Constitutional Convention votes to reform ESC rights

The Constitutional Convention has voted in favour of reforming economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights in the Constitution.

In its ninth and final meeting, members voted by 85% in favour of the amendment.

A report from the Convention will now be sent to the Government, which will decide whether or not to hold a referendum on the issue.

ESC rights are currently protected in a limited manner in the Irish Constitution and the focus of the concluding Convention on the Constitution was on whether or not these rights should be afforded greater Constitutional protection.

ESC rights are socio-economic human rights and are protected to varying degrees under international, European and Irish law.

Economic rights are those rights that relate to labour and property rights, these rights include the right to work and to fair conditions of work.

Social Rights include the right to social security, education, to an adequate standard of living and to shelter.

Cultural rights include the right to participate in the culture of one’s communities and that ethnic minorities have the right to practice their own culture, faith and language.

Over the course of the weekend of the Convention members heard a number of academic and expert led presentations including arguments in favour and against reform led by Amnesty Ireland Executive Director Colm O Gorman and barrister and former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell.

Arguing in favour of enshrining ESC rights into the Constitution Colm O’ Gorman said: “What we are advocating is neither radical, not revolutionary. We are in a moment of change. We are emerging from some of our darkest economic days, while looking to the centenary of our birth.

“We must consider how we might do things differently. How we ensure that our country serves its entire people, and makes decisions in our collective interest.

“Placing ESC rights in our constitution will not cure all our ills. But it will require that Government design systems that prioritise good, evidence based decisions, in the interest of all our people.”

Mr McDowell, in arguing against making such changes, said that Article 6 of the Constitution stated that all powers to decide national policies derived ultimately from the people and that this meant questions of economic, social and cultural national policy should be decided by the people, in the Oireachtas and judicial powers were “confined to the areas of civil and political rights and Constitutional rights.”

Following a panel discussion the members were then presented with a number of options and they voted to enhance the level of protection for ESC rights, making them amenable to supervision by the courts in certain circumstances.

They also voted to highlight certain rights which should be expressly stated in the Constitution namely housing, social security, essential health care, linguistic and cultural rights, rights of people with disabilities and rights covered in the International Covenant on ESC rights.

Tom Arnold, chairman of the Convention said: “This weekend members of the Convention were asked to consider the inclusion of Economic, Social and Cultural rights in the Constitution.

“This was the final weekend of the Convention but the members never waned showing tremendous dedication to the subject matter.

“The members heard robust arguments in favour and opposing reform with the implications of any changes carefully assessed, generating a very thorough and passionate discussion.”

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