard to housing, social security, rights for people with disabilities and cultural rights, which it said should be enumerated in the Constitution. The difficulty of not having them in the Constitution is that the courts, which rightly have a great respect for the separation of powers, do not want to be seen to make law. On many occasions, they have pointed the finger back at the Government in this regard. It is the duty of legislators to bring in legislation in order that the courts can enforce it. Unfortunately, Government has utterly failed in that regard.

We are talking about economic, social and cultural rights in a context where - I had to check the figure myself because it is so startling - 56 people died in the first 11 months of last year in one homeless situation or another. At one stage, we had 10,500 homeless people in the State; the number is slightly fewer than that now. There is still not recognition that this is a direct consequence of our policies on housing and health. Indeed, in the case of the pandemic, the consequences of it are much worse because our public health system was not fit for purpose. We knew that beforehand. All we are asking the Government to do today is to make our Constitution mean something in terms of social, economic and cultural rights. We all acknowledge that it can only be done on a progressive basis and we ask that the Government take it from here. Putting the Bill back 18 months is not good enough. I hope that the Minister of State will have a little sense in this regard.

Tá súil agam go mbeidh ciall cheannaithe aige - tuigfidh sé an téarma "ciall cheannaithe" - agus go bhfuil rud foghlamtha aige agus ag an Rialtas ón bpaindéim agus ó na ciorruithe tromchúiseacha a cuireadh i bhfeidhm in 2010, 2011 agus 2013 atá fós ag leanúint ar aghaidh. Tá na ciorruithe sin ag déanamh idirdhealú idir na daoine boichte agus na daoine is saibhre. Indeed, we saw recently the figures on the billionaires who have increased their percentage of wealth over the course of the pandemic. Words fail me regarding the amount of wealth they have. What if all that falls on deaf ears?

Perhaps we can look to Professor Eoin O'Sullivan of Trinity College Dublin, whom I believe co-authored the book Suffer the Little Children with Mary Raftery. They have not been thanked in the manner they should have been. Professor O'Sullivan highlights that even if a government does not buy the humanitarian argument, there is an argument that what I propose is just more cost-effective. According to him, while it is difficult to obtain an exact figure - I am not sure why it is because we are able to put a price on everything, and we are not able to put a value on anything - it costs between €35,000 and €40,000 per year to keep someone in emergency accommodation in Dublin alone. I could go on but my time is up. The same figures apply to our failure to deal with mental illness, housing and health. Tá costas i bhfad níos tromchúisí i gceist nuair a theipeann orainn díriú isteach ar chearta daonna.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann resolves that the Thirty-Seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2018 be deemed to be read a second time this day eighteen months, to allow for greater analysis of the complex issues concerned and for such considerations to be taken into account in further scrutiny of the Bill.

I thank the Independent Deputies for facilitating this debate and, in particular, Deputy Pringle, the sponsor of the Bill. The issues we are discussing today involve every Department. I will endeavour to address them on behalf of the Government.

Some of us will recall previous Private Members' debates on this Bill. The position then, as now, remains that the matter is immensely complex, involving a huge breadth of policy areas right across government. On the latest occasion, the Government indicated that the Oireachtas housing committee would be asked to consider the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, which examined the question of economic, cultural and social rights. The convention report noted that more than 40% of convention members believed the issue should be referred elsewhere for further consideration of the implications of possible reforms. Unfortunately, the Oireachtas housing committee, which has been particularly busy over the past few years, did not have an opportunity to undertake the analysis requested so the need for such detailed scrutiny remains. While this is undoubtedly a short Bill, it has potentially very significant consequences. The amendment proposed by the Government would allow time and space for detailed analysis to take place while ensuring the Bill can come before the House again in 18 months. It is my hope and expectation that when the Bill returns to the Legislature, we will be in a better position to debate it, hopefully with the pandemic, which by necessity dominates so much of the work of the Government today, behind us.

The Bill proposes to incorporate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights into Article 45 of the Constitution and to mandate the implementation of the covenant, subject to maximum available resources, under the supervision of the courts. The covenant, as Deputies will be aware, is a covenant of the UN. Implementation by UN member states that have ratified it is monitored by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a body of 18 independent experts that has been operating since 1985.

Ireland ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on 8 December 1989 and reported to the UN committee on its domestic implementation in 1996, 2000 and 2012. Next month, the Cabinet will consider its fourth report on implementation before submitting it to the UN committee for its consideration. When compiling the fourth report, all Departments were required to have an input and public consultation took place.

In addition, consultations were undertaken with the Department of Foreign Affairs committee on human rights, which comprises representatives of NGOs, academic institutions and other stakeholders, including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. All feedback was considered in the drafting of the report.

Deputies will be aware that, following submission of such a periodic report, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights convenes hearings where states are robustly examined and at the end presented with the committee's recommendations on issues that require to be addressed. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge there already is a monitoring mechanism in place in regard to our implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and one that lacks the rigidity of a courtroom setting. The periodic nature of reporting allows for changing circumstances, such as those we find ourselves in at this moment. Indeed, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights proactively highlights areas in which it wishes to see improvements in Ireland in terms of our implementation of the covenant.

In this connection it is fair to say that Ireland's periodic reports to the committee have demonstrated a clear trajectory of progress across the gamut of economic, social and cultural rights. Our fourth report will highlight the legislation and policy developments in the period from 2011 to the end of 2018. It details initiatives ranging from the migrant initiative strategy to the national broadband plan. It sets out information on a number of important whole-of-government strategies, including the national disability inclusion strategy, the national strategy for women and girls, the national youth strategy and the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy. It highlights important legislation including the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016, the Electoral (Amendment) (Policy Funding) Act 2012, the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. In addition, it sets out implementation plans for major initiatives, including the sustainable development goals, and commits to the implementation of Sláintecare.

The programme for Government contains a large number of measures to promote economic, social and cultural well-being. In particular, it commits to developing a set of indicators to create a broader context for policy-making to include a set of well-being indices to create a well-rounded holistic view of how our society is faring and a balanced scorecard for each area of public policy, focused on outcomes and the impact those policies have on individuals and communities. Initially, this will be focused on housing, education and health.

As part of budget 2021, the Department of Finance has published a paper on well-being and the measurement of broader living standards in Ireland. The paper investigates the options for national well-being measurement in Ireland, with a view to the commitment in the programme for Government 2020 to develop new measures of well-being. This work is being taken forward by the Departments of the Taoiseach; Finance; and Public Expenditure and Reform and will be further developed through the analysis of the experience of other jurisdictions that have developed similar measures in recent years through consultations with experts drawn from the public service, academia, NGOs and the private sector. The programme for Government states that, once developed, we will ensure it is utilised in a systematic way across Government policymaking at local and national levels in setting budgetary priorities, evaluating programmes and reporting progress. This will be an important complement to the existing economic measurement tools.

Furthermore, the programme for Government commits to examining the introduction of a new grounds of discrimination based on socio-economic and disadvantaged status into the employment equality and equal status Acts. This follows on from an initial debate on this issue in the House during the previous Dáil. In addition, a broader review of the equality Acts is planned. This work is being taken forward by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

Our programme for Government also commits to a referendum on housing and a referendum on Article 41.2 of the Constitution informed by the work of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. Moreover, the issue of the environment including water and its place in the Constitution is to be referred to a relevant joint Oireachtas committee for consideration.

In short, the current programme for Government, which sets out a five-year work plan for this Administration, contains an ambitious and complex range of commitments that are relevant to the substance of the issues which will be debated today. Time is needed to map these commitments in the context of economic, social and cultural rights and the relevant UN covenant as well as our existing body of rights and laws. To establish a constitutional referendum is the right course of action. This timed amendment allows for the necessary care to be taken when assessing the proposal in this Bill. I know the Deputies speaking today will make a valuable contribution to the further analysis of the proposals at the heart of this Bill.

I thank my colleague Deputy Pringle for bringing forward this Private Member's motion, which I support. Nevertheless, while we do, of course, need to give some domestic effect to economic, social and cultural rights, there have been a number of recent decisions against Ireland the failure to address which has very much damaged our standing. We as a State have always prided ourselves on adherence to human rights and support for human rights. That has been one of the cornerstones of our international foreign policy, yet the manner in which we have treated decisions both of the economic, social and cultural rights committee of the Council of Europe and, on occasion, of the European Court of Human Rights has left much to be desired.

We have a dualist system in Ireland; international law does not have domestic effect unless it is specifically incorporated. I do not necessarily have a problem with that per se, but I do have a problem with using that as an excuse to fail completely to address a breach of rights in Ireland. An example is the EuroCOP case taken against Ireland, where it was found that Ireland's treatment of gardaí was a breach of their economic and social rights and that has not been addressed in any meaningful way. A similar decision was made in respect of members of the Defence Forces, which stopped short of saying they had a right to strike. I do not think it will surprise anybody that they do not have a right to strike, but they have a right to be represented in collective bargaining decisions, which they are not. While there are considerable limitations on members of the Defence Forces and their direct representative bodies expressing their views, it appears that that failure to represent them has had a considerable impact on morale in the Defence Forces.

Likewise, the failure to give gardaí a more meaningful voice has damaged morale in An Garda Síochána, and we are all quite aware of how that has played out in terms of blue flu and so on. It is very difficult to coerce people into providing their labour, as the Government recently found out to its detriment. More important, it has also been to the detriment of children with special needs, who have a right to education. While that right to education is enshrined in Irish law, at least in regard to primary and secondary education, there is not a right, as the Court of Appeal has found, to third level education. We need to vindicate that right and it is a matter of urgency that it be vindicated.

Going back to the mechanism, it is important that there be a mechanism such that if Ireland is found to be in default of its international obligations, it must come back before the court. If it is in default of its obligation to provide economic and social rights, and if the social rights committee makes a decision in respect of Ireland, it should automatically and repeatedly over a period be referred to the Oireachtas for action. Likewise, if there is a declaration by the domestic courts of incompatibility with the requirements of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, that should automatically be referred to the Oireachtas. Even so, many committee reports that are automatically referred to the Oireachtas die on the shelf. There has to be a mechanism for repeatedly bringing up such findings.

It is not good enough that we take our turn to be on the Human Rights Council, or indeed on the Security Council, as we are now. We talk about human rights on the Security Council while we do not do enough to ameliorate breaches of rights in our own State. We cannot have it both ways. It is a bit like our failure to deal with immigration or document the undocumented in Ireland while being euphoric that Joe Biden will somehow do something for the undocumented Irish in America. That sort of hypocrisy, because that unfortunately is what it is, considerably detracts from the force of the argument we would make in America for our undocumented.

Likewise, our inability to address decisions of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights against Ireland detracts considerably from the force with which we can argue at a UN level for adherence to human rights standards and especially our delay in dealing with decisions made against us by the European Court of Human Rights. The O’Keeffe v. Ireland case in the field of education and abuse in our education system is one notable example. I was a Member of the Dáil at the time. I since had a four-year hiatus from the Dáil and may well enjoy another, longer, hiatus the next time but in that period however, little has been done to implement the O'Keeffe decision.

I very much welcome the measure proposed by my colleague, Deputy Pringle, in this regard. It is an important issue. As a Dáil and, perhaps, an Oireachtas, we do not have sufficient regard to economic, social and cultural rights. They are quite difficult to implement because it costs money to do so. Of course, the Irish courts and Mr. Justice Declan Costello in particular, of whom I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, will be well aware, enunciated the clear division of responsibility between the Legislature on one hand and the courts on the other. However, simply because we found that it is not for the courts to supervise public spending, which is determined here by the elected representatives of the people, that does not mean the elected representatives do not have a heightened example to look at the effect of the decisions they make on the rights of people and to look at the fact we are celebrating 100 years of this State. What is the purpose of a State in the modern era? Surely, it is to vindicate rights. If we, as a State, have been found to have failed to vindicate rights then we have a heightened duty as a Legislature to address it. That sometimes involves difficult choices one cannot reasonably expect a court to make because it is not elected by the people to make those choices on their behalf. They are, however, choices that need to be made by necessity if we are to vindicate the rights of people, as well as important economic and social rights. Unless and until those particular rights are adhered to, then in a way, access to some of the other rights sometimes becomes elusive.

Our court system and access to the justice system is problematic in Ireland because it is expensive. Therefore, either a person has a lot of money, in which case a bill for tens of thousands of euro for a High Court case might not affect him or her, or a person has no money at all, in which case a similar bill does not affect him or her. The vast majority of people in the middle, however, cannot take a case. I will give an example. A number of cases are regularly taken against the Department of Social Protection and many are successful. It is absolutely correct and right that those cases be taken because they have ultimately been vindicated by the fact the plaintiffs won their case. Few cases are ever taken against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That does not mean the Department is acting any more lawfully than the Department of Social Protection. In fact, I suspect from observations of my own it is considerably less so but farmers cannot afford to take a case against it.

We need to look at access to justice and how we adjudicate economic, social and cultural rights, which need to be adjudicated and which, if we are found to be in breach, need to be addressed. We also need to look at breaches of civil and political rights in this State and at how we ensure people can access courts without being crippled for having done so.

I support the motion and thank Deputy Pringle for putting it before the House.

I commend Deputy Pringle and we will be supporting this motion. Sinn Féin has a long track record in advocating for the rights of people. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been a key treaty in progressing the rights of people around the world. In 1989, Ireland ratified the economic, social and cultural rights of its citizens and agreed to be legally bound by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This international treaty sets out the right for all people to self-determination but these rights to self-determination are only partially recognised in our Constitution and are further restricted by Article 45, which seeks to further limit this treaty by explicitly stating that the principles of social policy are intended for general guidance of the Oireachtas only and are not recognisable by law. It is important that all Deputies support this motion. We must act to protect Irish citizens' economic, social and cultural rights and enshrine that protection in law.

It is important to remember that this Bill seeks to strengthen the right to adequate housing, the right to be free from hunger, the right to an education and the right to an adequate standard of living. Contained within this treaty are the right to earn a living, the right to enjoy a safe and healthy work environment and the right to attain the highest standard of physical and mental health. In those categories alone, I imagine there are a huge number of people who are not earning a decent living, who do not have a safe and healthy work environment and who are suffering with their mental health. Our track record in this country shows that we do not deal with that issue in particular. As for the right to an affordable home and the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity, free of discrimination, these essential social rights must be protected and strengthened.

There is little doubt but that we are in the middle of a housing crisis, a crisis that has emerged through years of neglect by successive Governments. What we have allowed is for the Irish property market to be placed in the hands of companies seeking to maximise profit rather than to provide homes. It is a property market based on greed. What we see in practice is that those looking for a home are continually pushed out into a rental market that is prohibitively expensive. For anybody who can qualify for the housing assistance payment, those houses are nearly impossible to find and then totally unaffordable when one can be found. Our housing spokesperson, Deputy Ó Broin, has continuously raised in this House the issue of Ireland’s appalling housing policies. It is now more important than ever to realise this treaty in law. Housing cannot simply be determined by the Government of the day. Our approach must be bigger and it must be enshrined in our laws.

Ireland has a poor track record in ratifying international treaties. In 2017, we were found to be in violation of our citizens' human rights in respect of a failure to ensure the right to housing and an adequate standard of living for people in social housing. Several reports by UN bodies, notably in 1999 and 2002, stated that, despite substantial recommendations, no steps have been taken to date by Government to incorporate or reflect this treaty in domestic legislation.

The Government’s inability to ratify the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has not only caused enormous upset in Ireland, it has also drawn huge criticism from various advocates and representative groups. That is an issue I would particularly like to highlight. We have called continuously, as have many other parties in this Chamber and all the advocacy groups that deal with people with additional needs, for that protocol to be ratified. The reality is the Government has not ratified it because that will give people a right and they will be able to take the Government to court on all of the inaction, waiting lists and failures.

These two cases demonstrate that we must act to bring Ireland’s law in line with international norms. The importance of economic, social and cultural rights must be recognised by this House and I ask that all Deputies support this Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I commend Deputy Pringle on bringing it before us. Sinn Féin is a strong advocate for economic, social and cultural rights, all of which are covered by different aspects of this Bill.

Enshrining economic, social and cultural rights within our Constitution is a progressive step, and one which, I believe, all parties should support. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was ratified by Ireland in 1989. Thirty two years on, its principles have not been acted upon. This Bill is an opportunity to make up for lost time. This Bill covers the right to have one's economic, social and cultural rights recognised in the Irish courts.

The right to housing needs to be enshrined in our Constitution. Everybody has the right to a home and to have a roof over his or her head. Let us take, for example, the homelessness crisis across this State - families living in emergency accommodation, children growing up in homeless hubs, rough sleepers, young families rearing their children in overcrowded conditions and a locked-out generation of young people who will never own their own home. It is an absolute disgrace. It is a failure of this State to protect our most vulnerable. A referendum on its own will not cut it. We need houses, and lots of them, but the current Government seems more concerned about lining the pockets of developers than providing a roof over our most vulnerable.

This Bill will also strengthen workers' rights in that it provides for workers to join a trade union of their choice. This Bill will deliver for workers. We see workers treated unfairly every day of the week. Their wages and working conditions are constantly under attack. There is no such thing for working people in this country as a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. A two-tier pay scale exists in our schools and the Government permits this. We only have to look at how the Government has treated our student nurses in recent weeks to get an idea of its views on workers' rights more generally. The Minister of State should pay our student nurses. The failure to introduce the living wage is another example of where the Minister of State and the Government have let down workers.

Covid has changed everything. It exposed all the wrongs inflicted on working class people in housing, health, education and work, which are basic human rights. We have a chance to restart everything once we get out the far side of this virus and this Bill will improve people's lives.

If the Minister of State amends the motion today, that will be disgraceful. I ask him to support the Bill and to support the ordinary people of Ireland. I commend the Regional Independent Group again on bringing this before the Dáil and I fully support its passage.

I commend Teachta Pringle on bringing forward this Bill. In particular, I commend his persistence. I believe this is his third time introducing an economic, social and cultural rights Bill. It has been voted down each time by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, yet here we are again hoping that the Government might finally do the right thing for its citizens and allow the legislation to progress.

Last year, Fianna Fáil's election slogans saw it looking for "An Ireland for All", while Fine Gael was "Building a Republic of Opportunity". Unfortunately, we have neither. The Inequality Virus report released by Oxfam yesterday shows that the fortunes of Ireland's billionaires has increased to €3.3 billion since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, we have hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers with less than half the household income they had a year ago due to the pandemic. We also have thousands of workers on the minimum wage whereas we should be working on a credible plan for a living wage. It is like A Tale of Two Cities - the best of times for the haves and the worst of times for the have-nots. It is the spring of hope for a few and it is the winter of despair for many.

For a hundred years, the Government parties have built an Ireland of two tiers. Take our health system, for example. It is only accessible in an acceptable timeframe to those who can afford to pay hundreds of euro in consultants' fees. Not only do we have a two-tier health system, we also have a two-tier education system. Parents and students have been in contact with me to say that they are on long waiting lists for school places next September. The Minister's answer to this is that it is probably due to duplication. There is no plan to identify whether this definitely the case or to find a solution. Meanwhile, private schools are available for those who can afford extortionate fees. We also have a two-tier housing system. Housing assistance payment is seen by councils as the only show in town. It is the subsidising of private landlords who can pick and choose their tenants. It is not acceptable as a solution. The only solution is to build housing, namely, public housing on public land.

These three basic rights of health, education and housing need to be defended from the privatisation agenda of the Government parties. These are fundamental rights and need to be protected. Access should not rely on the ability to pay. As my colleague stated, Ireland ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1989, thereby agreeing to be legally bound by its provisions. Nothing but lip service has been paid since, however. It is time for the Government to dust off the 2015 report of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on Ireland on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It should even have a look at the headings of the report which discussed the rights to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, access to justice and the scope of legal aid, the equal rights of men and women to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, the right to an adequate standard of living and the protection of families, mothers and children.

The Government is failing in all of these areas. We need an Ireland of equals - a fairer Ireland. We should not have red tape tying up treatments such as patisiran that keep people alive. We should not have the housing and social welfare system discriminating against single fathers like a young gentleman and his son who I have been assisting in my constituency. I urge Teachtaí of all parties and none to support this Bill and I again thank Deputy Pringle for introducing it.

I thank Deputy Pringle and his group not just for introducing the Bill but, as has been alluded to previously, for all of the attempts he has made to bring about this vital reform. Anyone who studies politics will know Sinn Féin has a long track record of supporting, proposing and bringing about legislative reforms to enhance people's economic, social and cultural rights.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is an extremely important document. As many Deputies have already pointed out, however, it has no real legal standing in the eyes of the law in this State. It is hard not to conclude, given the efforts made by Teachtaí, that this is not actually a deliberate tactic on the part of successive Governments. Like all charters, covenants and treaties that concern economic equality and social justice, it is not directly enforceable in the courts. The reason such charters to ensure economic social and cultural rights are never incorporated into law is because successive Governments know the depth and scale of inequality that exists in the State. They also should be aware of their culpability for the depth of inequality that exists in our State. We know there is inequality at both ends of the scale. Too many have too little, while many have, what any reasonable person would class, as too much.

The Inequality Virus, a report published by Oxfam on Monday last, indicates that Irish billionaires have increased their collective wealth by €3.3 billion since the beginning of this pandemic. This exposes the myth that we are all in this together during the pandemic. The truth is contained within the pages of the report. Since the global pandemic began, billionaire wealth has increased by $3.9 trillion. Closer to home, Irish billionaires have enjoyed a dividend of €3.3 billion. At the same time, workers have found themselves overworked, underpaid or laid off.

The UN Secretary General has stated that this pandemic is like an X-ray, exposing the fractures in our society and our economy. In Ireland, it has further underscored a broken housing market, an economy built on low pay and a level of the underprovision in the context of public services.

While so many are struggling, the richest are flourishing. They are doing so well. They are having a fantastic pandemic. Those who are on ordinary incomes, those who are dependent on social welfare, those who get up early in the morning and work ten or 20 times harder than the billionaires are not having a good pandemic. The billionaires are though. They are getting a dividend from this pandemic, while most ordinary people are going to emerge from the aftermath of this global health crisis with more debt and probably more insecurity with regard to their housing, while having lost out on the capacity to take annual leave while they have been in work. All of this will happen to them. The good news for those who are on the side of the elite is there is a massive dividend for billionaires in this pandemic. Let us think on that. There is a dividend for billionaires in the middle of a global health crisis.

The economic impact of this virus has been disproportionately felt by those on low pay, women and young workers. The pandemic has laid bare the market's inability to reflect the true value of essential services and the workers who deliver them. Oxfam's report also revealed the opportunity that has been presented to the mega-rich, an opportunity that, of course, they have exploited. That billionaires have enjoyed their massive dividend windfall on the back of suffering and insecurity is pretty much a grotesque indictment of how our economy is structured. While billionaires have recovered and prospered since the pandemic began, Oxfam warns of a lost decade for workers and families. It is the job of the Government to deliver economic justice. As Irish billionaires enjoy a Covid dividend, now is the time to introduce a progressive wealth tax on net assets above €1 million. Workers and families have borne the brunt of this pandemic. Now, the richest must pay their fair share. As we see this grotesque increase of wealth, ordinary people look on and see a broken housing system, underfunded public services, no statutory sick pay scheme, no living wage and no sign the Government will deliver one. The right of workers to collectively bargain has still not been delivered. The economic right to earn a living and to just and favourable conditions at work are, to my mind, pretty much basic fundamental rights as are the right of everyone to get organised, to join the trade union of their choice and to have the right to strike and withdraw their labour should they need to. If people think that governments composed of conservative parties will afford them economic social and cultural rights, they really need to think again. The rights we currently have, from the five-day week, annual leave, the right to access abortion and even the right to vote, were not given from above. They were fought for and they were won on the ground by workers and ordinary people.

The social rights that could be delivered by the insertion of this clause into the Constitution are extremely important. When I say them out loud, it is infuriating that anyone would be denied these, or that a State would be so unequal that these issues exist to such an extent. The right to social security, the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and housing, the continuous improvement of living conditions, the right to be free from hunger and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health are some of the most basic things a person should expect and yet so many go without. The Government amendment states very simply, loudly and clearly that people should be let wait and that now is not the right time to do the right thing. It states that ordinary people can wait. The billionaires do not have to wait for their dividend because it has already happened. They are getting a nice little bump off the pandemic but the people who need the very basic fundamental rights that are contained in the motion can wait. The amendment states now is not their time, and that it is for the future, to be put off and to hit the can down the road. It states it is a conversation we should have and it is action we should take but not now, in a while and maybe later.

They hear what the Minister of State is saying and it really resonates with people when they see that inequality has been deepened during the pandemic. It was already awful and it is getting more awful for some. The attainment of basic human rights, as outlined by Teachta Pringle, has to wait.

That has to wait but the dividend for billionaires does not have to wait. A wealth tax on people who are worth more than €1 million has to wait but the billionaires get their dividend now. People see and hear very clearly what is going on.

I ask all Deputies to support this Bill. I ask the Minister of State, even at this stage, to please withdraw his amendment.

This is a very welcome and timely debate, particularly in view of the circumstances in which this country and the world find themselves. I want to thank Deputy Pringle for again proposing this very sound and progressive initiative.

The pandemic, as has been enunciated by a succession of speakers, has revealed some very deep inequalities, and revealed much about the very nature of this country, how this State is organised and who it prioritises. Truths that have been apparent to me all my life, but probably less so to many others in this House, have been revealed in very stark relief. At its core, our society and economy operate on a very structurally unfair basis. Ireland is unequal and the world is unequal. The State's response to the Covid-19 public health crisis and the associated economic crisis has, of course, been unprecedented but it has been unprecedented because it needed to be. The State's response has also been revealing in many ways. Our collective response, as a community, has shown the very best of us. It has demonstrated an extraordinary degree of solidarity, of community and of neighbourliness across the country. However, the pandemic has also revealed, as we know, a public health service that is gravely short of beds, a two-tier labour system and labour market, and a vulnerability across society that was literally brought into stark relief overnight at the end of last March and into early April.

Those of us who are students of history know that pandemics and global crises like that which we are now experiencing have, over the centuries, brought forward radical social and economic change. If anything collectively good is to come out of the death, the trauma and the tragedy of the Covid pandemic, then it ought to be a fairer and more economically and socially just society that has a commitment to decency and justice at its very core. That is why this proposition before us today, brought to us by Deputy Pringle, is particularly timely. It really should generate a broader and more informed – I use that term deliberately - debate about the kind of country we want post-pandemic Ireland to be.

I know what it should not be and I know what it should be. It certainly should not be a country where obscene amounts of wealth are concentrated in the hands of those who inherit their wealth and do nothing of value with it, in my view. It should not be an Ireland where who you are, where you are reared or where you are from dictates where you end up. It should not be an Ireland where people are destined to live insecurely and unsafely because they do not have the resources to buy their own home. It cannot be a case of, "Here is the new Ireland, the same as the old Ireland" and we go with a business-as-usual approach.

The Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, is a foundational document which has shown itself to be capable of progressive amendment when the need and the demand arises. It is an evolving, organic, living thing. It is the property of the people, fundamentally. When it was written and endorsed by the Irish people, this was done as an expression of the values and principles of this State. It was an expression at the very highest level of who we were, who we are, who we wanted to be and how we wanted to be viewed by the world, and the values and the principles we stand for.

Ireland has changed and it will change even more.

We signed up to the convention in 1989 without explicitly including the terms of the charter in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Politically, we managed to pioneer and legislate for some significant changes to the social, economic and cultural life of our country. Those who will oppose amending our Constitution to include the amendment from the Constitutional Convention, as referenced by Deputy Pringle, will do so on the basis that the allocation of resources is a matter for democratically elected parliaments such as this. They are, to an extent, right. That is how matters stand at the moment. The allocation of resources and debates about political policy, etc., and how decisions are made are rightly argued and justified here in this, our national Parliament. What we are talking about here, however, is what I might describe as a floor beneath which no one should be allowed fall, and enshrining that principle in our Constitution. It is about a basic guarantee of rights and minimum standards, importantly, subject to available resources. That last point is important. Only those who fear the demand for the fairer allocation of resources are the only ones to fear from such a move.

That said, we have heard here, particularly in recent years, descriptions of Ireland being something like a disaster zone. Some people serve their own political purposes in saying that. There are, however, many things that this country does very well and there are lots of significant economic, social and cultural changes that my party pioneered and was involved in at the front line over many decades to enable us to make this country much better, much fairer and more progressive. There is much more that we need to do, however, and we all need to be conscious of that.

Emblematic of the way this country has historically dealt with questions relating to economic rights is our failure to properly prioritise the principle of collective bargaining. This country is deeply unequal economically and the most scarring form of inequality is economic. I have absolutely no doubt about that. The best way to allocate the resources won by hardworking people is to ensure that they not only have a right to join a trade union but the right to be represented by that trade union for the purposes of collective bargaining. It is an observable fact that countries which have strong, robust trade union representational systems and collective bargaining systems do best socially and economically. In that context, who should fear the introduction of strong, robust collective bargaining and trade union laws? That is an open question. It is amazing that we still have not grappled with that key principle which has bedevilled us for many years. Our Constitution as it stands - in terms of the interpretation put on many questions before judges over many decades - prioritises the interests of private property rights over the collective common good. That is a bizarre situation and one of the things that Deputy Pringle's Bill seeks to address in the context of introducing constitutional amendment on progressive cultural, social and economic rights. The Labour Party is happy to support that principle and to support Deputy Pringle's initiative.

Economic, social and cultural rights help ensure a better quality of life for people. They guarantee basic dignities, including workers' rights, protection for families, and recognising the importance of cultural activities. These rights are a legal and moral tool to fight endemic injustices in our society, to address homelessness, to cut health care waiting lists, to end direct provision, to give all people with disabilities the dignity they deserve, and to seriously respond to the climate crisis.

Former President and UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson has stated:

A culture is not an abstract thing. It is a living, evolving process. The aim is to push beyond standard-setting and asserting human rights to make those standards a living reality for people everywhere.

This Bill is a manifestation of those words. Its purpose is to give citizens the opportunity to decide on this matter. I thank Deputy Pringle for bringing it forward for a third time.

While the two main Government parties seem to oppose economic, social and cultural rights, it is astonishing to me that they would defy people the right to vote on them. Again, I have to ask whose interests does this Government serve.

Over the past two weeks this House has discussed the catalogue of abuses endured by survivors of mother and baby institutions. The report, despite its many flaws, presents an account of the crimes and abuses carried out by agents of this State and of religious orders: abduction, concealment of death, illegal adoption, assault, gross neglect, not to mention years of denial, as well as the disgraceful hostile treatment of victims and survivors by public services.

The mother and baby institutions are a very real and very Irish example of why we need stronger rights. These institutions of horror were allowed under our current Constitution and by laws passed by our predecessors.

Part of our response to the mother and baby homes report and the pleas for justice from survivors must be to put in place the legal structures to ensure that people get real justice and that this can never happen again. Irish history and current affairs are a testament to the need for more robust rights. Regrettably, the actions of the current Government underline the need for these rights.

It is only the general data protection regulation, GDPR, that has guaranteed survivors of mother and baby institutions rights to access their own information. Before Christmas, people who were in these institutions and their families had to endure weeks of confusion and insults as the Government, which had not engaged with them, passed a Bill that made no mention of survivors rights and did nothing to alter the so-called sealing of records.

It was thanks to survivors' bravery and massive public outrage that the Government acknowledged survivors' rights to their personal data. However, it was only GDPR, that is, EU law, that legally guaranteed that. Without these rights the Government would have continued - it is still trying to continue - to hide behind outdated laws. That is the reason we need economic, social, and cultural rights and it seems this is why the Government has opposed these rights for so long.

Constitutional recognition of the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can help resolve the many injustices that we face in Ireland today. Housing is one of the clearest examples. Ireland has been experiencing a sustained housing and homelessness crisis for almost a decade. Despite Government announcement after announcement and hundreds of millions of euro going into the housing assistance payment, HAP, we still have more than 8,000 official homeless people, including almost 2,500 children as of November.

Within a single generation, a consistent housing emergency has been created by Government policy. This current policy is denying people the right to a home. Thousands of families need a right to housing to move beyond rhetoric to reality. Surely, as a society, we consider it more important that children have a permanent home rather than developers making more money. State policy must have the goal of building affordable housing to buy and rent at the heart of it. That should not even need to be said in this House.

When the parents of my generation bought homes, the average price was three times the average annual income. Within a generation, that has slipped away, and the average house price has climbed to nine or ten times the average annual income.

A right to a home, made real by policy, and the elimination of homelessness should be a core aim of the Government. The present Government and its predecessor have proven month after month that it is only a constitutional right that will force the Government to provide the thousands of homes needed to end this crisis.

The UN covenant has strong provisions on decent and secure work. Work, for too many people, especially younger people, is insecure and low paid. That has a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities, migrants and women and is a large contributor to our shocking gender pay gap.

A right to do decent and secure work is a fair aspiration. A right to decent work would start with a living wage, as the minimum. The programme for Government mentions promises on a living wage but no practicalities. There is zero urgency from the Government to address the widespread prevalence of low pay. In fact, the Government rejected a Social Democrats motion on workers' rights last year. It is an uncomfortable truth that many of the jobs deemed most essential in this pandemic fall on people who are paid too little and experience job insecurity or those who are paid nothing at all.

Economic, social and cultural rights will also help realise just climate action. We need a clear path and a clear timetable on cutting carbon emissions. That needs to be treated as a national emergency, not as an afterthought and political football. We need a genuinely just transition, which changes every aspect of how we organise our economy. Making individuals responsible for climate action will not suffice when the big polluters need to be tackled and real structural change is so blatantly required.

The Earth our young people will inherit needs to be a liveable planet. If the next generation could vote now, I suspect there would be a more meaningful attempt to tackle the biggest emergency imaginable. We need politics to be for the next generation and not just the next election.

The explicit recognition of cultural rights would help address our national hypocrisy regarding the arts. Our rich heritage and culture is celebrated by Governments and used to attract tourists but dependable jobs for artists and musicians are practically non-existent, our built heritage is allowed to crumble away or be sold to developers and our arts education is disgracefully underfunded. An enshrining of cultural rights would help our arts and heritage to get the support they deserve, would value our traditions and creative expression and would help artists and musicians make a living in Ireland.

The Government has voted against extending maternity leave, improving workers' rights, and giving proper pay to front-line healthcare workers. The Government is failing to take real climate action and give real justice to survivors of institutional abuse. We need stronger rights to prevent these injustices. Recent changes to the Constitution like marriage equality and abortion rights have demonstrated that people are ahead of the Government, in significant numbers, and when we could, we voted to ensure a more progressive and equitable society. When this question is put to the people, it will pass in a similar fashion. Our citizens recognise the importance of rights to housing, healthcare, better working conditions, justice and our cultural identity. These are important rights to ensure we have the type of society of which we can all be proud, where people have a roof over their heads, can earn a fair day's wage and can access healthcare and where music, art and heritage are truly valued. It is up to the Government to allow the people to have this choice. I hope the Government parties respect our citizens and democracy enough to make this happen.

I am sharing time with Deputy Barry. I welcome the Bill and congratulate Deputy Pringle on putting it before the House. The Government amendment is disgraceful. There is no need for an 18-month delay in examining the issues. It could start immediately if it were serious about enshrining this covenant and the rights of people in this country in the Constitution but it is not serious about it and hence the opposition from the Government. It is the same foot-dragging it engaged in when it came to the issue of rights for people with disabilities. Terrified that people might be able to vindicate their rights in courts or ensuring that those rights would be enshrined in the Constitution might mean that people would no longer accept the failure of the State to deliver on the rights in the areas that are mentioned in the covenant such as trade union rights, migrant rights, the rights of asylum seekers or the one aspect I want to focus on, which is housing.

Article 11 of the covenant states: "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family [I have problems with that gender description] including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." It hardly needs to be said, however, that this State has failed to allow its people to access adequate housing. Various Ministers in the past three Governments, from Deputies Kelly, Coveney and Eoghan Murphy to the present incumbent, failed the people of this country. When the history books are written, the current housing crisis will be the single biggest stain on our recent history. The craven facilitation of developers, building interests and financial speculators has resulted in an ongoing nightmare for many thousands of our citizens.

We have the obscenity of people sleeping rough, a scene that has become accepted by us, and the obscenity of rents that are impossible for the average earner to cover. We have the obscenity of the absence of affordable housing or apartments that are semi-permanent features. Minister after Minister comes into this House and waffles about the market, the supply and how their plan will tweak the market and solve the complex problem. The only real housing policy we have had is to bend over backwards for real estate investment trusts, vulture funds, investment firms, developers and speculators and ensure that their profits and wish lists become whatever passes for a housing policy. The results are to be seen everywhere in this State.

I refer to one of the latest obscenities, which is the rash of applications for co-living that were put in before the Minister banned them. He flagged it in October and banned them in December.

In my constituency, the old Player Wills and Bailey Gibson site is one of the biggest such obscenities. That application was lodged well before the issue was flagged up. There is the area of a parking space in a bedroom for co-living. More importantly, we have to look at what being called a strategic development site entails. The definition of strategic housing in the context of a housing crisis should be that it is strategic to build housing that is accessible, affordable and sustainable but this is not. It boosts the profits and returns for developers in order that they have to build high and rent out at very dear costs indeed. It is not strategic or sustainable and it is not right for landlords to build to rent in areas that are not appropriate. This is what the people in the area of Dublin 8 are furious about with regard to co-living. The Player Wills and Bailey Gibson site will rise to a height of 19 storeys and the scale and size of this development is tantamount to a small town. The build to rent model is a business plan, not a plan to deal with the housing crisis.

We will be dealing more with this issue in this House. I thank Deputy Pringle for tabling this Bill. It gives us a chance to show what is wrong with not just the policies on housing but also in respect of workers' rights, migrants' rights and the plethora of areas in which the Government has failed.

Some 136 constitutions globally refer to the right to work. Some 133 included the right to healthcare and 81 include the right to housing. The Irish Constitution refers to the right to private property. This has been used to deny union recognition. One has the right to join a union but not to be recognised. It has been used to weaken anti-eviction legislation and so on. It would be a step forward for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to be inserted into the Constitution. It would not transform Irish society but it would give stronger legal argumentation for those who campaign for these rights. That is precisely the reason Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led Governments over the years have not taken this step.

Last Friday evening at 6 p.m., Deliveroo workers took strike action. These precarious workers are denied guaranteed hours and guaranteed income. They are also denied access to sick pay, holiday pay and pensions. They have taken the first and most important step. They have begun to organise and to feel their own power. I believe they would benefit from this convention being mentioned in the Constitution.

Next Wednesday marks the 300th day of the Debenhams dispute. This week, these workers turned on their phones and televisions to find out that the Debenhams brand has been purchased for €55 million but not a single job is to be saved. It is vampire capitalism. They are campaigning for the €3 million offered to them by the State for upskilling to be converted into cash and made part of a just settlement offer to resolve the dispute. The friends of the Debenhams workers will back this motion in its unamended form and their opponents will not. That, with many other reasons, is a powerful reason to support this motion, which we will do.

Aontú is a left-of-centre Irish republican grassroots movement. We seek a prosperous Ireland where, when one works hard, takes risks and invests time, effort and resources, one receives a fair economic return for that work. We understand that there must be a spark in the economy, an incentive that will drive people to achieve for their family. We also seek a safety net for families with regard to housing, healthcare, education and income when times are tough. We seek a society that is cohesive, which is important to who we are.

Globally and in Ireland there is an increasing shift of wealth into the hands of the few. Unbelievably, 2,153 billionaires across the world hold as much wealth today as 4.6 billion people who make up about 60% of the population of the planet. This is a radical shift and concentration of wealth into the hands of the few. It is a major injustice and a significant destabilising element in societies around the world. Housing is one manifestation of this growing inequality. The provision of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ICESCR, that stood out to me was the comprehensive and substantive right to adequate housing. Inherent in this right are adequate privacy, space, security, lighting, ventilation, basic infrastructure and an adequate location with regard to work and basic facilities, all at a reasonable cost. This seems like a pipe dream in many people's lives in this country. It also entails protections and commitments to eliminate homelessness and to provide safeguards against forced evictions.

A number of weeks ago, I raised the fact, for the first time in this Chamber, that nearly 60 people who were homeless had died in Dublin alone. I also brought the fact that people from outside Dublin who were homeless in Dublin were being refused services and told to go back to their own counties despite the fact that these individuals were told to adhere to Covid regulations and not travel. We saw the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, from Fianna Fáil, appear on "RTÉ Investigates" weeks after that debate in Leinster House and simply shrug his shoulders when confronted with this shocking practice. The Minister promised an investigation into the deaths of those people who died while homeless in Dublin. Where stands that investigation? No information has been circulated in that regard.

We see house prices spiralling again and the building of houses grinding to a halt this year. A whole generation is trapped in spiralling rents. It is amazing that there is a situation in Dublin where the average rent is €2,044. If one is on the minimum wage, one's gross income in a year for a 40-hour week is €3,000 less than the average rent in Dublin, and that is the figure before tax. It is startling.

Yesterday, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland confirmed what people understood to be true. It said that the cheapest accommodation that one can buy in Dublin is €375,000. It indicated that one has to have an income of €100,000, either as an individual or a couple, to get that cheapest housing unit in Dublin. After ten long years under Fine Gael, one has to have an income of €100,000 a year or more if one expects to own accommodation. It is incredible and shocking. It obliterates all the spin about housing that we have heard from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in recent times. It puts into sharp relief the reality of Government policies in these people's lives.

Aontú is committed to justice in the workplace and the right of workers across Ireland to a fair wage for fair work and to allow for decent living conditions. Low pay and precarious work affect the lives of many workers across Ireland. Ireland has many laws about workers' rights but inadequate enforcement of these rights. We need a strong, well-resourced agency to inspect compliance with labour legislation, including practices related to minimum pay, contract work and rights to parental leave and sick pay.

Aontú also believes in self-determination for the Irish people. Self-determination was a key driving force behind the revolution here 100 years ago but Brexit has shown that self-determination of the people in the North of Ireland is still ignored. The Tories took the democratic position of the people in the North of Ireland with regard to Brexit, scrunched it into a ball and threw it into the wastepaper basket. Self-determination is being withheld from the people in the North and there is a debate growing across Ireland about Irish unity. Covid has been another driving force in that debate. The inability of the Administrations, North and South, simply to co-operate for the protection of people's lives has been startling. Despite this debate, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party refuse to remove their heads from the sand in respect of this issue.

Aontú is a pluralist movement built on the philosophy of Wolfe Tone, according to which all citizens have a right to be who they are to the fullest extent, without fear or favour from the State. Ireland is a fiercely orthodox and uniform State. The politics of Ireland has radically changed over the last 30 years, but the intolerance of differing views is as it always was. Establishment Ireland wears the clothes of diversity and declares that all views are welcome on the full spectrum of opinion, as long as they conform with its own views. Group thinking and herd mentality are the curse of Irish society. The credit and property crisis of 12 years ago is the perfect example of this. People who criticised the policies of Fianna Fáil at the time were demonised. Open and respectable debate is critical in rigorously holding the establishment to account. Open and honest debate is not the enemy of a functioning democracy; it is a pivotal part of democracy. This uniformity is not helped by an overly concentrated media market, which is dominated by RTÉ. Shockingly, Aontú is the only political party in this House that supports the universal right to life. It is the only party in the House that believes that everybody has the human right to life and that everyone's life should be protected, even the most vulnerable. Universal means everyone. If a section of humanity is removed from those rights, it is no longer a universal right; it is only a sectional right.

I am delighted that Deputy Pringle has brought this debate to the table. It is an important issue that we must focus on in this time of Covid. While Covid eclipses most other issues currently, due to the enormity of the crisis, there lie dozens of significant crises within society that also need our attention.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this topic. I thank Deputy Pringle and the Independent Group for giving us the chance to do that. Since becoming an elected Member many years ago, the most predominant problem that presents on a daily basis is housing for people. In Kerry there is a great housing department in the local authority, which does its level best to look after those who present for social housing, and continues to do so in tough times when there is little funding. We seem to be doing very well, but funding is an issue all the time. Up here, we continue to fight their case to get more funding. Housing is very important and it is right that people should be housed. We must ensure that people have proper homes to live in and in which to bring up their families.

The other important issue that is causing an awful lot of problems currently concerns medical and health services. As we know, people are being denied services in our county and indeed right around the country. This includes simple procedures such as the removal of cataracts to prevent people from going blind. It is an indictment on the HSE and our health service that we have to take people to the North of Ireland so that they do not go blind and continue to suffer pain. It is like the agony in the garden when they suffer with pain in their hips and knees and so on. It is wrong that people have to wait for years to get simple procedures done. In spite of all the money the HSE gets, it is still unable to provide a proper service.

Work is important. People who want to work should be given the chance to do so. I applaud both small and large employers, who, despite all they have to face, employ people. They are going through a lot just to be allowed to do that. There are so many regulations and rules they must adhere to and the cost of insurance and red tape makes it hard for them to create jobs for people.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this topic. I would like to thank Deputy Pringle and his colleagues for bringing it forward. Many people's human rights and culture are being violated. Sometimes our own culture is being violated in this State and needs looking at. One thing that is for certain is that we must look not the issue of citizenship in respect of those who have come into this country, settled, lived happily and who have worked hard. There is a lack of urgency in the Department of Justice on the issue of citizenship. It is a debacle and it has been handled very poorly. Applicants who have applied for citizenship and have all their paperwork in order still wait years to get citizenship. Some of these applicants are also front-line workers. It is an important point. These people must be treated in a fair manner. It is time for the process to be speeded up for all involved. Surely, in a world where everything is done online, there should be no need for long delays in the processing of applications. I know a significant number of people who are front-line workers and who need their applications processed. Their human rights are being violated to a point because it has been put off for a number of years. These people have helped to save lives in Bantry Hospital and other hospitals throughout west Cork.

Previous speakers raised the housing issue. It is quite serious and it has been neglected. The other day I spoke to a gentleman from Sudan who is living in east Cork. I presume it would be the same no matter who he was. He is living in squalid conditions because he cannot get a house. It is fine to say "Céad Míle Fáilte" to those coming into our country, and then violate their human rights by letting them live in almost squalid conditions. The man I spoke to is desperate to get a home for himself and his children. These are issues that come before us on a daily basis. To be honest, people's rights are being violated. We can touch on the issue of direct provision. I spoke on it last year and there was a lot controversy afterwards. My point was misconstrued, of course, and people made of it what they wanted. There should not a situation in which people come into this country and are treated horribly in direct provision centres. It must be sorted out. People cannot live in the misery that they are currently. I was justified in saying what I did at the time, but nobody wanted to listen.

I would like to recognise and thank Deputy Pringle for providing us with the opportunity to debate these issues. I would like to highlight a specific issue that has not been touched upon yet today regarding people's human rights. I am one person present here, but so far today, I have received three calls on this issue. It concerns a basic human right. People who suffer horrific injuries, whether it is through the likes of a stroke, or through accidents or injuries, might end up needing to avail of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme. I have already asked the Minister why this scheme is not progressing. I will provide an example of the injustices that are done to people. At present, in Ireland, people think that scheme is open. They think that they can fill out the form and apply for the primary medical certificate. However, the truth is that they cannot. If the scheme is going to be suspended, the Government must come out and say that applications will not be processed. It must be open and tell the people that they are stalling that scheme. At the moment, people with serious injuries are waiting. They are trapped in their homes. I spoke to a lady on my way into the Chamber who told me that she cannot physically manage her husband or take him out of the house without the specialised car to which she is entitled.

Her application to the scheme is not being processed.

I want the Minister of State and the Government to tell people why this injustice is being done to them. I am sorry for concentrating on one issue but my colleagues have spoken, rightly, about housing and other issues and I did not want to repeat that. I wanted to deal specifically with this matter. I know Deputy Pringle will not mind me doing so. This is an injustice that affects people's human rights to get out of their homes, to be able to go for healthcare and to be able to travel by means of the specialised vehicles that would have the seats and other adaptations needed for them to travel as a passenger or as a driver. I want the Government to deal with that. When the Minister of State is replying, I want him to be honest, open and forthright and to tell people why those who are ill and those with disabilities are being denied that basic human right. All I am asking is that he tells the truth.

Gabhaim buíochas do gach duine a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo, go háirithe an Teachta Pringle a chur an reachtaíocht seo os ár gcomhair inniu. This is a really important issue. I do not disagree with Deputy Pringle on its importance. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, has set out the ways that we can monitor Ireland's implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as detailing some of the programme for Government commitments that marry with the objectives of Deputy Pringle, the Independent Group and other Members who support this Bill, and for which the Government has to be held to account to ensure we deliver on them. We are determined to deliver on those objectives.

I have looked at the Bill we are discussing today from the point of view of someone who is a solicitor, a parliamentarian, a Member of the Dáil and a Minister of State. Article 45 was very carefully constructed by the former Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, and the drafters of the Constitution and, indeed, it was carefully considered by the Irish people who ratified the Constitution in a referendum. It was carefully constructed in the context of the separation of powers that underpins the Constitution. We have three branches of government and the Judiciary is separate entirely from the Parliament and the Executive. The latter two are of course separate but they are not as separated as the Judiciary is from the rest of us. Article 45's objectives - I will not say prescriptions because that is not what they are - could be called the directive principles of social policy to which we can all subscribe. They are expressly defined in the Constitution as a guide to us in Dáil Éireann and as not cognisable by the courts. There is a good reason for that. What was intended by the framers of the Constitution reflects a belief that decisions on the allocation of finite resources are a matter for this House, comprising the representatives of the people, rather than the courts, because we are answerable to the people for the decisions we make. We are accountable on a regular basis in the Dáil for decisions we made on the spending of people's money.

It is appropriate at this time, in the context of this debate, to reflect on the Government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is worth noting that this response, not just in Ireland but across the western world, has been markedly and welcomely different from the response to the banking crisis ten years ago. The Department of Finance has advised that the total fiscal support provided to date amounts to nearly €38 billion or almost 20% of national income. Ten years ago, the argument was that the support should be given to the banks. There were arguments made that it was necessary to do so. None of us wanted to do it, that is for sure. It is fair to say that the focus now is certainly on the people who have been affected by the pandemic. As a result of this extraordinary level of governmental intervention and stimulus, the end-year Exchequer returns show a deficit of €12.3 billion in 2020. This represents a €13 billion deterioration on the surplus for the previous year. We have a general government deficit of 5.5% of GDP, which is a €21 billion swing from where we were in 2019. A lot of money has been borrowed to keep the show on the road for families and small businesses, in particular, throughout the countries. The situation is difficult and the money provided will never be enough, but the intervention is unprecedented.

As part of budget 2021, the distributional impact of the main tax and welfare measures were estimated and published on budget day, demonstrating that the budget package was broadly progressive. This was a key aim of the Government and certainly a key aim of the Fianna Fáil Party. People in the lowest four income deciles benefited the most as a proportion of disposable income. That is what we wanted. It should be noted that work on equality has been ongoing with the help of the OECD since 2018. It is great that this is firmly on the national and international agenda. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, has shown that Ireland's tax system has done more than any other country in the EU to reduce inequality. That is a fact. People can dispute it if they want but the facts are that we have done more in our tax system to reduce inequality than any other member state.

That is because of all the inequality in our society.

Our inequality levels have reduced thanks to the progressive policies of previous Fianna Fáil Governments. I am glad to see our influence on this Government. We have moved mountains in seeking to help and support the most vulnerable in society.

Health expenditure has amounted to €19.8 billion, including additional funding of €2.5 billion to maximise capacity in the system and allow for the purchase of necessary equipment such as personal protective equipment, PPE. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to routine health services and has necessitated a singular and urgent focus on one priority. However, the winter initiative has seen significant extra resources put into our health services over the winter period. If those resources were not there, services would be in a deeper position of difficulty than they already are because of the pandemic. At the same time that all of this is going on, dealing with a pandemic and trying to make sure we are prepared for winter, work is ongoing to implement Sláintecare reforms this year, with €1.3 billion allocated for that purpose in budget 2021.

Housing is a key issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, referred to the programme for Government commitment to introduce a referendum on housing. The programme also contains a significant number of other housing commitments, including to increase the supply of public, social and affordable homes and to increase the housing stock by more than 50,000. The Government is going to establish a commission on housing to examine issues such as tenure, standards, sustainability and quality of life issues in the provision of housing. Later this year, a fresh housing plan, called housing for all, will be published and I really look forward to that.

I know that the issue of workers' rights is of significant interest to Deputies, including Deputy Pringle, as it is for all of us. Work has commenced on progressing to a living wage commitment as outlined in the programme for Government. I welcome the fact that some companies are already doing that. The Tánaiste has engaged with the Low Pay Commission and with employee and employer representative bodies on this issue and the commission will start work on it shortly. The Government has agreed to introduce a mandatory sick pay scheme, with a general scheme to be published by March and a Bill enacted by the summer. The Low Pay Commission has also been asked to examine the programme for Government commitments on a universal basic income.

In respect of education, the programme for Government's headline vision for education sets out inclusion in, and access to, education as the foundation for a more just and equal society. I am particularly proud of what Fianna Fáil has done in terms of the expansion of education. Éamon de Valera, when he looked at drawing up the Constitution, established primary education as the only socio-economic right that is justiciable. The right to a primary education is not part of Article 45; it is set out in a separate provision and is the only right that is justiciable before the courts. That was relatively unique at the time in Europe and also at a time, let us not forget, when it was not automatic that everybody finished primary school. Donogh O'Malley subsequently brought free second level education into operation. Patrick Hillery's role in education was not only in guidance counselling but also in setting up the regional technical colleges, which became the institutes of technology and are now technological universities or on the way to becoming such.

We need to continue that tradition because the education system is the one sure way out of poverty and the one sure way to help people, and the country, to advance socially. The delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, plan sets out a vision for delivering interventions in the critical area of disadvantage. A total of 887 schools are in the DEIS programme and there is a €125 million spend on it. The decision in the programme for Government to establish the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science should see a new vision, not just for excellence in higher education but for access and inclusion in that excellence.

Throughout the pandemic, work in government has continued on the establishment of a new anti-racism committee. The Department of Social Protection has been provided with €10.4 billion of additional funding in 2020. That is a big sum but it will never be enough. We will always have cases of people who need more, but the State is providing a massive amount and it is up to us to spend it as efficiently as possible to get as much as help as possible directly to the people who need it.

As the programme for Government acknowledges, every citizen has a stake in a strong, responsive social protection system that assists in the cost of raising children, helps those in need or who have fallen on hard times and provides for us in old age.

The Covid-19 emergency has illustrated the resilience and responsiveness of our system. Overall, expenditure in 2020 amounted to €18 billion more than in 2019. This is an extraordinary level of support, and it has been continued into 2021. In the programme for Government, we made a commitment to a post-Covid economic recovery that is fair and balanced, that includes everybody and that prioritises policy actions that protect the most vulnerable.

Our Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights but it does not dictate budgetary priorities; that is why we have elections. The separation of powers allows the Government and Legislature to care for the needs of people in ordinary times and to respond quickly and flexibly in extraordinary times, such as those in which we find ourselves. We should reflect carefully on these matters before eroding the separation of powers and involving the courts in budgetary decisions but I realise these are matters that should and must be open to regular, rigorous and transparent debate. I look forward to that process continuing.

I thank everyone who contributed on Second Stage of my Private Members' Bill, the Thirty-Seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) Bill 2018. As mentioned, this is my third attempt to have this Bill passed by various Dáileanna. I thank all the parties and groups that put forward speakers to debate the Bill and I thank them for their support in this regard. I will deal later with the Government's response to the Bill. I thank my former parliamentary assistant, Councillor Jodie Neary, now of the Social Democrats, who worked diligently on this Bill over previous years. I thank my current staff, particularly Ms Ber Grogan, for the work they have done on my contributions today. I also thank those in my office who have been trying to raise awareness of this important Bill recently. I hope there will be an Uplift petition so the public can get behind an ESC rights campaign in the lead-up to the vote on my Bill. I also hope that the Bill will at least be considered in Government ranks.

There has been so much awful news over the past year, and so much loss, grief, heartache and change, that this initiative would be a wonderfully positive one to introduce. I am not saying the referendum will have to be this year but it should be discussed on Committee Stage and held alongside a referendum on a right to housing in 2022.

During this pandemic, we have seen the importance of, and the strength in, union representation. Some of the industries and services with functioning unions and significant union membership were able to influence the course of action of the Government. Others on the front line, working in some of our supermarkets, may be paid above the minimum wage but they are not allowed to organise. Debenhams workers have been treated atrociously by the Government despite being unionised. This is why the right to organise and join a union of one's choice needs to be a constitutional right.

I want to mention the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In 2011, much fanfare was made of the Government's decision to sign the optional protocol. Much like the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would provide for a complaints procedure for individuals who believe their economic, social and cultural rights have been violated. The Government press release of 5 March 2011 stated the complaints mechanism "is in keeping with the spirit of the many independent complaints, monitoring and inspection bodies that are currently in place in Ireland." The Government stated: "In signing this Optional Protocol, we continue to affirm our determination to achieve full respect for human rights in practice." I despair; I really do. In the case of the UNCRPD, much was made of ratification, but it was decided not to implement the optional protocol because, God forbid, the Government would be held accountable for the promises it made. In the case of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the relevant Government had a photo opportunity and fanfare in New York, but the small print was that "Ratification of the Optional Protocol is a separate step and will be considered in due course." Signing the optional protocol means nothing without ratification. When will this be ratified?

Ireland last undertook a periodic review with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in June 2015. On the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs, there is a list of written responses to questions from that committee "which were unanswered due to time constraints during the third periodic review of Ireland, Geneva, 8–9 June, 2015". A quick scan of the contents page of that submission shows that we have much work to do. Chapters cover access to rural broadband; collective complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights; Magdalen laundries; the national women's strategy; employment legislation; the national minimum wage; exempted categories of employees under the national minimum wage; comparisons between the national minimum wage and the cost of living; zero-hour contracts and temporary and informal contracts; the provision of childcare; corporal punishment of children; positive parenting; the right to education; the intercultural education strategy; Traveller education; diversity of patronage; the admissions Bill; social welfare — decision-making and appeals, including legal representation at appeals; the habitual residence condition and victims of domestic violence; youth unemployment and the Youth Guarantee; poverty trends; mortgage arrears; and child and adolescent mental health services. These all have to be addressed.

In their responses today, both Ministers said there is no real need to proceed as I propose because we are already doing so in Ireland. That is telling. It was stated that the matter of the consideration of economic and social rights was referred to the housing committee but it has not been debated in the past four years. That shows how much the Government prioritises the matter.

The Minister said the Government has already considered the matter fully. The Government responds to the UN committee regularly so there is already full consideration within all Departments. The Departments have to compile the answers as to why they are not complying. Obviously, they are considering the matter and know what it is all about. The Government's response is damning, therefore.

The Minister said the Government considered the question of failures of the Constitution. Maybe that needs to be addressed. Reference was made to how the Constitution already provides for what I propose and it was stated there is a reason the Government did not act on it. However, the Minister's colleague stated the last time this matter was debated that the Government looked to Article 45 of the Constitution because there were objections from businesses regarding inclusion in Article 44. Maybe that shows that our Constitution, as it stands, needs to be examined. If everything is so right and everything the Government has done is so in line with economic, social and cultural rights, why has it a problem with adopting the measure? The Ministers have outlined a whole list of measures that are commendable and work well, yet the Government will not accept that people have a right to have the rights in the Constitution. That is telling in itself.

In 2017, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, who was then a Minister of State in the Department of Health, said "the potential impacts of the Bill are immense and require very careful and informed consideration." That was disingenuous then and it is disingenuous now. Why would the Government have signed the optional protocol in 2012 and why would it have ratified the international convention at all if it was such hassle? The then Minister of State at the Department of Health also said: "As elected representatives, we remain answerable to the people." It is a people's Constitution. Let them have their say. We are answerable to them and they should be given the opportunity to vote on this issue in a referendum. That is the most important thing.

The enshrining of economic, social and cultural rights in our Constitution is something to hope for and to mobilise around, and its possibility allows us to show residents of Ireland that we will have a "new normal", a better normal. We can do it. There just is not the political will to look after our most vulnerable, or there has not been to date. This is an opportunity for members of the Cabinet to vote again to show how they can actually do in government what they did when in the Opposition benches. It is not going to happen, unfortunately. What we need is a change - a complete change.

Amendment put.

Insofar as a vote has been called, the division is postponed until the next voting bloc is agreed. I believe it will be agreed later as part of the Order of Business.