Last night Éamon Gilmore gave the leader’s address at the Labour Party’s annual conference. Entitled ‘One Ireland’ the conference has had a distinctive emphasis on moving forward, as a country, away from what is conceived of as broken or corrupt and towards a more mature political life in this jurisdiction. The Gilmore speech, which can be watched in full here or read here, was extremely strong on this theme and—regardless of the colour of one’s politics—is worth watching or listening to as an exercise in oratory and speech writing. What struck me in particular, however, was the proposal by Gilmore that there would be a constitutional convention with a new constitution being ready for enactment in 2016 (at the centenary of the 1916 Rising).
I have written before on HRinI of my anxiety about populist constitutional reform. What Gilmore suggested seems to have been something at once more radical and less populist than what we have seen proposed by Fine Gael recently. Gilmore suggested that we would establish a constitutional convention made up of experts and a randomly selected portion of the community (he did not mention how large the sample would be) to debate and propose new constitutional structures. The justification given for this was that the Constitution is a document written in the 1930s for the 1930s when there was considered to be one Church in Ireland and one role for women (I am paraphrasing but, as you will hear if you listen to the speech, not by much). Similar themes were recently in evidence at the excellent political cabaret, Leviathan, which suggested a new Constitution and Second Republic earlier this year. Fine Gael’s New Politics which we have written about before suggests some major constitutional reforms but does not suggest a whole-scale redrawing of the Bunreacht. Read more…
At a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs today, Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter T.D. suggested that recent industrial action by public service workers in the passport office may be breaching constitutional rights.
The industrial action in question has caused a backlog of over 40,000 passport applications and citizens are currently experiencing long delays in acquiring their passports. As noted by Deputy Shatter, the right of Irish citizens to travel abroad and to obtain a passport (subject to meeting the relevant requirements) was established as constitutional in nature by the Irish courts in the 1970s. In State (M) v A.G.  IR 73, it was held by the High Court that Irish citizens have an unenumerated constitutional right to a passport (with certain conditions applying and other restrictions of a legal nature operating). That particular case dealt with s.40 of the Adoption Act, 1952 which forbade the removal of certain categories of children from the State and made no allowances for exceptions to that rule. This was found to be a breach of the recognised constitutional rights. Read more…
Fine Gael’s New Politics proposals include a proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann and move towards a unicameral system of parliament. In this post I want to express some concerns, based firmly in a human rights perspective, about this proposal. First of all we should note that the Seanad, or upper house, is by no means a perfect institution. In fact, there are many things that are objectionable about it including the means by which it is populated. However, for the reasons that I outline below, I am not convinced that abolition of the Seanad is the way forward or that Fine Gael have made out a strong enough case for this kind of momentous constitutional change. I have identified five primary claims in New Politics for the abolition of the Seanad and I consider these claims, and their merits, after the jump.
Given Fine Gael’s proposal for a ‘constitution day’ within a year of taking office should they succeed in the next general election and the various reforms proposed (which we have considered here, here and here) I have been thinking a lot lately about the extent to which, as a people, we feel a real connection to our constitutional tradition. The Preamble to Bunreacht na hÉireann, after quite some veneration of “Our Divine Lord Jesus Christ” and so on, provides that “we, the people of Éire….adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution”. Of course, this phrase of the Preamble is connected to the idea that the Constitution was enacted following a Plebiscite of ‘the people’. Furthermore, as is well known, the Irish Constitution can be amended only by referendum of the people (although this was not always the case). All of this suggests that, in some way at least, the Irish people have some kind of deep connection to the Constitution; that we have a relatively developed sense of “constitutional imagination”. I harbour a real concern, however, that our constitutional imagination is in many ways impaired by lack of constitutional education and the creation of political footballs out of constitutional controversies and uncertainties. Read more…
A small piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times appears to have passed the Irish media relatively unnoticed. Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, has claimed that he will seek a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement for a criminal law of blasphemy in Ireland. Atheist Ireland are re-reporting a Sunday Times story quoting the Minister as saying that he will advocate that the referendum be held at the same time as the vote on the children’s rights amendment and an amendment to establish a permanent court of civil appeal. Fiona previously wrote about the law here.
As weekend readers will know, we had some discussion on Saturday of the Fine Gael proposals to hold a ‘Constitution Day’ within 12 months of entering Government which would see five reforms of the Constitution to declare a ‘New Republic’. Yesterday I made the point that piecemeal constitutional reform for electoral rather than principled reasons (or at best half-thought-through principled reasons) has resulted in a failed process of reform in the UK – eg in relation to the House of Lords. I argued that any serious overhaul of the Constitution would have to take account of the need for a complete system of government. Today, I will look at three further factors that might scupper Fine Gael’s efforts at serious overhaul (bearing in mind that this is regardless of the merits of the proposals themselves): coalition government, the referendum mechanism and the need to embed constitutional change. Read more…
Last year Fiona asked if constitutional revolution in Ireland was nigh: Fine Gael were proposing several constitutional amendments; an amendment on Children’s Rights was in the works; and the Bill of Rights debate in Northern Ireland had reignited the question of an All-Ireland Charter of Rights. Now, the Children’s Rights amendment has been published (see Our Symposium) and the Bill of Rights debate continues but is mired in the malaise of British politics (see Colin Harvey here and myself here). Today Fine Gael announced the publication of a new document, New Politics, which calls for a ‘Constitution Day’ within one year of their taking office in Government Buildings to allow the public to consider five new constitutional amendments.
- the abolition of the Seanad;
- a new “list” system for selecting 15 TDs;
- new constitutional recognition given to four Dáil committees;
- reduction of the President’s term of office from seven years to five;
- the introduction of a public petition mechanism for the Dáil.
After over 2 years, 62 meetings and numerous milestones highlighting the precarious position of children’s rights in Irish society including the publication of the Ryan and the Murphy reports, the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children has at long last issued its third and final report.
The Committee’s terms of reference were to ‘consider and report to the Houses of the Oireachtas on the proposals set out in the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2007.’ In her Foreword to the Report, the Committee Chairwoman, Mary O’Rourke, TD, stated that ‘since it began its work just over two years ago, the sole objective of the Committee has been to ensure the strongest protection of the rights of children and to further their best interests.’ The key question at this point is whether the Committee has, in fact, achieved this.
Having deliberated on the proposed Article 42(A).1–4 set out in Twenty-eighth Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2007, the Committee recommended ‘an alternative approach’. According to the Report:
The Committee proposes that the existing Article 42 of the Constitution is amended as set out in the following section.
Amendment of Article 42 of the Constitution
Article 42 of the Constitution is proposed to be amended as follows—
(a) existing sections 1 and 5 to be deleted,
(b) new sections 1 – 6 set out below to be inserted, and
(c) existing sections 2 – 4 to be rearranged and numbered as sections 7 – 8.
1. 1° The State shall cherish all the children of the State equally.
2° The State recognises and acknowledges the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children including their right to have their welfare regarded as a primary consideration and shall, as far as practicable, protect and vindicate those rights.
3° In the resolution of all disputes concerning the guardianship, adoption, custody, care or upbringing of a child, the welfare and best interests of the child shall be the first and paramount consideration.
2. The State guarantees in its laws to recognise and vindicate the rights of all children as individuals including:
i the right of the child to such protection and care as is necessary for his or her safety and welfare;
ii the right of the child to an education;
iii the right of the child’s voice to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, having regard to the child’s age and maturity.
3. The State acknowledges that the primary and natural carers, educators and protectors of the welfare of a child are the child’s parents and guarantees to respect the right and responsibility of parents to provide according to their means for the physical, emotional, intellectual, religious, moral and social education and welfare of their children.
4. Where the parents of any child fail in their responsibility towards such child, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means, as shall be regulated by law, endeavour to supply or supplement the place of the parents, regardless of their marital status.
5. Provision may be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their responsibility towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.
6. Provision may be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child and any such law shall respect the child’s right to continuity in its care and upbringing.
7. 1° The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.
2° The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social.
3° Parents shall be free to provide education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State.
8. The State shall provide for free primary education and shall endeavour to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative, and, when the public good requires it, provide other educational facilities or institutions with due regard, however, for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.
In doing so, the Committee highlighted that
It was not within the remit of the Committee to address or consider the provisions relating to education which are set out in Articles 42.2 – 42.4 inclusive of the Constitution. However, because the Committee has proposed the deletion of the current Article 42 and its replacement with a new one, it is necessary to re-state the retained Articles 42.2 – 42.4. They now appear essentially unaltered in Articles 42.7 and 42.8 of the Committee’s proposed Article 42. These retained sections are in a different order to that which pertains in the Constitution. They are numbered together at the end of the Committee’s proposed amendment to set them apart from the new sections proposed by the Committee. There is only one very minor amendment to the wording of these sections, namely the deletion of the word “this”, which appears in the current article 42.2. This is merely a technical alteration as this provision in its new position in the proposed Article 42.7.3 would otherwise not make sense.
There is much to be welcomed in the draft amendment, albeit that it still evidences some serious shortcomings in ensuring holistic protection to the rights of the child. In addition, there are a wide range of perspectives from which the proposed text could be considered. This blog entry, however, will focus on whether, if adopted, the Committee’s proposed wording would bring Ireland into compliance with its voluntarily assumed international human rights law obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Read more…
According to the Irish Times, the proposed wording for a referendum on children’s rights has been unanimously agreed by the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, which will launch its final report tomorrow.
Previous entries on this blog have highlighted the long delay in the Committee producing its final report, potential shortcomings in the Committee’s approach and the failure of the Committee to proactively seek direct input from young people themselves.
The Final Report is very much to be welcomed – even if only in terms of drawing line under the protracted and apparently tortuous considerations of the Committee. However, the government’s failure to establish a definite date by which the draft wording will be put to the electorate (or even a date by which a decision will be taken as to whether or not the wording will be put to the electorate) is not.
The same Irish Times report quotes statements of Mary Hanafin on RTE’s The Week in Politics that:
We would anticipate with the election for the lord mayor of Dublin, the two byelections, in Donegal and Dublin South and possibly also at least one constitutional referendum … We have also promised in the programme for Government that there would be a constitutional referendum on a court of civil appeal. So all of those should probably take place, if they are to take place, around the same time and that certainly won’t be until the back end of the year. [Italics added]
She went on to make it clear that the government did not envisage that any referendum on the proposed amendment would take place before the autumn.
It is striking, however, that another participant on the programme, Alex White, TD – who is a member of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children – intervened to say that the Committee’s report would be launched “this Tuesday” (16 February) and so “it’ll be ready to move on”.
Given that the Committee has had over two years to work on its report, as well as the fact that it can be assumed that the government is familiar both with the Comittee’s discussions and the proposed wording due to the All-Party nature of the Committee, it seems inexcusable that there should be a significant delay in putting the wording to referendum. This is particularly so given the repeated statements on the part of the Government (for instance, in its Implementation Plan in Response to the Ryan Report) that a constitution on a children’s rights amendment would go ahead once the Committee’s work would be completed. In light of the delay in addressing the wholly inadequate framework of the protection of children’s rights under the Constitution on the part of the Committee and – indeed – the Government, it is crucial that the response to the Committee’s report be prompt and concrete.
Reasonable Suspicion for Arrest and Evidence at Trial: Supreme Court Excludes Consideration of Exclusionary Rule
Yesterday, the Irish Supreme Court issued its judgment in the much anticipated case of DPP (Walsh) v Cash. The 7-judge court neatly side-stepped any indepth examination or reconsideration of the exclusionary rule, which it was thought that this case might produce. Although defence counsel sought to rely on that rule, the Supreme Court held that it was inapplicable on the facts and focused instead on the distinction between material which is required to ground a legal arrest and material which is presented as evidence at trial.
To briefly recap on the facts of this case, which was previously discussed on this blog here: the appellant, John Cash, was charged in relation to a burglary which occurred in July 2003 (at which time he was a minor). Fingerprints had been taken at the scene of the burglary (referred to in the Supreme Court judgment as “Prints 2″) and these were found to match fingerprints reviously taken from Mr. Cash which were held in the Garda Technical Bureau (“Prints 1″). On the basis of this match, Mr. Cash was arrested and he thereafter consented to provide a new set of fingerprints (“Prints 3″). The prosecution had been unable to clearly state the legal position of Prints 1; whether they had been taken with consent or otherwise and whether or not they ought to have been destroyed following the passage of some time and the fact that no proceedings had been instituted.