Collective Complaint on Appalling Housing Conditions in Ireland Deemed Admissible by European Committee of Social Rights

A landmark collective complaint against Ireland, which outlines appalling and widespread sub-standard housing issues across 20 Local Authority housing estates, has been deemed admissible for further investigation by the European Committee of Social Rights through a decision adopted on Tuesday 17 March and made public yesterday.

Tenants of Local Authority housing estates were assisted in compiling the collective complaint by Community Action Network (CAN), The Centre for Housing Law, Rights and Policy at National University Ireland - Galway, Ballymun Community Law Centre, Dr. Rory Hearne of the Geography Department at National University Ireland Maynooth and the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM). The complaint had been lodged in July 2014 by FIDH in collaboration with its associated member in Ireland FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres).

The collective complaint – the result of five years of evidence gathering across the 20 communities facilitated by the Irish group Community Action Network (CAN) - alleges that Irish law, policy and practices on Local Authority housing do not comply with European standards, including standards relating to housing, social protection and anti-discrimination. It states that poor conditions and other issues on housing estates violate key articles of the Revised European Social Charter, to which Ireland signed up in 2000, including the right to health, the right of families and children to have social, legal and economic protection and the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion.

At a press conference today, tenants from old and relatively new local authority estates spoke about the experiences of families living with dampness, mould, sewerage, poor maintenance and pyrite among many dire conditions. Independent medical evidence shows that these conditions are having detrimental effects on people’s health, in particular children, the elderly and other vulnerable people.

The complaint stresses the absence of any avenue for tenants to legally challenge their conditions or otherwise raise problems in a structured way, and the lack of any independent representative organisation for Local Authority tenants. Tenants say this sets them apart from private renters and means that they are effectively voiceless when it comes to raising issues about their living conditions. Finally, the complaint highlights the legacy of failed regeneration which, far from improving matters, has left many communities in worse situations.

Debbie Mulhall, a resident of Dolphin House Estate, one of the country’s oldest Local Authority estates, said that breaches of tenants’ social and economic rights had resulted in a third-class citizenship for some 130,000 households and their families – or close to 355,000 people across the country.

“Your home and where you raise your family is so much more than just bricks and mortar. It is the starting place for so many basic rights essential for life– the right to health, the right to education, the right to work. We are being denied these basic rights and being treated like third class citizens simply because we are tenants of the state.”

Dolphin House is one of the few estates in the country earmarked for regeneration. However, Debbie Mulhall spoke about the devastating impact of delays in its realization. “The timeframe for regeneration is slipping drastically,” she said. “It is already well over 18 months behind time and at this rate it could be years before it really happens. In the meantime, tenants continue to live in conditions that we allege are unacceptable, unhealthy and uninhabitable. Many people have been moved out which means that our previously strong community is breaking down while we wait patiently for what we were promised.”

Mary Cooney, a resident at Balgaddy Development, which is only eight years old, explained that even in this relatively new build local authority estate, independent architectural assessment carried out for the complaint has found poor quality materials and the presence of pyrite resulting in unsafe buildings. The new buildings are showing signs of dampness, mould and other symptoms of poor construction.

Another tenant, Carol Quinn, spoke about the abandonment of Bluebell Estate for decades, with tenants left to cope with serious dampness and mould problems. Most children and adults living with damp have asthma and other respiratory problems. She outlined that despite numerous requests for a proper assessment of the conditions and their impact, the Local Authority has never acted upon them.

Dr. Padraic Kenna, Head of the Centre for Housing Law, Rights and Policy at the School of Law at National University Ireland - Galway is one of the Irish housing and legal expert behind the complaint. He said that ironically much local authority housing falls well short of the legal standards set for private rented housing. “While local authorities carry out a range of limited inspections of private rented properties, there are no such inspections of local authority housing,” he said. “This illustrates the clear conflict of interest in this situation and the failure to respect the rights of local authority tenants. The result is that the same standards expected for private tenants are not applied on behalf of the state’s own tenants.”

FIDH highlighted the importance of the complaint on the European level. “This will potentially affect millions of people living in sub-standard accommodation and suffering discrimination and social exclusion throughout Europe. ’ said FIDH vice-president and FLAC Director General Noeline Blackwell welcoming the news ’We hope that other organisations and social movements will be inspired by today’s development to use this valuable mechanism to highlight and challenge rights violations across the board and enforce human rights at home.”

The Irish government has till 28 May to make written submission on the merits of the complaint.

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