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.