Constitutional convention begins

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the constitutional convention which has begun today is a “truly significant opportunity”.

He was speaking to the 100-member convention which began its work in Dublin today facing criticism over the anonymity of its 66 citizen members.

It is made up of politicians and randomly selected citizens has been asked to consider whether the voting age should be reduced to 17 and the President’s term from seven years to five as part of a wider series of potential constitutional reforms. Places are also available for participants from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Kenny said the convention was a "significant, historic event in the political and democratic life of this country."

"The putting in place of this new and exciting process for considering constitutional reform, one which directly involves our citizens in working side by side with their elected representatives in developing reform proposals represents a truly significant opportunity," Mr Kenny said as he addressed the convention in Dublin Castle.

"Active citizens are essential for democracy and for the democratic process. Ultimately that democracy depends on the willingness of individuals to perform the duties of citizenship," he said.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore spoke about how the 1937 constitution was of its time. It "reflected the aspirations for our country as they were in the 1930s which was a time when one church had a special place when women were second class citizens and homosexuality was a criminal offence, a time when Europe was at the brink of a second war of a generation."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the convention that it will be viewed as success only if it brings forward proposals that reflect the values of the Irish people. The work must be carried out in a "candid and direct manner" and people must be able to "say hard things when necessary".

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said despite the voting for 17 year olds and citizens outside the state being on the agenda there were no children or emigrants on the convention.

She spoke about disappointment at the narrow remit of the convention and the exclusion at the moment of topics such as economic social and cultural rights, the rights of prisoners and people with disabilities.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told the forum’s inaugural meeting at Dublin Castle he hoped the DUP and Ulster Unionists would see the value of taking part in the year long debate.

Mr Adams said: “We should continue to try and persuade them to participate.”

Unionist parties have declined invitations from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to attend the constitutional convention which begins its work in Dublin today.

Mr Adams, who represents Louth in the Dail, described the convention as limited but said his party had put a number of items on the agenda including voting rights in presidential elections for Irish passport holders living north of the border.

Mr Adams said a new political dynamic had been created by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and claimed constitutional reform could help build further reconciliation.

He said: “Sinn Fein is for a constitution that embraces all of the citizens of this island especially those who feel themselves to be British.

“A constitution which builds reconciliation between Orange and Green.

“A constitution that is part of shaping a new Republic for the 21st century.”

Other members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are attending, including Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Other MLAs who have confirmed are Alban Maginness of the SDLP, Stewart Dickson from the Alliance and the Green Party’s Stephen Agnew. All parties in the Republic are sending delegations.

They gather in Dublin Castle to hear from Mr Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and other party leaders. The convention will receive presentations from experts on the Constitution on the experience of citizens’ assemblies in other countries.

The National Union of Journalists yesterday called on convention chairman Tom Arnold to ensure the hearings operated “with maximum transparency”. The union’s Irish secretary Séamus Dooley has also called on Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore “to take steps to end the secrecy surrounding the names of the 66 citizen members.

Additional reporting PA

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