The housing crisis and the Constitution

 

Sir, – Michael Mulvihill (Letters, May 31st) asserts that Ireland should follow the example of Northern Ireland, by setting a compulsory purchase valuation on development land equal to the value of agricultural land plus 50 per cent .

Unlike the United Kingdom, Ireland has a written constitution that enshrines property rights. Article 44 says “the State . . . guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property”, with the caveat that the State “may as occasion requires delimit by law the exercise of the said rights with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good”.

In order to effect a compulsory purchase, the State is thus required to demonstrate that the specific property to be acquired is essential in the fulfilment of a common good, ie that a specific public need exists, that the planned use of the acquired land will satisfy this need, and that there are no other properties available that could suffice. Finally the State has always been required to pay fair market value.

To acquire land for housing is clearly a common good, but to arbitrarily seize any specific parcel of land for the purpose of proving housing would be open to contest, on the basis that many other sites exist that could be purchased in the normal way. In addition, to pay less than fair market price would violate the rights of private ownership.

The Irish Government is restrained from passing any new law that would contravene the Constitution. The only way to change the status quo would be to pass a constitutional amendment giving the Government of the day more power to set rules determining what land may be compulsorily acquired, under what circumstances, and at what price.

Recent proposed amendments to vest more power in government by giving it the right to conduct consequential inquiries, or by abolishing the Seanad, were rejected by voters. Given the obvious possibilities for abuse of power should a government have the right to seize any property at any time, with arbitrary compensation, there is little chance of such an amendment being passed.

Ireland’s situation is unique and complex. We may look outward to other for ideas, but we need to look inward for solutions. – Yours, etc,

JOHN THOMPSON,

Phibsboro,

Dublin 7.