Housing, homelessness and extreme poverty crises violate economic, social and cultural rights in Ireland, Commission reports to UN

State must move away from viewing rights as charitable, discretionary and commodities, and progress a rights-based model

A paradigm shift is needed in the State’s approach to economic, social and cultural rights (’ESC rights’) if it is to eradicate poverty, build up public service provision, and better respond to the needs of structurally vulnerable communities, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has stated in a report to the UN.

The Commission submitted its report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (‘the Committee’) as part of Ireland’s fourth periodic review and ahead of an oral dialogue between the Committee and State representatives in February, in which the Committee will assess compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

In our parallel report, we express our concern about the overall trajectory of ESC rights in Ireland, despite the country’s economic development since the last periodic review in 2015. In particular, we note the State’s continuing failure to address the root causes of the enduring crises in health, housing, poverty and the cost of living with forward looking, innovative and sustainable solutions, resorting instead to short-term, emergency and temporary measures.

The inadequacy of the State’s response to these systemic inequalities impacts Ireland’s resilience in the face of emerging challenges such as climate change and AI, while also fuelling division and political polarisation, and negatively impacting social cohesion.

Poverty, social exclusion and inadequate accommodation are at the core of ESC inequality in Ireland, particularly affecting the right to an adequate standard of living. Many in our society lack the basic resources to live with dignity, despite broader economic prosperity at the national level.

We recommend that the State develops a strategy and implementation plan on poverty reduction which embraces a human-rights approach with ambitious targets, accompanied by an independent monitoring and evaluation framework with clear institutional accountability. In addition, strategic approaches to poverty alleviation should consider the effects of the social protection system, low-paid and precarious work, financial exclusion, and socio-economic discrimination and include actions to dismantle these and other poverty traps.

We also recommend a transformation in the stigmatising discourse around social welfare, including by politicians and public officials that frames its receipt as ‘charity’ as opposed to an entitlement and a right.

Social exclusion is another product of consistent violations of a range of ESC rights affecting both urban and rural communities. The lack of adequate public transport links, common recreational spaces and quality public services has led to alienation disproportionately experienced by structurally vulnerable groups, while creating circumstances where community division and mistrust can flourish. We recommend investment in rural public transport to connect people to employment, education, public services and amenities together with investment in community interventions and public spaces to protect cultural rights, facilitate a cohesive society and combat social isolation.

On housing, we highlight the alarming lack of progress in almost all of the recommendations that the Committee made on housing in 2015, such as improving the accessibility, affordability and quality of housing. This has caused and continues to cause serious deprivation for many, including members of structurally vulnerable groups.

We report our concerns on the chronic undersupply of housing in the market, the unprecedented levels of homelessness, the persistent issues securing the right to culturally appropriate and quality accommodation for structurally vulnerable groups and the high levels of institutionalisation in Ireland.

To address these concerns, we recommend that there should be a significant scaling up supply of public and social housing to match current and future need, and also that a referendum should be held, proposing the insertion of the right to housing into the Constitution, extended to all persons to establish minimum core obligations.

To drive real progress on ESC rights, we recommend that the State takes a more strategic approach to reform, one that prioritises sustainable, transformative investment in public services, funded through equitable, progressive and fair tax policies. This includes growing the tax base, generating greater revenues and considering the introduction of a wealth tax.

Noeline Blackwell, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Member,

“Our polling shows that 85% of people believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of who you are or where you come from. Despite this, our submission confirms that in terms of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Ireland is moving in the opposite direction.

There are no simple or piecemeal solutions to creating a fairer and more equal Ireland. Progress will rely on a whole effort from the State, through committed investment, strategic and structural reform, and rigorous implementation.

It requires leadership and brave decision-making that acknowledges the lack of progress made so far, the multigenerational, intractable nature of many of the issues raised and a determined ambition to materially improve the situation of many in our country that suffer inequality in all its forms.”



Notes for Editors:

You can read our full Submission to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Ireland’s fourth periodic review, and the Executive Summary by following these links:

Additional Recommendations include:

On Health

The Irish healthcare system has severe capacity issues at every level, resulting in shortages in primary, community and hospital care, in- and outpatient appointments, scheduled procedures and emergency services.

The State is failing to allocate resources in a way that ensures the availability of services as of right, rather than contingent on ability to pay. The result is a system in crisis, with concerning health inequalities for lower income households and structurally vulnerable groups.

The Commission recommends that

  • The State renews its commitment to the timely implementation of Sláintecare, including through significantly increasing public spending to meet the required levels for long-term reconfiguration of the healthcare system and to end disproportionate reliance on private healthcare services.
  • The whole-of-government and social determinants approach envisaged by the National Traveller Health Action Plan is adequately implemented through assignment of actions across relevant departments and includes regular progress reports.
  • The State provides a precise timeline on implementation of both operational and legislative recommendations of the Review Group of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.
  • The proportion of the overall health budget spent on mental health funding is significantly increased to match need, ring-fenced to protect resourcing in successive budgets and re-oriented towards human rights based provision.
  • The State addresses the mental health needs of structurally vulnerable groups, including through identifying and responding to root causes, streamlining access to services and providing cultural competence training to all staff.

On Civil Society Participation and Community Development

Reflecting the failure of the State to provide many essential public services, civil society organisations play an expansive role in ensuring access to ESC rights in Ireland. While the State repeatedly highlights the critical contribution of civil society at an international level, it has recently withdrawn funding support for Irish civil society organisations to attend UN State reviews.

Community development work is also a vital tool in the protection of ESC rights, involving the application of principles of participation, capacity building and collective decision-making to achieve long-term, sustainable social change and inclusion. However, we are concerned that the increasing responsibility of community and voluntary sector organisations for the provision of basic services such as food banks, hospice care, early childhood care and education and disability support is eroding the essential function of this work.

The Commission recommends that

  • Core, multi-annual, ring-fenced and autonomous funding is made available to civil society organisations, which ensures decent work and adequate wages for staff and builds capacity to meet increasing need for advocacy and services.
  • The State supports the establishment and work of local and national Disabled Persons’ Organisations, including through increasing and reorienting funding to allow for the genuine inclusion of disabled people.
  • The State ceases its reliance on the community and voluntary sector to provide for basic needs and alleviate the key failings of public service provision. Such organisations should be adequately supported to carry out the advocacy, participation and social inclusion functions which are central to their mandate.

On emerging and critical human rights issues

The Commission recommends that

  • The State implements robust oversight mechanisms to ensure that AI technologies are developed and used in a way that is human rights compliant, protects democracy, and avoids discrimination, bias, and harmful consequences for structurally vulnerable groups and wider society.
  • The State mobilises the maximum available resources through domestic and EU financing mechanisms, green budget tagging, and fair taxation, to protect against all current and foreseeable climate related harms and provide effective remedies for environmental injustices.
  • Robust and mandatory human rights due diligence legislation is introduced, which includes the full value chain of all companies and environmental protections within its scope, prioritises transparency in reporting, and ensures effective sanctions and enforcement.
  • The State progresses the recommendations of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare to grow the tax base and generate greater revenues to ensure the long-term sustainability of public finances.
  • The State considers introducing a tax on wealth and carries out an equality-based review of tax expenditures with a view to significantly limiting their scope and number.

For further information, please contact:

Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8592641 / 087 4687760


Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

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.