Party would ask citizens to write new constitution


THE LABOUR Party in government would appoint ordinary citizens, chosen at random, to a special convention charged with drawing up a new constitution for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, party leader Eamon Gilmore has said.

These individuals would be chosen in much the same way as juries are selected and he said the Canadian province of British Columbia used a similar approach in constitutional matters.

Elected representatives would be involved, with other experts and specialists, Mr Gilmore told reporters in Galway at the end of the party’s national conference.

“The present Constitution – which has served us well – was written in the 1930s and, as we approach the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, I think it’s a good time for us to take an overall look at the type of constitutional arrangements we’ll need to have in the period ahead.

“There is already a considerable amount of debate taking place about what type of political institutions we have, and how they should relate to each other.

“The composition of the constitutional convention – and it’s not something that I’m very fixed on – but my own idea would be that you would have a convention made up of elected public representatives, representatives of civic society, and individual citizens who would be selected randomly, in much the same way as we select juries.

“There is a precedent for this, in British Columbia, where they operate this kind of citizen-jury type of approach to looking at constitutional proposals. It worked very well there and I think it’s something that we should have a look at here,” Mr Gilmore said.

In his main address to the conference at the weekend, he said: “We need, as a people, to consider and shape how we are going to order our affairs for the next two generations or more. What political institutions we will need in this new century. How they should be elected. To what extent they should be local or national.

“How they should relate to the civil service and the public service, and to Europe. How we can have effective regulation and law enforcement. How our democracy can develop and endure.

“It is time, in my view, for a fundamental review of our Constitution. There is much about the Constitution that has served us well, but it is a document written in the 1930s for the 1930s,” he said. “A time when one church was considered to have a special position, and women were considered to be second-class citizens.”

There was sustained applause for Mr Gilmore’s repeated attacks on the Government, and for his declaration that the party’s objective in the next election was “a new government, led by Labour”.

About 1,000 delegates attended the event at NUI Galway, where issues ranging from banking to job-creation, education to international affairs, and health to constitutional reform were discussed in three days of debate.

Senior party figures Brendan Howlin TD, Dublin MEP Proinsias De Rossa and Ireland East MEP Nessa Childers could not attend due to the flight ban resulting from volcanic ash.

Delegates backed a proposal for a salary cap of €250,000 for employees of financial institutions covered by the bank guarantee, and backed a 0.05 per cent financial tax on all currency transactions to discourage speculators.

Finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said Taoiseach Brian Cowen had got everything wrong from the day he entered the Department of Finance, as minister at the time, “right up to the catastrophic decision on that fateful night when he opted to protect Anglo Irish Bank at any price with a blanket guarantee”.

SDLP leader and the North’s Minister for Social Development, Margaret Ritchie, a guest speaker, said a merger of her party with Fianna Fáil would not happen while she was leader.

A majority backed a motion calling for the artists’ tax exemption to be limited to those with a maximum annual income of €50,000 instead of the current €250,000.

Delegates backed a call for a constitutional referendum to remove any reference to blasphemy from the Constitution and condemned the Government’s recently-introduced legislation against blasphemy.