Work on housing referendum delayed over disagreement on constitutional reform

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says there is ‘a way to go yet’ on referendum with the wording still outstanding

Work on a referendum on housing has been delayed amid disagreement over recommendations for constitutional reform, The Irish Times has learned.

The Housing Commission, which has been tasked with developing options for a referendum for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, is yet to agree on a final wording or sign off on its report on the issue.

A referendum on the issue has long been sought by housing campaigners either to establish a right to housing or else to limit property rights in the Constitution.

It is understood that a subgroup of the commission composed of legal experts examining the issue last year sent a 200-page report on the issue of constitutional reform, including a proposed wording for a constitutional amendment, to commission members, but that a range of issues remain to be resolved.


These include the final wording, as well as recommendations over what part of the Constitution could be amended, and the wider structure of the report to be presented to the Minister.

Sources familiar with discussions on the commission said the issues being thrashed out would ultimately play into how any amendment to the Constitution could be interpreted by the courts if a case was taken which rested on it, as well as how an amendment would be presented to voters in a referendum.

It is understood that there is an aim to get a report to Mr O’Brien next month, but the Minister indicated before Christmas that he expected to receive recommendations on the referendum early this year. Ongoing delay in issuing proposals on wording will raise the question of the timing of a referendum on the issue.

Speaking on Wednesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was “a way to go yet” on a referendum on housing with the wording still outstanding. He said there was a “window for constitutional change” and referendums starting in November, rather than having them close to the local and European elections next year or the presidential election the following year.

The Programme for Government commits the Coalition to holding referendums on housing, and also to refer the “issue of the environment, including water, and its place in the Constitution” to an Oireachtas committee.

The Government is also set to hold a referendum on the extension of the franchise in presidential elections, and needs to hold one on joining the international patent court.

Work is still under way on the report to get a version signed off that all commissioners are happy to stand over. John O’Connor, the chair of the commission, is said to be working through the issues in an effort to achieve consensus on the matters outstanding.

Mr O’Connor and Mr O’Brien are due to meet this week for an update on the commission’s work.

The most recently published minutes of the commission, from last December, stated that work on the drafting of the report to the Minister had been “very active” but that “it was agreed that discussion on the referendum proposal would be adjourned and discussed at the next Housing Commission meeting”.

It comes after the Government said it would proceed with constitutional reform on gender equality. On Wednesday, the Taoiseach said wording for up to three referendums on gender equality will be published in the early summer.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times