Families are cast adrift outside the margins of society because there is no right to shelter for homeless children, an independent law centre has claimed.
Mercy Law Resource Centre, an independent law centre providing free legal aid to the homeless, has called for the right to housing in Irish law.
Three separate High Court actions were taken by the centre on behalf of three single mothers and their young children, some of whom had special needs.
The families had been refused access to emergency accommodation by the local county councils.
The courts refused to grant an order compelling the councils to provide emergency accommodation to the women and their children because there is no right to shelter in Irish law.
The centre’s acting managing solicitor, Sinead Kerin, said the cases showed there was no clear right to rely on.
The “fundamental failure” by the State to provide emergency accommodation could not be directly challenged in the courts.
“The gap in the law is clear and established as local authorities have a discretion but no duty to provide emergency accommodation for children in families,” said Ms Kerin.
Mercy Law maintains that a legally enforceable right to housing would not “give a key to a home for all”.
It said a right to shelter would provide “recognition that a home is central to the dignity of each and every person and a foundation of every person’s life”.
Last year, Mercy Law carried out more than 2,722 pieces of legal work for 611 clients.
“Every week in our clinics we meet families who are deeply distressed and are cast adrift outside the margins of society,” said Ms Kerin.
“Some families we meet are roofless and living in their cars, vans or tents. These include families with young babies.”
Ms Kerin said they regularly meet families who were refused access to emergency accommodation because there was simply no room for them.