The human rights of local authority tenants and of Travellers continue to be violated by inadequate housing and housing that is damp, mouldy and rat-infested, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) will warn on Wednesday.*
The ECSR, part of the 47-nation Council of Europe, will say “local authority housing tenants continue to live with inadequate housing” while many Traveller sites “are in poor condition, lack maintenance and are badly located”.
The comments are included in the committee's observations on Ireland's progress towards compliance with the revised European Social Charter. Ireland ratified the charter in 1964, and the revised charter in 2000.
The Council of Europe body had ruled – in 2015 in the case of Travellers and again in 2017 in the case of local authority tenants – that Ireland was in breach of article 16 of the charter which says “the family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development”, including the “provision of family housing”.
In the cases of both groups, the committee will say their situation “has still not been brought into conformity with . . . the charter”.
Rulings from the committee, which monitors compliance, are regarded as legally binding on states though not justiciable in domestic courts.
Their main power is in the “peer-pressure” they put on States and most, including Ireland, are reluctant to be seen to ignore them.
The latest "observations" are published alongside those for seven other EU states, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, France and Portugal with the article 16 rights of Travellers, Roma or Sinti communities found to be violated in every country except Finland.
The committee says though there has been “progress” in the provision of Traveller accommodation in Ireland, “there is still a substantial shortfall”.
It cites evidence from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on the disproportionately high number of Traveller families homeless, "with Traveller children comprising 12 per cent of the homeless children residing in emergency accommodation despite Travellers only comprising 1 per cent of the population".
The committee notes legislation permits local authorities to evict Traveller families knowing they have nowhere else to go and that families have no right to legal aid when threatened with evictions.
The legislation “fails to provide for consultation with those affected and also does not ensure reasonable notice of and information on the eviction”.
On local authority housing, the committee says there has been progress on improving conditions, including through increased retrofitting and regeneration schemes but “substantial limitations” remain to the provision of “adequate accommodation to a large number of families who continue living in substandard local authority housing”, it says.
It notes the submission from Community Action Network, an NGO which supported local authority tenants in Dublin, Cork and Limerick to take their case to the committee, which said responsibility for adequate social housing could not be laid solely at the door of local authorities.
“It is for the State to undertake general supervision at national level to ensure in a consistent manner that all local authority dwellings across Ireland are of adequate quality,” it says.
“The legal framework for the right to housing for families in Ireland is insufficient, local authority housing tenants continue to live with inadequate housing standards and there are no national statistics on the conditions of local authority housing stock.”
Right to strike
Meanwhile, the committee also found in its report that Ireland was still not in compliance with provisions of the European Social Charter in relations to industrial relations issues for the Garda and Defence Forces including the right to strike.
It said it had found in previous years that Ireland had violated the charter on the basis that organisations representing gardaí were not allowed to join national employees’ organisations, having the factual effect of depriving them right to negotiate on pay, pensions and service conditions represented by national organisations and separately that there was a ban on the police taking strike action.
The report said the Government had told the committee that as of October 2019, the An Garda Síochána representative bodies “continue to have full and equal access to national public service pay negotiations”. It said the Government maintained that following changes to legislation the representative bodies now had access to the services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Labour Court to resolve collective issues.
“In spite of the progress, the legislative changes announced have not yet been implemented and are still under development. Therefore, there are still restrictions in allowing An Garda Síochána to fully participate in negotiations regarding its services and they are not provided with a means to effectively represent their members in all matters concerning their material and moral interests,” the committee said.
“Moreover, as stated by the Government’s report, the domestic legislation still prescribes to a complete abolition of the right to strike as far as the police is concerned.”
*This article was edited on March 24th, 2021