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…
The Faculty of Law, UCC, will be hosting an event on ‘Children’s Rights: The Proposed Constitutional Amendment’ on Thursday April 15.
Speakers will include:
- Emily Logan, Ombudsman for Children;
- Dr Conor O’Mahony, Lecturer in Constitutional Law, University College Cork;
- Rosemary Horgan, Family Law Solicitor, Ronan Daly Jermyn & Co.
The seminar will be chaired by Dr Ursula Kilkelly.
The event will run from 12.00-2.30 pm in Room LG 52, Cavanagh Pharmacy Building, College Road, Cork
A limited number of places are available, so please register your interest in attending by e-mailing email@example.com.
Legal Practitioners: 2 Hours of CPD points are available for attendance at this event.
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…
You can learn more about Fergus Ryan on our guest contributors page.
Waiting for family law reform is a bit like waiting for a bus. You linger forlornly for what seems likes an eternity, stoically weathering the elements. Then, just as you are about to give up, along comes a bus — and two more buses directly behind it.
In the past year, the Republic of Ireland has seen three major proposals for family law reform. The Civil Partnership Bill 2009, which is currently before the Dáil, promises a substantial new civil status for registered same-sex couples, with additional protective measures for cohabiting couples, same-sex and opposite-sex. The Law Reform Commission consultation paper, The Legal Aspects of Family Relationships, provisionally recommends some long overdue reforms to the law as it relates to guardianship, custody and access.
There is much to be welcomed also in the proposed constitutional amendment on children. For one, the proposed new Article 42 will apply to all children, and not just those born within marriage. The proposed amendment contains, in particular, a ground-breaking assertion that “[t]he State shall cherish all the children of the State equally.” This will banish, one hopes, the spectre of O’B v S,  IR 316, a Supreme Court decision that affirmed the constitutional validity of measures that discriminate against non-marital children. The Court concluded that the constitutional preference for marriage trumped the child’s right to equality. This constitutional amendment would arguably reverse that stance. Read more…
You can learn more about Ursula Kilkelly on our guest contributors page.
The report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the amendment to the Irish Constitution includes a proposal to include what is commonly known as the ‘best interests principle’ into the new Article 42 in two forms. The first form appears in Article 42.1.2° which recognizes the rights of all children and specifies that this includes the right ‘to have their welfare regarded as a primary consideration’. Although this provision refers to ‘welfare’ rather than ‘best interests’ and so could be said to be narrower (and arguably more paternalistic) in nature it otherwise mirrors the standard set out in Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Although the latter has been criticised for not requiring that the child’s interests are paramount, its strength is that it has wide application, potentially applying to all areas of state decision-making that affect children. Including this principle here, therefore, should require the state to ensure that regard is had to the child’s welfare in areas like budgetary decision-making, planning, immigration and criminal justice. Read more…
You can learn more about Jillian van Turnhout on our guest contributors page.
The vision of the Children’s Rights Alliance is that Ireland will be one of the best places in the world to be a child. On 16 February 2010, the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children moved us that bit closer towards securing this vision, when it published its Final Report. Crucially, the Report includes all-party agreement on a proposed wording for a constitutional amendment to strengthen children’s rights and this, in itself, is a significant step forward.
A major stumbling block to realising our vision has always been the Irish Constitution – the fundamental law of the country. Written in 1937, at a time when children were ‘seen and not heard’ and where, for example, it was the norm for teachers to physically chastise children and for children to be seen as mere possessions of adults, it has become very outdated. A litany of reports, court cases, and inquiries, have, over the years, also highlighted the need for constitutional change for children. Read more…
You can learn more about Conor O’Mahony on our guest contributors page.
As part of the proposed constitutional amendment on children, the proposed new Article 42.2 proposes to enumerate, for the first time, a number of the rights of children, including “the right of the child to an education”. The proposal to include an explicit right of the child to education is welcome – indeed, it was recommended by the Constitution Review Group in 1996 – but in all probability, it changes little. The existence of such a right, correlative to the duty of the State under the existing Article 42.4 to provide for free primary education, was clearly reognised in Crowley v Ireland  I.R. 102 and has never been questioned since. The new provision could potentially be interpreted as being broader, given that it refers to “an education” rather than merely to “primary education”. However, it is unlikely that the courts – and particularly the current Supreme Court – would interpret this as including a positive right to education at a level higher than primary, given that the corresponding duty of the State under the re-numbered Article 42.8 would still refer only to primary education. While the Oireachtas Committee Report states that the rights that are recognised in the proposed Article 42.2 are “designed to make a tangible difference to children’s rights”, there is no suggestion that there was any intention to take a step as significant as extending the right to free State education beyond primary level, and in the absence of such a clear intention, no court is likely to so interpret the provision. Read more…