Flaws in constitutional convention
Sir, – Brian Dineen’s call for a radical reappraisal of the purpose of the constitutional convention (July 7th) is a timely and necessary one. The convention’s purpose is not the only worrying facet of the affair, however: the composition of this putative body is also a matter which should be of some concern to the citizenry.
As initially floated, the convention was to consist of a mix of ordinary citizens, selected at random; politicians from across the Dáil spectrum; and experts in constitutional law, politics, and governance. This was a sensible blend which had much to recommend it.
Now, and with little fanfare (and even less debate or explanation) we see that the third category – those who have devoted their professional and academic lives to considering precisely the sort of problems with which the convention is to grapple – is no longer to be represented at the convention.
This is worrying on at least two levels. First, it means that legal and academic assistance which is to be provided by the convention’s support staff (largely lawyers in the pay of the Government) will be presented as gospel, and there will be little or no independent expertise amongst the convention’s membership which might challenge this monolithic viewpoint. This impoverishes the quality of the ensuing debate and does a disservice to the ordinary citizen members who cannot be expected to come to the table with a background in constitutional or political scholarship.
Second, the dismissal of the expert members is yet another manifestation of the “crisis of intellectualism” which has lately gripped Irish society, and of which President Higgins has spoken at length. There is a lack of recognition that our world-class scholars add value and texture to our national debate. The idea that one would hold a conference on policing without inviting any police representatives is farcical. The notion that we are to hold a convention to change our constitutional law without inviting the constitutional lawyers ought to equally appal. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – The constitutional convention should enable Irish people throughout the island and around the world to create a shared vision for a united Ireland. The aim should be to create a constitutional framework that will advance Irish unity. We need to address symbolic issues that divide our people such as the current national anthem. We need to examine whether referendums are appropriate for amending the Constitution in our pluralistic society. We should also seriously consider of a Charter of Rights.
As part of the patriation of the Canadian Constitution in the 1980s, the government of Canada undertook a broad-based public consultative process that resulted in the incorporation of a tremendously popular Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a 10-year veteran of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, I can assure you that the constitutionally-entrenched charter has contributed far more significantly to the protection of individuals and minorities than the statutory Canadian Human Rights Act. It has also become a powerful symbol of shared values.
Let’s not miss this precious opportunity to complete the work begun a century ago. – Is mise,