UN Special Rapporteur: Having no home is ‘a human rights violation’

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A United Nations special rapporteur has said homelessness is a human rights violation amid calls for a constitutional right to housing in this country.

Leilani Farha, the UN special rapporteur for adequate housing, also suggested the Government needed to do much more to tackle the issue of homelessness here. The most recent figures published by the Government showed in April there were 9,652 people in emergency accommodation, including 3,689 children.

Ms Farha made her comments at the launch of a new paper by the Simon Communities entitled Making the Case for a Right to Housing in Ireland, and a call from the organisation’s spokesperson for a broader conversation on enshrining housing rights in the Irish Constitution.

The UN rapporteur was one of the speakers at the event, alongside Emily Logan, the Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and others.

Ms Farha said: “Homelessness is a human rights violation and needs a human rights response.

She also said homelessness was “an assault on human dignity” that “puts one’s life in the balance” and should trigger a human rights concern.

Speaking at an event in Dublin hosted by the Simon Communities of Ireland, the UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing queried how Ireland was going to meet its international human rights commitments when it is on such “an unsustainable path”.

Ms Farha said she fully endorsed the paper, Making the Case for a Right to Housing in Ireland as she claimed that, without legislation and a strategy that gives it meaning, “Ireland will not move forward in a rights compliant way”.

She said the current situation here was tragic, but one that could be solved, claiming that an unregulated private sector had been filling the void left by governments, including international investors who, she said, were “profit motivated, not tenant motivated”.

She said the legislative or a constitutional right to housing was “a good starting place”.

Niamh Randall, national spokesperson for the Simon Communities, said it was now time for a national conversation on the right to housing in Ireland.

Niamh Randall of the Simon Community
Niamh Randall of the Simon Community

With record numbers trapped in emergency accommodation, on the social housing waiting lists and experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’, it is clear the current approach to housing is not working,” she said.

“A right to housing is not about the State ensuring home ownership for all. This is an unrealistic expectation and a soundbite often used by those who wish to undermine progress on this issue. A right to housing would provide a ‘floor’ in respect of access to adequate housing for all, obliging the state to reasonably protect and fulfil that right.

“In 2014, the Constitutional Convention recommended the inclusion of legally enforceable socio-economic rights in the Constitution including the right to housing. In 2017 the Right to Housing Bill sought to insert a right to housing into the Constitution by amendment to Article 43.

“The bill was defeated in the Dáil but referred for further consideration to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. Today we call on this committee to consider the provisions of this bill urgently making recommendation to Government.”

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