Split in Housing Commission over proposals for constitutional referendum on right to housing

Group expected to deliver majority and minority reports on referendum question

A major split has emerged in the Government’s Housing Commission over proposals for a constitutional referendum on a right to housing, The Irish Times has learned.

The commission, which was established to future-proof the State’s housing policy as well as to develop proposals for a referendum, is expected to deliver majority and minority reports on the constitutional question, say multiple sources with knowledge of the body’s deliberations.

The divide has led to delays which now mean that the commission is set to miss its target for delivery of its main report on housing policy, which had been due at the end of July. A spokesman said this will be delivered in the third quarter of this year, but sources said it could be October before it is given to the Government.

The Irish Times has also established that external opponents to the referendum, suspected to be far-right activists, have issued threats to members of the commission, including death threats, which have been investigated by gardaí.


A spokesman for the body confirmed that “late last year a number of threats were made to commission members by individuals or groups opposed to the holding of a referendum on housing. These are matters for the gardaí and appropriate steps have been taken in consultation with them”.

While a majority of members are thought to support a proposal contained in a draft that has been shared with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, at least two – property developer Michael O’Flynn and housing academic Ronan Lyons – do not support the version as drafted.

It is now expected that a minority report will be drafted. Concerns have emerged within the commission over the part of the Constitution where an amendment would be placed, and the impact that would have on whether a failure to make good on the provision could be challenged in the courts.

There are also concerns among some over the structure of the report as drafted, which contains a single recommended text, as opposed to options for the government to consider. Some members have also expressed doubts over whether all members of the commission have sufficient expertise on constitutional matters to make a satisfactory recommendation – although the report was drafted by a commissioner expert in the area, following consultation with the public and other legal experts.

Sources familiar with discussions on the commission over the referendum say it has monopolised meetings of the group, and led to sharp divisions.

The spokesman said the commission does not comment on individual matters in advance of their release. “Commission members have been engaging on a collaborative basis and it is expected that all reports will be done in agreement”.

With a potentially fraught debate over the referendum beckoning, some observers are now questioning the wisdom of giving the task of constitutional reform to the commission – which is largely composed of housing experts, although a subcommittee chaired by a constitutional expert did extensive work on the matter.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times