Rights body calls for economic, social and cultural rights to be enshrined in Constitution

Rights body calls for economic, social and cultural rights to be enshrined in Constitution

Sinéad Gibney

Ireland should enshrine economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights in its Constitution, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said in a new report.

In a policy statement published yesterday, the rights body 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.

It said this committee should “formulate constitutional language that will guarantee justiciable and enforceable ESC rights, while having due regard to the functions of each branch of government”.

ESC rights — such as the right to food, housing, social assistance and medical care — relate to fundamental aspects of human life which are necessary for people to live and thrive in society.

Explicit constitutional protection would ensure that ESC rights are taken seriously as core rights concerns, and not treated as lesser than other rights protections, the Commission said.

It said this would, in particular, 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 and the UN has said that the pandemic has made the achievement of ESC rights even more urgent.

ESC rights would also provide “a safeguard for those of us at risk of falling into debt or poverty” in the context of current economic challenges and the cost of living crisis, the Commission added.

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.”

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