The Taoiseach said the commercial agreements – being blamed for huge job losses in the retail industry – were between private individuals and could not be interfered with under the constitution.
But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said his party has received legal advice that it was legal to quash upward-only rent reviews, and that Professor David Gwynn Morgan of University College Cork agreed with that advice.
“There is legal opinion that says yes it is constitutionally legal to do it,” he said, accusing the Taoiseach of safeguarding wealthy landlords over jobs.
“You suddenly wrap yourself in the constitution when it comes to protecting the interests of landlords and some of these very developers that have landed us in this difficulty in the first place.”
Mr Gilmore demanded advice to the Government from the Attorney General be published.
“Let us all see it, what’s the big secret,” he said.
Mr Cowen said advice from the Attorney General was that “real, legal and constitutional” difficulties would arise if property rights were affected retrospectively.
“The unfortunate situation is it is not constitutionally valid to interfere in contracts in that way,” he said. “Unfortunately that is the strong advice available to us.”
Mr Gilmore dismissed the remarks and accused the Government of inaction over further redundancies in the retail sector.
Some shop owners were locked into high-rent leases in circumstances where “their arms were twisted by landlords or by property developers”, he added.