This so-called constitutional convention is a charade
But where are the constitutional experts? I am leaving myself open to accusations of seeking “jobs for the boys” in saying this, but to put this in context, I doubt anyone suggested the group considering proposals for a national children’s hospital did not need the input of any doctors. To think the constitutional convention can make the best possible proposals without the involvement of political scientists, constitutional lawyers and others is simply ludicrous.
In any event, the sad fact is none of this is likely to make any difference, since it is highly unlikely that the Government will put any of the convention’s proposals to a referendum. There are multiple reasons for this.
First, the snail’s pace at which the convention is being moved along means it is unlikely to make many recommendations during the lifetime of this Government. Second, any such recommendations would not be acted on immediately – they would go through a meat grinder that includes Oireachtas committees, the Attorney General’s office and the Cabinet.
Even assuming that any solid recommendations get to the Cabinet table before the next general election, the Government simply will not risk losing a referendum in the run-up to an election. The Coalition is already battle-weary from referendums, having lost one on Oireachtas inquiries and having to battle hard to pass another on the fiscal treaty.
If it fulfils its promise to hold a referendum on the constitutional position of children during 2012, the political appetite for selling any further constitutional amendments to an angry electorate during the second half of the election cycle is unlikely to be strong.
We have travelled this road before. The Constitution Review Group in 1996 conducted a genuinely comprehensive review of the Constitution, drawing on the expertise of distinguished individuals from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.
In the end, its report made dozens of recommendations – many of them admirable or even a matter of plain common sense – but only two relatively minor points were ever put to a referendum (the constitutional recognition of local government in 1999 and the constitutional prohibition of the death penalty in 2002).
If that was the outcome of a better conceived and executed process of constitutional review, it is fanciful in the extreme to expect anything different from this charade.
DR CONOR O’MAHONYlectures in constitutional law at University College Cork.