Committee urges lower age limit and optional oath for Presidency


Nomination of presidential candidates by the public, a national honours system and allowing anyone over 18 to run for the office are among the recommendations published yesterday by the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.

The religious references in the presidential oath should be made optional, according to the report, which recommends a considerable number of technical amendments to constitutional provisions regarding the Presidency.

This is the committee's third report. Set up last year to review the Constitution and recommend changes, it is chaired by Mr Brian Lenihan TD of Fianna Fail.

In general, the committee recommends no further discretionary powers for the President. "The symbolic value of the office derives from the detachment of the holder from partisan politics," it says.

It also says it is too difficult to nominate a presidential candidate. Ten Oireachtas members rather than 20 should be sufficient to nominate a candidate. The other route to nomination - seeking the support of four local authorities - should remain unchanged.

The report also suggests popular nomination of a candidate by 10,000 or more members of the public. This would ensure for the first time that the public and not only politicians could nominate candidates. Civic and non-party political groups could thus campaign successfully to get individuals nominated from outside the political system.

A national honours system, it says, would give to Ireland a stimulus to excellence and would enhance diplomatic relations by allowing the State to reciprocate honours conferred on Irish citizens by foreign governments.

The President would be obliged first to consult with the Council of State but would then be allowed absolute discretion to decide who should be honoured. This would elevate the system above partisan claims, the committee says, rather than have the government of the day make or strongly influence the decisions.

The President should be allowed to nominate two additional members to the Council of State, both members of Opposition parties. This would make a broader range of advice available to the President when making decisions on awarding honours.

The committee also recommends that the minimum age for presidential candidates be reduced from 35 to 18. "There is no logical reason for setting the age at which one becomes eligible to be President at a greater age than that at which one may exercise the right to vote in elections, namely 18 years."

The President should be allowed omit the religious references in the current Oath of Office, according to the report. The oath begins: "In the presence of Almighty God I, . . . , do solemnly swear . . ." It ends: "May God direct and sustain me." The UN Human Rights Committee's report on Ireland in August 1993 said the oath's religious nature excluded some people from holding the office.

It recommends the retention of the requirement that the Government must consent to the President leaving the State, and that its approval is also required for presidential messages or addresses to "the Houses of the Oireachtas or the nation".

The committee will produce a separate report on how people in Northern Ireland and emigrants might play a more active part in "national political life", it says. This follows a request from the Taoiseach earlier this year for it to examine how people in the North could become more involved in the Republic's political life.

Main Points:

No further discretionary powers for the President.

A presidential honours system.

The minimum age limit for a presidential candidate to be reduced from 35 to 18.

Religious references in the presidential oath to be made optional.

End political control over nomination of candidates.