Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I wish to share time: eight minutes for myself, seven minutes for Deputy Bríd Smith and five minutes for Deputy Coppinger.
It is a shameful decision of the Government to decide not to support a Bill to insert the right to housing into the Constitution. In doing that, the Minister is ignoring the views of the Simon Community, Fr. Peter McVerry, the Children's Rights Alliance, the Mercy Law Resource Centre and the Constitutional Convention which voted, by 84%, to insert the right to housing into the Constitution. It appears, in the face of the worst housing and homelessness emergency in the history of the State, an emergency generated by six years of failed misguided policies by Fine Gael-led Governments, that the Minister knows better than Simon, Fr. Peter McVerry, the Children's Rights Alliance, all the housing NGOs and, indeed, the Constitutional Convention.
Even the Taoiseach's new best pal, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, is about to bring forward a right to housing into Canadian law. Some 81 other countries in the world have it but the Irish Government, in the face of a catastrophic housing emergency, will not put a basic right to secure, affordable, dignified housing into the Constitution so that it is a right of every resident of this country to have a home and, as our Bill proposes, that it should be a requirement and an obligation on all Governments to vindicate that right to housing through the allocation of resources and through their policies. The Government has set its face against that. It seems, rather than establish the right to housing which we so desperately need, the Minister wants to bury it in another committee and reject the advice of those who know and who are working on the front line.
I want to make clear that neither I nor anyone who advocates inserting the right to housing into the Constitution believes it is the panacea for all aspects of this current crisis. We have been saying to Fine Gael since 2011 that the answer to the housing crisis, that we could see was even building up at that point, is: to have an emergency programme of public housing construction; to have used compulsory purchase powers to get hold of vacant properties and building land that is being hoarded for use for public and affordable housing; to use NAMA as a vehicle to deliver social and affordable housing using its land, its assets and its cash; to stop all economic evictions and repossessions; to guarantee security of tenure to people privately renting; and to introduce effective rent controls that actually ensure affordable rents. For seven years we have been saying this. For seven years this Government and the previous Fine Gael-led Government ignored this advice and did exactly the opposite. It abandoned the construction of council housing and used NAMA to flog off tens of billions of euro worth of land, housing and assets to vulture funds which are now evicting people. The Government has allowed economic evictions to continue unabated, mortgage repossessions to happen in huge numbers, and rents to spiral out of control and beyond the affordability of large numbers of our citizens. The Government has done all of these things in the face of a growing crisis and against the pleas of those involved in housing and, indeed, ourselves and others in the Opposition.
Those are the measures necessary. However, in addition, everybody who works in this area has said inserting the right to housing into the Constitution would make a substantial difference. The Mercy law centre states:
A right to housing in the Constitution would mean that the courts could look at the State decision or policy as to whether it was 'proportionate' by reference to that right. It would mean that Government and State policies and actions would have to respect the right. Legislation and policy would have to be "proofed" to ensure they reasonably protect the right to housing. It would mean that the policies in relation to housing and homelessness could not be a political whim but would have this grounding, this obligation to respect the right to housing.
Had that been in the Constitution since 2011, the Government could not have made the desperate mistakes that it has made and we would not be in the mess that we are currently in. There is no case for not supporting this Bill.
I really have to ask what the Government has got against rights for citizens. For that matter, if Fianna Fáil does not back the Bill, I will ask its Deputies the same question. The Government will not ratify the rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It does not want to give women the right to control their own bodies, their own fertility and their own medical treatment. It does not want to give people the right to housing.
As much as Fianna Fáil's Deputies praise the European Union, for instance, they will roll out the red carpet for Mr. Verhofstadt tomorrow and they are always talking about how they love the European Union, when the European Union proposes rights they want nothing to do with them. For example, in 2000 the European Social Charter proposed a right to housing. Ireland sought an opt-out. That was Fianna Fáil. I am not sure whether Fine Gael raised objections at the time. Why did we specifically opt out of the European charter obligation on the right to housing? Of course, the answer is because at every hand's turn they have protected the interests of developers, speculators and vulture funds instead of vindicating the rights of citizens to a secure, affordable roof over their head, and we are in a mess because of it. Will the Minister please change tack and, as a first step, support this Bill and change the Constitution to establish that right to housing in law?