Ireland's Catholic bishops have reiterated their call for a constitutional guarantee of the right to housing.

In a statement issued following the hierarchy's regular two-day quarterly meeting in Maynooth, they say the reform, which would require a referendum, would make an important contribution to addressing the inadequacies of the current system.

"This is a collective failure of our society to protect the most vulnerable amongst us," the statement reads.

The bishops said the official count of 8,300 people using emergency homeless accommodation - including over 3,000 children and more than 1,400 families -  does not include so-called rough sleepers, 'sofa surfers', or those who are involuntarily living with friends or relatives because no alternative accommodation is available to them.  

"The average rent in the Republic has risen by 61% since late 2011," the statement continues. "Tens of thousands of people are living with mortgages in arrears and consequently are at risk of losing their home."

The bishops also expressed concern that the recently announced increases in both energy costs and public transport prices will disproportionately affect the poor, the marginalised and the elderly here.

The statement reads: "Energy poverty affects more than 600,000 people across Ireland. These statistics represent individual stories of hardship endured by our sisters and brothers." 

The bishops criticised the "particularly harsh" implementation of these price increases in the run up to Christmas.  

The statement calls on the public and, in particular policymakers, to recommit themselves to building a society that values human beings, not least, by working for a society that enables all people to live in a decent home.  

"It is an indignity to accept a version of Irish society in which a family lives in an overcrowded B&B, hostel or hotel room," the statement said.

 "A person sleeps in a wet shopfront in a city centre; or an older couple survive without the means to heat their home.  Therefore, each of us has an option, to respect the dignity of all in our society through our actions or to choose to ignore this suffering."  

It continued: "This is the choice that faces all of us in today's Ireland which is approaching full employment. Homelessness, poor housing conditions and energy poverty are largely symptoms of political and economic choices.  Something is structurally wrong with a society which allows such a negation of human dignity."

They urge support for organisations which daily live out the mission of the Gospel in practical terms.  

"Organisations such as Crosscare, the Peter McVerry Trust, Threshold, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Merchants Quay Ireland and the Capuchin Day Centre, Focus Ireland, Simon and the Salvation Army express solidarity with the marginalised and this can mean the difference between human life and death."
 
And they reiterate their support, first made in 2015, for the amending of the Constitution of Ireland to include an explicit right to housing, observing that such a provision "would make an important contribution to the legal and policy frameworks required to address the inadequacies of the current system."

They say they continue to pray for those suffering the impact of the housing crisis so that society can in the words of a recent Papal encyclical, "find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas."