Government will block Bill to insert rights in Constitution

Independents supported proposal in 2014 to include social, economic and cultural rights

Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle will introduce the 35th Amendment of the Constitution Bill on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Frank Miller

Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle will introduce the 35th Amendment of the Constitution Bill on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The Government is to oppose a proposal to insert social, economic and cultural rights into the Constitution in the Dáil on Wednesday evening, although some Independent members of government previously supported a similar Bill.

Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle will introduce the 35th Amendment of the Constitution Bill, which if passed would provide for a referendum to insert a clause in the Constitution explicitly recognising that citizens have economic, social and cultural rights.

This would make it easier for citizens to force the State to provide them with services and resources if they could show that their rights were being infringed or neglected.

Many countries around the world recognise these rights, and the Convention on the Constitution, set up by the last Dáil to recommend constitutional changes, said they should be adopted. Such rights could include the rights to housing, healthcare or childcare.

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Mr Pringle introduced a similar Bill in 2014. On that occasion it was supported by many Independent TDs, including Finian McGrath and John Halligan, both now Ministers of State.

On that occasion, Mr McGrath made a passionate speech in support of the proposal, commending Mr Pringle for his “vision, leadership and courage on this matter, and also for setting the agenda in regard to changing and improving the rights of our citizens”.

On that occasion, Mr McGrath urged the Dáil to support the Bill and commended its sponsors “for showing vision and courage and setting out an agenda for the future and for the rights of people in the State”.

Last night, Mr McGrath said he had bowed to the majority view at Cabinet, even though he personally supported the idea.

Mr Halligan could not be reached for comment last night, but he will be expected by his colleagues to back the Government.

The Labour Party opposed the proposal for the inclusion of the social and economic rights in the Constitution in 2014, but supports the idea in principle, a spokesman said. The party will propose an amendment on Wednesday evening that would defer the question for consideration by a special Oireachtas committee, but will vote against the Bill itself.

Fianna Fáil will not support the Bill, though a number of its TDs voted in favour of the 2014 Bill.