Sir, – It is a real honour for Ireland to take over the six-month presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (News, May 20th).
Ireland was, of course, one of the founders of this postwar organisation, which describes itself as the continent’s leading human right organisation.
The Council of Europe created the European Social Charter in 1961, which it describes as an essential component of the continent’s human rights architecture.
Ireland ratified the European social charter in 1964, and the revised social charter in 2000.
Regular monitoring reports are submitted on how these charter rights are applied in Ireland, in such areas as protection of workers and children, social assistance and healthcare.
Article 16 of the European social charter states that “the family shall enjoy legal, economic and social protection”.
Currently, the Council of Europe has found that Ireland is continuing to breach article 16 in respect of the poor housing conditions of families in Traveller accommodation, and a significant number of families living in State housing.
Since housing is such a significant issues in Ireland, and across Europe, perhaps during this presidency, the Minister might encourage Ireland to ratify article 31 of the revised social charter. This relatively mild human rights article would oblige the State to “promote access to housing of an adequate standard, prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination, and make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources”.
Article 31 has already been ratified by 15 Council of Europe members, such as Ukraine, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and others.
In a response to the Council of Europe last year, Ireland again refused to ratify article 31, on the basis that “the issue of accepting article 31 will be re-examined if and when the constitutional position changes”. However, the Council of Europe has pointed out that the legislative and practical measures, including funding, taken by the Irish authorities to ensure the right to housing now open the possibility for Ireland to accept article 31 of the charter.
So there is a great opportunity now for Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to demonstrate a real commitment to human rights for all during this presidency by ensuring that Ireland respects European social charter rights for families and by ratifying article 31 on the right to housing. – Yours, etc,
Prof PADRAIC KENNA,
School of Law,
of Ireland Galway.