Kelly says Constitution blocked attempts to tackle housing crisis

Minister tells homeless forum political or financial hurdles not most pressing problem

The homelessness forum heard that 80,000 homes were required nationally, 35,000 of them in Dublin. Photograph: Reuters

The homelessness forum heard that 80,000 homes were required nationally, 35,000 of them in Dublin. Photograph: Reuters


The Constitutional protection of private property has blocked several measures to tackle to housing and homelessness crises and must be re-examined, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has said.

He said efforts to protect tenants from eviction, regulate vulture funds and tackle land hoarding were hampered during his 20 months as Minister by legal advice citing Article 43 of the Constitution.

“I was not hampered by political or financial obstacles. I was blocked by the Constitution. From the time it is taking to introduce the vacant site levy to tackle land hoarding, to protecting tenants from eviction in circumstances where their landlord wishes to sell the property, and many other issues, I was repeatedly blocked from making provision for what I believed was the common good by the strength by which property rights are protected under Article 43 of the Constitution,” the Minister told the homelessness forum in the Custom House.

“We need to honestly re-examine the balance between the protected and legitimate property rights of individuals, as property owners, and the wider needs and common good of society, including housing needs. As a society we need to reflect on the desired impact of the Constitution here,” he added.

Article 43 notes the State acknowledges “that man . . . has the natural right . . . to the private ownership of external goods [and] guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property”.

The forum was co-hosted by Minister of State Paudie Coffey. It was attended by NGOs and Oireachtas members and heard presentations from stake-holders including Nama and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive.

‘Not at any price’

Conor Skehan, chairman of the Housing Agency, said 80,000 homes were required nationally, 35,000 of them in Dublin. Some 25,000 per year were needed. Housing supply had to be increased but “not at any price”.

“The goals must be affordable housing – to rent as well as purchase – and sustainable quality housing, in good communities. The benefits of affordability are immense,” he said, in terms of decency, humanity, poverty reduction, international competitiveness and better quality of life and health across society.

Housing need was changing. The population would reach 5.2 million and the older population would double by 2031, he said, while the average household size was diminishing. By 2018, 75 per cent of households would be of three people or fewer.

The greatest emerging demand was for affordable, smaller, quality rental housing.

There were several calls for an audit of the number and location of vacant homes and the reasons they were vacant. Mike Allen of Focus Ireland suggested the Central Statistics Office gather this data while conducting the census this month.

Mr Skehan said 17 per cent – or 340,000 – of the State’s two million homes were vacant. In Dublin the vacancy rate is 7 per cent. In most societies the rate is 3 per cent, he said.

Shane Dempsey of the Construction Industry Federation said there was “two-tier” construction recovery. Office building was booming but residential building remained unattractive. Home unaffordability was limiting the number of potential home buyers, which was affecting developers’ ability to generate funding to build homes.

The average deposit now for a home in Dublin was €51,000. He said 36 per cent of the price of a new house went to government. “We are asking the Government to take a sliver of a number of costs for builders, including VAT and levies.”

Richard Boyd Barrett, TD, from the floor, said the crisis continued because of an “overreliance on the market to deliver a social objective”.