A referendum on housing could be held as early as next year after a new group was set up to examine the constitutional issues and report back to Government.
The Housing Commission announced on Tuesday that a referendum subcommittee has been set up to look at the legal issues around housing rights and to propose an appropriate wording to Government for a referendum on this issue.
The Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the group should report back by the end of this year.
“We have set a commitment in the Programme for Government that we will hold a referendum on housing during the term of the Government. If it were to be agreed and I can’t pre-judge what work will be done by the commission, and that is agreed by Government, I don’t see any reason why a referendum wouldn’t happen next year.”
The subcommittee is being chaired by barrister Ailbhe O’Neill who was also a former advisor to two referendum commissions. She will be joined by the secretary general of Housing Europe Sorcha Edwards, the CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust Pat Doyle and the general secretary of ICTU Patricia King.
Housing Commission chair John O’Connor said the two big issues in the market are housing supply and affordability.
“In terms of what the Housing Commission can do, one, what improvements can be made to our housing system that work into the long term. Successful systems in other countries, they transcend Governments. The Housing Commission will be making recommendations if there are things we identify that can improve housing supply and affordability, we will be going back to the Minister”.
He said the Commission’s budget funding is around €700k.
Asked what a referendum on housing would achieve, Mr O’Brien said it would be a “step forward” and that it amounts to “the Government being open about this, that we want citizens to have their rights enshrined in the Constitution.”
Mr O’Connor said it was it was “really important that we come up with a wording and that it gets support.”
“The big difference in having it written into our Constitution is that there is a responsibility on the Minister and the policy makers to take housing rights into account. Every piece of housing policy can be accountable to the courts.”