I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
(a) a Special Committee be appointed to form the Joint Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) Rights;
(b) the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, copies of which were laid before Seanad Éireann on 30th March 2014, including its recommendations in relation to the right to housing, be referred to the Special Joint Committee, which shall review the report and consider the implications arising in terms of balance of rights, good governance (including the separation of powers) and resource prioritisation;
(c) that an appropriate opportunity be provided, in due course, for Seanad Éireann to consider the report of the Special Committee;
(d) the Committee shall not exceed 6 members of Seanad Éireann;
(e) four shall constitute a quorum of the Joint Committee;
(f) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order 80, the Committee shall elect one of its members to be Chairman, who shall have only one vote;
(g) the Cathaoirleach shall announce the names of the members appointed under paragraph (d) for the information of the Dáil on the first sitting day following their appointment; and
(h) the Joint Committee shall have the powers defined in Standing Order 71.
Tréaslaím leis an obair atá curtha i gcrích ag Tionól na Saoránach leis an tuairisc seo a chur le chéile. Taispeánann sé go bhfuil an pobal féin i bhfad chun tosaigh ar an Rialtas agus ar na húdaráis sa gcaoi is go ndíríonn siad ar na cearta daonna a bhaineann le tithíocht, teanga, cultúir agus go leor eile nach iad. I dtuairim Shinn Féin, ní chóir go mbeadh an coiste airgeadais á bhreithniú. Is cúis leis an gcoiste seo féachaint ar chúrsaí airgeadais le súil ar chiste an Stáit. Tá muid ag plé anseo, áfach, le ceart bunúsacha an duine, nach féidir luach a chur orthu. Mar sin, ba chóir coiste speisialta ar leith a bhunú a bheadh in ann na finnéithe agus na saineolaithe cuí a ghairm chuige chomh maith le foireann taighde agus riarachán feiliúnach don ábhar a phléifear ann.
We welcome the fact this report is finally being discussed. We want to see social, economic and cultural rights enshrined in the Constitution. We note that there has been a particular emphasis placed on the right to the housing recommendation made by the convention. However, Sinn Féin feels it is inappropriate for the report to be discussed solely by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. We believe such a move would bring a disproportionate focus on resource allocation, rather than a wider debate on people's rights.
The finance committee naturally has an eye on balancing the books for the State. We have no problem with the finance committee being among a number of committees considering the matter. However, that is not the approach the Government and Fianna Fáil have proposed. Sinn Féin calls for a special committee to consider the report as the measure will allow a better balance of skills and perspectives to consider the eighth report in an appropriately wide context. This committee could call upon staff, witnesses and experts suited to the myriad of areas covered by the report.
The finance committee has already considered housing at the level of institutions, lending institutions and housing co-operatives. All of this has been done in the overall budgetary context. We need a rights-based context as we trawl through the report.
The finance committee is also one of the busiest committees in these Houses. It already has quarterly engagements with the pillar banks and it has a programme of work set out for the months ahead. There is no way the committee can dedicate the time needed to consider the many recommendations contained in the report. Too much work has been put into the Constitutional Convention to see it wasted by hasty consideration by an unsuitable committee.
I agree with many of the points that have been raised. The fundamental issue that we are discussing here is where is the best place in these Houses to make sure that we have the debate that Senator McDowell has called for so that he would get an opportunity to raise his issues. We must also ensure that we get a balance of witnesses in these Houses to discuss his issues. We believe that the finance committee is already overburdened. We have seen great examples in this House where Senators have had an option to debate issues such as mental health and bring in witnesses to discuss the different ramifications. Today's report is very broad and covers all of the different rights. The convention was heavily in favour of rights related to housing, social security, essential health care, the rights of people with disabilities, linguistic and cultural rights and rights covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. My party and I believe that it would be a fundamental mistake to consider the report merely from economic or financial perspectives. Even though we respect the will and right of the convention to come forward with proposals, the role of this Parliament should not be diluted when it comes to discussing these issues.
Members of these Houses have been elected by the people to discuss issues of extreme importance. A sub-committee is considering how the eighth amendment to the Constitution can be dealt with. These changes are equally important and equally as fundamental and that is why we need to consider the report.
The report states that to some degree in Ireland: "ESC rights are protected generally by means of legislation, including employment law, housing law, social security and social assistance (social welfare) law." It continued:
Legislation can be easily amended, or administrative practices changed, to reduce or remove particular ESC rights. With legislative protection of ESC rights, in times of perceived crisis, the ESC rights of particularly vulnerable people, the elderly, disabled people, single parents and children growing up in poverty, can be subject to reduction or withdrawal.
That is why I would like to hear from witnesses acting on behalf of groups such as the disabled, single parents and children growing up in poverty. Some of the biggest critics of the budgetary decisions that were made yesterday were people who represent people with a disability, and dealt with issues around housing and lone and single parents, etc.
Let us consider economic rights. People in direct provision have made a case for the right to work. The economic rights in the Constitution show that individuals have a right, for example, to join and participate in a trade union but there is no obligation on the State or employers to recognise trade unions.
As I have stated here on many occasions, people who work in the hospitality sector are discouraged from joining unions. There are major issues and abuses of rights of people who work in the hospitality sector. That is one of the reasons Sinn Féin has called for the 9% VAT rate not to be left as it is because many hotels and businesses are making a handsome profit that is not being passed on to workers. This is not just a purely economic area.
In terms of social rights, there are issues with social security and social assistance payments. The report states:
Certain social assistance payments exist that could be viewed as protecting the family, including one parent family payment, family income supplement and child benefit. Irish housing law provides a system for determining who is entitled to social housing, although there is not enough social housing to meet overall need. Irish law provides for tenant and landlord protections in terms of their mutual rights and obligations.
The report is far broader than just financial issues that would arise at a finance committee. We need a joint committee that will go into detail about these issues, invite witnesses to attend and allow Members from both Houses of the Oireachtas to tease out the issues. I call on all Senators who favour democracy and debate to support the amendment that we have brought forward.