Taoiseach makes commitment to Constitution group
The Government will respond publicly to any recommendations of the constitutional convention within a four-month period and that will include a time frame for a referendum where appropriate.
This was the pledge given by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the opening session of the convention, comprised of 66 ordinary citizens, 33 elected politicians and independent chairman Tom Arnold, in Dublin Castle at the weekend.
“Too often in the past, Constitution review groups laboured to produce excellent reports which were then left unread on an anonymous shelf.
“This will not happen with your work,” Mr Kenny said. “We in Government have made a formal commitment to giving a public response, through the Houses of the Oireachtas, to each recommendation within a four-month period and that commitment will be honoured.”
‘Fulfil the obligation’
“Indeed, if Government accept a recommendation that the Constitution should be amended, our response will include a time frame for the holding of any such referendum.
“Before making our response, we have a duty of course to fulfil the obligation that every Government has in considering proposals for constitutional reform:
“First, to consider the proposal itself carefully; and secondly to ensure as far as possible its purpose can be achieved without leading to unintended consequences.”
He said the launch of the convention was “a significant and historic event” and “a new and very different means of examining constitutional reform”. The Constitution belonged to the people, “so it is very appropriate that citizens themselves should play a part in the process of considering constitutional reform”.
Mr Kenny said it was absolutely right “that elected representatives from Northern Ireland should be part of the convention”. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore said the Constitution “uniquely, reflects our past, governs our present and is our guiding torch into the future”.
“It is not just the framework for our laws today: it is also an expression of our aspirations as a people.” Concluding in Irish, he pledged that any recommendation from the convention would be considered and decided upon immediately (“láithreach”) by the Government and placed before the people if necessary.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Constitution “should set a framework for political institutions suitable for a modern society and successful economy”.
“The mark of success for this convention will be a lot more than simply producing a report. It will be viewed as a success only if it makes proposals which bring forward the day when we have a Constitution which fully reflects the values of our people . . . The entire point of having this convention is that your conclusions should step outside of what would emerge through normal political debates.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said: “Even though Sinn Féin is disappointed at the way the Government has limited this initiative, I want to commend the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste for proceeding”.
Pointing out that James Connolly was held in Dublin Castle after Easter Week, he urged convention members to “go to the room where he was incarcerated and ponder on the mission that we are embarking on today”.
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said in Irish that the convention launch was a special, important and positive occasion (“ócáid speisialta, tábhachtach, dearfach”).
“We hope that the area of human rights will be considered after the eight enumerated topics have been discussed.”