Commission Calls for Constitutional Amendment to Enshrine Economic and Social Rights

Economic Inequality a Barrier to Social Justice, Social Inclusion and Social Cohesion

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has today called on the State to enshrine economic, social and cultural (‘ESC’) rights in the Constitution.

ESC rights relate to fundamental aspects of human life, and they are necessary for people to live and thrive in society. These rights, such as the right to food, housing, social assistance and medical care, are essential to human life and dignity and must be constitutionally protected in the same way as civil and political rights are.

In a policy statement published today, the Commission recommends that a Joint Oireachtas Committee on a Constitutional Amendment for ESC rights be established, with a clear mandate to produce a draft constitutional text for consideration by the Oireachtas.

Explicit constitutional protection ensures that economic, social and cultural rights are taken seriously as core rights concerns, and not treated as lesser than other rights protections.

In particular, ESC rights protect groups at risk of exclusion and marginalisation, such as persons with disabilities, women, lone parents, elderly persons and minority groups. Many of these groups were hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The United Nations has said that the pandemic has made the achievement of ESC rights even more urgent. In addition, many people are facing economic challenges during the current cost-of-living crisis, ESC rights will provide a safeguard for those of us at risk of falling into debt or poverty.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

“Economic inequality has become a defining human rights challenge of our time. It impacts across all levels of society, but has a devastating effect on the most vulnerable members of our communities.

“ESC rights determine a floor below which we will not allow people to fall. The State has a responsibility to makes these rights real through ongoing action by legislators. The addition of Constitutional protection would ensure that they remain constant, and that they cannot be ignored or forgotten.”

Other recommendations include:

  • That the Committee formulate constitutional language that will guarantee justiciable and enforceable ESC rights, while having due regard to the functions of each branch of government;
  • That the constitutional changes suggested by the Citizen’s Assembly on Gender Equality—that Article 41.2 be replaced with a non-gender specific clause that obliges the State to take reasonable measures to support care within the home and wider community—be considered in the context of the addition of ESC rights more generally
  • That any move to insert ESC rights into the Constitution is supported by appropriate policy and statutory measures

The paper can be accessed here: 



For further information, please contact:
Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,
01 852 9641 / 087 468 7760
Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.