Constitutional reform

A couple of weeks ago, in a post on the legal and constitutional position of women, I suggested that the time might be right for a new constitution for Ireland. Now I see that the Fine Gael party has been working on a framework for constitutional reform, which (according to the Irish Times) will propose that there should be five constitutional amendments adopted on one day of voting. The issues the party wants to see addressed are mainly to do with reorganisation of the Oireachtas (including the abolition of the Seanad).

It seems to me that to have the cost and burden of a referendum campaign with complex and perhaps somewhat technical issues on the ballot paper may not be taking into account the recent referendums in Ireland on EU Treaties.In addition, there is more to be adjusted in the Constitution of 1937 than its handling of the Oireachtas. The 1937 document is a product of its time – and its time was that of fascist dictators and an edgy world sliding closer to war. Its social and moral provisions (particularly in relation to families and women, but not only those) betray a vision that is somewhere between quaint and reactionary. It is fair to say in some respects the Constitution has served the country well, but in a new millennium the time is right to look again and to draft a document that reflects modern values and best practice in national governance. It’s time to start anew.

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10 Comments on “Constitutional reform”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    My guess is that it is pretty unusual for a democracy to tear up its constitution and adopt a new one. Incremental change seems more likely, for good or ill.

  2. Vincent Says:

    The problem is not with the Document. Almost every section reads. We hold this, this, this and this always and ever, except when we don’t.
    There is always a way round, even what the Supreme Court says is written in stone and painted in gold. There are times when I read that the Gov has sent something for advise from the AG as to which way the Court will jump on something when they could simply send the thing to the Court for provisional advise. That Rent Judgement and its connection to property provisions is well ripe. The blasted thing is being used by Co-Councils with all their signs over potholed roads to prevent them from being liable.
    I can see the entire idea of a Document being dropped well before any new one is written. And it would depend where on the economic cycle, three years ago you could have had something very far Right. Nowadays, well NAMA ?.

  3. iainmacl Says:

    I wonder if the intrinsic flaw is that politicians are the ones who have the power to reshape and interpret the constitution, albeit backed up by referendum, the content of the proposed changes comes from individual political parties as opposed to a broader non-party movement.

    A method used in Scotland (in which I participated many years ago) which ultimately led to the Scottish Parliament was that of the ‘Claim of Right’ which essentially is a document drawn up by a convention of civic organisations, political parties and others that demands change by whosoever is in government. It provided, at least a basis around which people could campaign and reasserted the sovereignty of the people rather than parliament. Where then is Ireland’s ‘constitutional convention’? Ironically for a republic, there seems to be no particular coordinated approach to such more general matters of political philosophy or principle.


    • Interesting comment, Iain. However, though it doesn’t detract from your point, it’s not politicians but judges who interpret and thus determine the content of the Irish constitution. And what they say is often hugely unpredictable and owes little to the original intentions of those who drafted the constitution.

      • iainmacl Says:

        yup..you are of course correct, .i just was meaning in terms of the current proposal emanating from FG a political party with its own interests at heart, rather than a broad swathe of public organisations, etc.

  4. Enda Says:

    hmmm, a lot of talk from FG about political reform, yet nothing about the political appointments to state agengies and boards, nothing about introducing any regulation to political lobbyists and nothing about removing unvouched expenses for TDs. Perhaps most importantly theres also nothing about introducing a transparent system of government in which spending, expenses and activities are freely and transparently in the public domain. I admit to being not entirely certain as to whether this kind of reform would require changes to the constitution? But its all so much hot air until they start addressing these issues.

  5. Vincent Says:

    And why will the Lisbon Treaties not do ?.


  6. Do for what, Vincent?

    • Vincent Says:

      Basically why put us through the hell of debate on a Constitution that has for the most part handed its powers elsewhere.
      In reality the only real issue at the moment is why exactly we need extra layers of Judiciary before we get to the final arbiter.


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