No constitutional change on property rights planned, Varadkar says

Taoiseach disputes claim constitutional protection prevented action on homelessness

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: said any proposal to remove property rights involved taking things away from people. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: said any proposal to remove property rights involved taking things away from people. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Government has no plans to change the Constitution to amend the provisions protecting property rights, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

In a reply to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall, Mr Varadkar endorsed the Constitution’s defence of property rights and disputed the idea that they prevented action on homelessness.

The protections of property rights contained in article 43 of the Constitution have been cited by campaigners as a barrier to some measures to relieve the housing crisis.

Article 43 acknowledges citizens’ property rights should be regulated by the principles of social justice, meaning the State may pass laws limiting the right to private propety in the interests of the common good.

“I dislike the term ‘property rights’,” Mr Varadkar said. “It implies that properties have rights. Properties do not have rights; individuals have rights. If one owns a farm, one has a certain right to deal with that farm, manage it and do what one likes with it. If one has a business, one has certain rights over that business.

“If one has a home, one has a right to live in it. Of course, if one has an investment property and it is one’s pension, one has certain rights to it too,” he said.

Detrimental impact

Ms Shortall said that “in the main, the courts have found in favour of the upholding of private property rights or else have ruled that the State must pay prohibitive levels of compensation. The impact of article 43 has been most profound and most detrimental in respect of the provision of housing.

“Successive Ministers with responsibility for housing have claimed that article 43 significantly restricts the capacity of government to introduce key measures to deal with the housing crisis,” she said.

However, Mr Varadkar said any proposal to remove property rights involved taking things away from people.

“When we talk about diluting or removing property rights, we should not make the mistake of thinking we are removing rights from properties; we are removing rights from people,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I would like to understand better from those who advocate diluting those rights exactly which individual rights they want to take away from which individual people – specifically what and why.”

Ms Shortall accused the Taoiseach of being “only interested in the rights of people who have property, not the rights of other people who are on the housing waiting lists, who are homeless and so on.

“One would have to ask how many homeless does it take for the Taoiseach to recognise the obstacle that is article 43, and it is most profound, obviously, in regard to housing.”

However, Mr Varadkar insisted that many actions to relive the housing crisis had been taken, notwithstanding the protections in article 43.

“The protection of property rights in the Constitution can actually be overegged,” he said. “We have a vacant site levy. We brought that in notwithstanding property rights, and it is now in place. We have brought in the rent pressure zones, putting caps on rent increases. Again, some people said that was a violation of property rights but it turned out it was not. It is also the case that local authorities can use CPOs [compulsory purchase orders] to CPO vacant properties.”