Thursday 24 May 2018

The vindication of property rights

Apollo House in Dublin's Tara Street
Apollo House in Dublin's Tara Street

In recent High Court hearings related to Apollo House, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan correctly stated that it was not the function of the courts to become involved in the provision of suitable accommodation for homeless people. Most people would also share his sympathy for the general issue of the occupants of a disused building in the ownership of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), which is intended to be developed for office and private housing. The issue before the High Court, however, related to a fundamental right to ownership of private property.

There is little public sympathy with Nama, as a result of the occasion and manner of its establishment. That said, Nama has offered more than 6,600 houses and apartments to local authorities for social housing, more than 1,000 of which have been rejected because of a lack of demand for housing in their areas, with a further 1,300 rejected because their use would result in an over-concentration of social housing tenants. However, since 2011, a not inconsiderable 2,500 Nama properties have been accepted for social housing use.

The Constitution recognises and declares that people have certain fundamental personal rights. These rights are natural human rights and are confirmed and protected by the Constitution. There is a right to assemble or meet peacefully and without weapons, for example. This right is limited by legislation to protect public order and morality. The law also prevents or controls meetings that are calculated or designed to cause a riot or breach of the peace. There in no question that the occupation of Apollo House was peaceful; indeed a good case could also be made for its moral justification. There are other limitations on freedom of assembly, however. People cannot meet on private property without the consent of the owner - that is trespass.

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