Homelessness campaigner wants ‘right to a home’ vote

MacGill: Sister Stanislaus says playing market with people’s housing needs ‘indecent’

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy called for a referendum to enshrine the right to a home in the Constitution. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy called for a referendum to enshrine the right to a home in the Constitution. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times


Homelessness campaigner Sister Stanislaus Kennedy has called for a referendum to enshrine the right to a home in the constitution.

Speaking at the MacGill summer school in Glenties, the founder of Focus Point, now Focus Ireland, said that if housing policy was to be sustainable and to contribute to social justice, “it must be based on a recognition that a home is a human right and not a commodity on the free market”.

“ Access to adequate housing is fundamental to survival and one of the foundational rights without which all other human rights are meaningless. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966 places adequate housing, along with food and clothing, as the cornerstone of an adequate standard of living,” she said.

Last year the Constitutional Convention recommended that the right to a home should be included in the Constitution.

“We are now calling on the government to put this to the people in a referendum,” Sister Stanislaus said.

“As we look towards the centenary of our independence, we have a lot to be ashamed about. We have allowed our people’s most basic requirement — a place to call home, a place where they can live their lives and bring up their children in security, privacy and safety — to become a debased currency.

“ We have played the market with people’s basic human needs. This is nothing short of indecent.”

She said we had not always behaved like this as a nation.

Addressing Friday’s session on housing policy, economist Dr Ronan Lyons said Ireland lacked a coherent social housing system. He said rezoning an industrial estate near Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin could provide about 10,000 homes, or over a year’s supply for the capital.

In a country with a sensible land-use policy, the Dublin Industrial Estate “would have been rezoned a generation ago for residential purposes”.

“The site is beside rail and bus connections, good roads, schools and urban green space. Somewhat astoundingly, the new cross-city Luas will have its terminus here, in a half-used industrial estate.

“With hundreds of thousands of vacant square metres of industrial space across the city, back of the envelope calculations suggest that, as industrial land, the site is worth practically nothing – but as residential land, suitable for perhaps 10,000 homes or over a year’s supply for the capital – it would be worth up to €3 billion.”

Dr Lyons said that nowhere were the cruel effects of good intentions in relation to housing policy more obvious than in the removal of the bedsits.

“We can of course debate some other time whether 30-square-metre accommodation should be illegal or not – but I think ejecting a vulnerable group from their accommodation, when it was obvious to all that there was nothing for them to move in to, has been a major factor in Dublin’s growing homelessness crisis.”

Dr Lorcan Sirr, lecturer in housing at Dublin Institute of Technology said the “hands-off, leave-it-to-the-market” approach to housing no longer worked.

A housing policy needed to be a plan for say 100 years and needed to anticipate where and in what properties the average Irish person would be living in thirty years, how much of their salary they would be paying for housing, and the security they would have, whether renting or owning.

But he questioned whether we had the “political bottle” to develop a housing policy that would last longer than five years and that would efficiently deliver affordable and accessible housing for Ireland for the next 100 years.