Human Rights and Equality Commission Responds to European Committee on Social Rights Finding Against Ireland on Social Housing - IHREC - Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

Human Rights and Equality Commission Responds to European Committee on Social Rights Finding Against Ireland on Social Housing

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) notes that a significant decision today in a legal case on the quality of social housing in Ireland raises serious concerns in relation to Ireland’s social housing provision, and requires urgent action by the Government and Local Authorities.

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) found a violation of  human rights in relation to the stated failure to take sufficient and timely measures to ensure the right to housing is of an adequate standard for families living in Local Authority housing.

The ECSR found that the presence of sewage, contaminated water, dampness, and persistent mould raised ‘serious concerns’ for habitability. It particularly noted ‘the high number of residents in certain estates in Dublin complaining of sewage invasions (for example the Dolphin House complex) years after the problems were first identified’.

Within the complaint, tenants also raised the need for an independent complaints body separate to complaints made to the Local Authority in its role as landlord. The ECSR further found that assessments of the conditions of local housing are carried out at ‘considerable intervals’ with the last being in 2002, and that ‘no national timetable for the refurbishment of local authority housing stock exists’.

The ruling was made by the European Committee of Social Rights, the Council of Europe’s counterpart for economic and social rights to the European Court of Human Rights, in a class action by tenants of 20 local authority estates in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, submitted by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The case was taken under the European Social Charter, which Ireland ratified in 2000.

Article 16 of the Charter, under which the violation has been found, recognises the right of the family as a fundamental unit of society to “appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development” and further develops this point to focus on the ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family.

This ruling also follows on from a similar ECSR ruling in 2016 under Article 16, which focused on the provision of Traveller accommodation, and the need for the State to provide accommodation that is not only adequate and safe, but also which respects cultural identity.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

 “Today’s  decision by the European Committee of Social Rights is significant and  requires action by  Government. The collective legal complaint, made by tenants of local authority estates across the country, has highlighted significant problems in the standard of accommodation being provided.

“The European Committee of Social Rights puts a direct focus on the conditions of social housing with findings showing people living in houses which are damp and mouldy, facing water contamination and with sewage seepage. There is, as the ECSR points out, a legal framework regulating Local Authority housing in Ireland which is almost identical to that of private rented accommodation, however from this decision is it clear that significant action is needed to meet basic human rights standards.”

ENDS/

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Editor’s Note

The full legal Decision on Merits by the European Committee of Social Rights is available here: http://hudoc.esc.coe.int/eng/?i=cc-110-2014-dmerits-en

  • The legal basis for the decision on merits is Article 16 of the Revised European Social Charter. Ireland has not accepted Article 31 of the Charter which guarantees the right to housing, and the Irish government argued that the complaint focuses on matters that ‘in substance fall within Article 31 of the Charter’. However, the European Committee of Social Rights decided that some of the issues also fall within the scope of Article 16 of the Charter in so far as they relate to family housing. (paragraph 24 of the Decision on Merits)
  • The European Committee of Social Rights stated that assessments of the conditions of local housing are carried out at ‘considerable intervals’ and that ‘no national timetable for the refurbishment of local authority housing stock exists’. (paragraphs 115 and 120)
  • The European Committee of Social Rights also noted ‘that many of the local authority estates were some time back, ear-marked for regeneration, amounting to Government recognition that they were, inter alia, in poor condition’. Although new regeneration programmes have subsequently been developed, ‘not all of these to date have been completed, with the result that certain local authority tenants remain living in substandard housingconditions’. (paragraph 117)
  • The Committee found that sewage invasions, contaminated water, dampness, and persistent mould raised ‘serious concerns’ for habitability. It particularly noted ‘the high number of residents in certain estates in Dublin complaining of sewage invasions (for example the Dolphin House complex) years after the problems were first identified’. (paragraph 119)

Further Background

The Revised European Social Charter was ratified by Ireland in 2000. The Charter sets out legal standards in economic, social and cultural human rights, in areas such as housing and accommodation, education, social welfare and protection, and in employment. It also protects vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities and older people. It is the Council of Europe’s counterpart for economic, social and cultural rights to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In contrast to the European Convention on Human Rights, the supervision of the European Social Charter provides for a ‘collective complaints’ mechanism where representative organisations of employers, of workers, and certain international non-governmental organisation holding participatory status with the Council of Europe may take a legal challenge concerning a general situation rather than a breach for an individual person. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)  is one of the NGOs recognised by the Council of Europe for the purposes of collective complaints procedure.

The article of the European Social Charter which Ireland has been found to be in violation of, is as follows:

Article 16, Part I:The family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development. 

Article 16, Part II: The right of the family to social, legal and economic protection. With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life by such means as social and family benefits, fiscal arrangements, provision of family housing, benefits for the newly married and other appropriate means.”

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.