Anne Marie McNally: Our Right To Housing


From top: journalist Cathal MacCoille, UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha (centre) and Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, in Buswells Hotel last week at a Simon Communities event, ‘Making the Case for a Right to Housing’; Anne Marie McNally

This day last week I sat in a room in Buswells Hotel and watched one of the most impressive women I’ve come across lately give a presentation (and I come across a lot of impressive women!). That woman was UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Leilani Farha.

Her no-nonsense common-sense presentation highlighted the problems of not only Ireland but of other cities and countries that have also encountered significant difficulties with getting housing policy right.

The difference was, for most of the other cities she spoke of, she was able to give examples of how, by working with her and other agencies, those cities had been able to make progress in dealing with the housing crises they faced.

Ms Farha reminded us that Ireland has signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in doing so we have committed to ending homelessness by 2030. But what strategies are we deploying to achieve this. asked Ms Farha? Or is it yet another EU target which we sign up to but never expect to actually meet-like our climate targets?

Portugal on the other hand, have worked with Ms Farha’s team and have now implemented policies with a goal to eradicate homelessness by 2028- and they’re on track to achieve this.

Other countries and cities are also starting to get things right whereas we continue to spiral. Our homelessness figures continue to rise – despite the cynical manipulation of same by those in power. Housing continues to move further and further from the reach of many people – even those working and earning what could be considered decent wages.

Successive Government policy has tinkered around the edges, never really making the substantive changes required to shift from what has increasingly been a market-led approach to housing; an approach that is obviously failing, to a sustainable system of affordable housing that is accessible to all.

That is why the Social Democrats favour a Right to Housing. As Ms Farha pointed out; there is much confusion over what the term Right to Housing means and in her experience even Governments are confused about the concept.

Those who fear that an equal society will somehow minimise their own privilege reject the concept because ‘nobody should get a house for free’ – as Leo himself actually said in the Dáil chamber during a recent housing debate.

However if those knee-jerk reaction people took their heads from their own arses long enough they might actually see that a Right to Housing does not in fact mean that every Joe Soap can knock on Leo’s door looking for their home.

A Right to Housing enshrined either constitutionally or legislatively simple means that Government housing strategies MUST ensure that there is a wide variety of housing types that are affordable and accessible to all citizens.

In other words, Joe might want a 3 bedroom semi but he doesn’t have a right to one. What he does have a right to is a housing system where he can access the kind of unit he can afford based on his current circumstances. Basically that it is impossible for him to be completely priced out of the housing market.

In that way we move away from the spectre of homelessness hanging over people. How many people do you know who are one or two pay packets from the streets? For me it’s a lot.

And this failure of housing policy is not just costing us socially in terms of the lives we are destroying both now and into the future – over 3,000 children in emergency accommodation living in fear and uncertainty is not the recipe for a healthy next generation of society – but it is costing us economically.

The seminar Ms Farha spoke at was told that in 2017 just over €1 billion (yes, billion) was transferred to private landlords in housing supports. One third of every tenancy in the State is in receipt of a housing support payment.

It makes no sense either socially or economically and yet as a nation we continue to elect Governments that pretend the market will provide the solution to the housing emergency. It never has done in the past, it’s not doing it now and it never will do.

Housing is the number one issue of our time. Ms Farha said she would go as far as to say that it is a more pressing issue than climate because, she said, societies that cannot provide safe and secure housing options cannot be, and are not, sustainable. They will fail.

We are failing and we will continue to do so until we recognise the need to enshrine the Right to Housing either constitutionally or legislatively.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.


21 thoughts on “Anne Marie McNally: Our Right To Housing

    1. Cian

      So what is her the solution? Aside from “make housing a human right”.
      Lots of problems listed. Lots of stories. But how do we fix it? What did they *do* in Barcelona?

      1. Fact Checker

        A rights-based approach to tangible goods is REALLY hard to implement.

        It’s relative simple for something like: “a right to a basic standard of living” because you just give people cash. Which we do.

        But this proposal actually means that everyone would have the right to their own front door, not just shelter.

        It’s really messy to establish criteria too:
        -Does everyone on planet Earth have a right to housing in Ireland? Or just people who’ve been here for a certain length of time? If so, how long?
        -Are you entitled to housing where you grew up and where your friends and family are?
        -Are you entitled to housing once you reach 18? Maybe nice and convenient to college?
        -What standard of housing are you entitled to? How many people per room?

        Simply declaring something a right doesn’t make it any easier or more equitable to deliver.

        1. Fact Checker

          It’s not actually *that* simple.

          Demand will (eventually) expand to fill supply no matter how many houses you build.

          A rights-based approach to housing would mean that private property rights are subservient to the right of everyone to a front door. It means confiscation of property and/or income via more taxes. And redistribution of these resources so that everyone has their own front door.

          This is basically okay with me in principle. I would just like to see a proposal about how it would actually work so we can all vote on it. Unfortunately everyone advocating this approach is REALLY vague on specifics.

          This is as concrete as the article gets: “What he does have a right to is a housing system where he can access the kind of unit he can afford based on his current circumstances.”

          1. Rob_G

            I meant in relation to alleviating the housing crisis generally; I don’t think that a ‘right to housing’ is either workable nor desirable.

  1. Fact Checker

    Housing for everyone could in principle be implemented tomorrow. There are easily ten empty properties in Ireland for every homeless family.

    The problem is acutely local however. Homelessness is concentrated in Dublin and other urban areas. Vacant dwellings are found disproportionately FURTHER from Dublin and other urban areas.

    Would the homeless of Dublin and Cork be happy to see their rights vindicated with the keys to a house on the outskirts of Cappoquin or Kilnaleck?

    I very much doubt it.

  2. Elron

    Is it an Irish right or a human right? Cos if its a human right, there are other places to start first….

    Sometimes its worse than Flann O Brien on here. People seem to think that we are the worsest country in the world by far. Mulally’s diatribe in the Times today is more of the navel gazing entitled rubbish. Travel a bit, in history or geography, and you will learn that life is not the bed of roses you demand it to be. Life is tough, and in that toughness, Irish people are remarkably lucky. We seem to have forgotten the language of gratitude. We seem to be isolated from anyone else experience except our own. The narrow focus is quite worrying actually, or maybe this is just an echo chamber where people come to have themselves and their BS whinging validated.

    1. King Salchichon

      The Closing of the trib was the best thing that ever happened to Una. In the trib she was the rock chick now she’s one of Irelands leading lgbtq spokespeople. She is part of the lgbtq elite.

    2. Junkface

      A lot of Irish people emmigrate because their own country is not financially sustainable, rents are insane and housing standards and sizes are poor. This is not a case of whingeing for the sake of it. Some people do not see any type of future or financial security in staying in Ireland. Our successive Governments have failed miserably in enforcing principles of our constitution. Ireland is also facing a Pension time bomb because a lot of people are living from paycheck to paycheck, what kind of life is that in a supposedly wealthy, western country? The working/ middle class bear the brunt of all of the financial pressures, the political class do not.

      Nowhere is perfect, but Irelands housing crisis is all of its own making, and it is not acceptable.

      1. Spaghetti Hoop

        +1. And I emigrated twice. There is a real inhibitive culture here for one to progress upwards. I am currently working with so many grafters – really hard-working people – who are in that ‘cheap labour’ category, study after work, don’t go on the batter, pay massive creche fees and see no way to buy a small house and garden for their family. I know another man; single parent, regular job but missed payments on his car loan during the recession and now will never get a mortgage due to his credit rating. These people are better off than the homeless for sure, but where is the environment for ALL to progress beyond hand-outs?

    3. Termagant

      So what you’re saying is you don’t have a right to improve your own lot in life if someone else has it worse?

      1. Elron

        Of course you do, but the content peddling of utopia versus reality is either naive or just political rubbish masquerading as self righteous compassion.

        1. Termagant

          But surely utopia’s the goal? Of course we’re going to fall short but that’s the star we should be following. If we aim for “free lovely houses for everybody”, we might get “reasonably priced somewhat nice houses for most people”, if we aim for the much more realistic “overpriced crappy houses for some people” we’ll get nothing.

          1. Milo

            Sounds like a plan. Except we do and it’s not working for anyone except commentators. So either surrender the power needed to enforce if and the money to fund it. Making housing a human right would cause total confusion and even more disappointment. It’s a complete misuse of what a human right is.

  3. Baffled

    If a constitutional “right to housing” was brought in tomorrow then why should anyone with a mortgage keep on paying it?

  4. samwise_gangee

    Homelessness and substance abuse in north america are deeply intertwined and both have ballooned in the last decade – same in Dublin. I recall back in 2008 seeing the sickly gaunt people wandering around Dublin with sleeping bags draped over their shoulders stopping people on Grafton St to ask for “change for a hostel”. There wasn’t as much of it a few years earlier.

    The housing crisis explains an amount of homelessness but drugs are surely the lions share and if so, compulsory rehabilitation programs are the answer here – not “homeless services”. As well intended as they might be, drip-fed homeless services will institute the problem by giving a homeless person just enough to live and another level of dependency, state provision and dis-empowerment.

    The biggest challenge with homlessness is how tight knit tent communties can form around homlessness services. The police tend to be softer when they stay in their designated area – and even then it is only a matter of time before the area is re-zoned and the homeless are moved off to a new patch. Homelessness will always be concentrated, not just because of services, policing and containment but it’s natural that homeless people migrate to milder climes (as they do in Canada – from Alberta, to Vancouver and VIctoria)…so here’s looking at you Dublin.

    I think a lot of people have lofty things to say about ending homelessness all the while, year by year it institutes and normalises itself and our children have to walk past people who are either not there, have done away with shame or have abandoned all hope.

    With that said, it’s not feasible to offer houses to people when you can’t assess how desperate they are for it…it becomes a cruel game that some will play better than others, all the while people are taking out punishing mortgages to own their own homes in the cities.

    The aspects around being 2-3 pay packets from breadline has more to do with job security, rising costs of food, utilities and rent – none of which FG would be too worried about in their disposition. It’s already very hard to start a business in Ireland (that doesn’t involve leeching corporate enterprise in one way or another) and it won’t be long before owning a house something past generations could dream about.

    Leo Varadkar’s Ireland awaits – that means social division softened by Pride parades.

    1. samwise_gangee

      The other aspect and general backdrop is mental health – and gaps in what the govt is willing to put in place for vulnerable people…again, not exactly FG’s strength-area.

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