Convention recommends raft of constitutional changes

Chairman says of 38 recommendations, 18 would need constitutional change

 Art O’Leary (left), secretary, and Tom Arnold, chairman, at the presentation of the conclusions and final recommendations of the Convention of the Constitution in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Art O’Leary (left), secretary, and Tom Arnold, chairman, at the presentation of the conclusions and final recommendations of the Convention of the Constitution in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

A recommendation that the question of giving constitutional protection to the environment, expressing the separation of church and State, reforming the Seanad and local government, defining the family and dealing with the right to die be examined was made yesterday when the Convention on the Constitution completed its work.

The chairman of the convention, Tom Arnold, wound up its affairs at a press conference in the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, saying that the “stars” of the convention had been the citizen members.

“The citizen members of this process have been the stars of the process,” said Mr Arnold. “Their engagement, their seriousness, their real sense that, as citizens, they could contribute to something as important as influencing, possibly, the shape of our Constitution, it has actually, quite an inspiration.”

The Convention on the Constitution was established by the Dáil in July 2012 as part of the programme for government. It held its first meeting that December. The 100 members were drawn from the Oireachtas and citizen electors chosen at random.

Several of the participants attended yesterday’s closing event and spoke in glowing terms about what the experience had meant to them, a common theme being a new respect for politicians and an appreciation at having their own views listened to with respect.

“For me personally, it gave me a better attitude towards politicians. I couldn’t tolerate any of them [before]. I always had the impression that they were arrogant and ‘look who I am’,” said Yvonne Kearney, who described herself as a retired housewife from Dublin.

Brona Farrell, who said she was a housewife from Ballintubber, Co Sligo, spoke emotionally about feeling that for the first time, her view mattered.

“We had the chance to put forward, to people who are actually working for us, they’re supposed to represent us, so we were actually let them know how we felt on a grassroots level,” she said.

“ This was the first opportunity . . . that I was able to voice how I felt about certain things and not to be able to feel ridiculous and not to be made to feel that my concerns were not as important as everybody else’s. And I was dealt with in such a terrific manner.”

Mr Arnold, who is also chairman of The Irish Times Trust, said the convention had produced nine reports, eight of them on the 10 issues given to it by the Oireachtas, plus two more – Dáil reform and economic and social matters – from two extra meetings after the Government extended the life of the convention.

“As it stands,” he added, “the legacy of this convention is a set of recommendations which involve 38 recommendations for change, in some form or another, 18 of which would require constitutional change. So there’s no mean menu, if you like, there to deal with.

“The Government has considered the first three reports.

“I think that consideration, as expressed in the Dáil debate, has been serious and considered and has resulted in a commitment by Government that they are committed to three referendums arising from those first three reports – a referendum on voting age, the age at which people can stand for the presidency and the issue of same sex marriage.

“We have, I think, defined a comprehensive agenda of both political and constitutional change and now in a sense the ball is over to somebody else to deal with,” Mr Arnold said.

“It is over in the first instance to the Government to decide which of the recommendations should be accepted and then worked through to referendum. And then, most importantly of all, it is over to the people to have the final say.”

The eighth report by the convention, covering economic, social and cultural rights may be obtained from its website, constitution.ie