Legal case for the common good when it comes to a right to somewhere to live

Published date05 March 2022
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
During often ill-tempered Dáil exchanges in January about the exit of small landlords from the market, Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien told Sinn Féin TD, Eoin Ó Broin: "The property rights of owners are protected under the Constitution."

They are, but up to a point. The Constitution gives major protections to property owners, but it also allows property rights to be curtailed for the common good and gives the Oireachtas considerable latitude "to regulate and organise a modern economy".

That is clear from an important 2014 judgment in Rafferty v Minister for Agriculture - a case taken by a Cooley Peninsula sheep farmer whose herd was culled during the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis - delivered by the man who is now the Chief Justice, Donal O'Donnell.

That's according to the authors - four constitutional law experts, of whom one, Gerard Hogan, is now a Supreme Court judge - of the latest edition of the seminal work on fundamental law here, Kelly: The Irish Constitution.

"The popular conception to the contrary is a pure myth," the authors say. If it were otherwise, they add, then the dramatic actions taken during the economic crisis a decade ago - such as cutting public service pay - "would instantly have been found to be unconstitutional".

The housing crisis has intensified demands that the Government should take similar radical action now, such as freezing rents, given that average monthly rents in Dublin are now €1,916, and approximately €1,114 outside Dublin, according to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) figures.

One of those affected is Nikayla Tucker, a junior civil servant, who is staying with a family member in Portlaoise, the closest she could get to Dublin. Slowly returning to work in the office, she wants to live and work in the city.

"It's just chaos out there. If I don't get a place to live in Dublin soon, at a reasonable rent I can afford, I'll be forced to emigrate like my older sister's generation did in 2008," she said. "All my friends are there, I want to join them."

Nikayla and a friend together looked for a two-bedroom flat. Meeting no success, they looked separately: "Single bedrooms, boxrooms were anything from €500 to €800 a month.

"People my age, we can't start our careers, our working lives and be contributing citizens because our basic needs are not been met. We are in limbo, I have friends in their 30s who are in the same position as they were 10 years ago."

Rent costs, along with rising inflation, especially energy, are...

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