Government ‘constitutionally bound’ to hold presidential inauguration on Armistice Day

Taoiseach spokesman says he is ‘committed’ to marking Armistice

 Under current plans the date of the inauguration on November 11th clashes with the centenary anniversary of Armistice Day, the ending of World War One.   Photograph: Frank Miller

Under current plans the date of the inauguration on November 11th clashes with the centenary anniversary of Armistice Day, the ending of World War One. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The Government has said it is constitutionally bound to hold the Presidential inauguration on the centenary of the Armistice.

On Tuesday, Minister for the Environment Eoghan Murphy announced the Presidential election will be held by October 26th and the inauguration on November 11th, 100 years to the day after the end of the first World War.

A spokesman for Leo Varadkar said the Taoiseach is committed to marking the Armistice having becoming the first holder of the office to wear a poppy as he did in the Dáil last year.

However, he said it was a constitutional imperative to inaugurate the president first.

“To have the President at the commemoration, we need to have an inauguration first,” he said.

“It is something the Taoiseach has been particularly mindful of in embracing all traditions on this island. Absolutely, the Armistice will be marked.”

The spokesman pointed to the provision in the Constitution which states: “Every subsequent President shall enter upon his office on the day following the expiration of the term of office of his predecessor.”

President Higgins’ term of office expires at midnight on November 10th.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has called for the date of inauguration to be put back.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris on Wednesday said the Government will reflect on the timing of the inauguration and it wished to ensure that “Ireland continues to commemorate and recognise the participation of Irish individuals in world wars”.

“I think as a country we have shown a maturity in relation to this in recent years which is very welcome in commemorating a whole range of events in a sensitive manner.”

More Irishmen fought and died in the first World War than in any other conflict. According to the historian Tom Burnell, 29,450 who died were from what is now the Republic of Ireland, suggesting a figure of 45,000 for the whole island. Some 270,000 Irishmen and women served in either the British armed force or those of the Commonwealth or American armies.

No discretion

A spokesman for Mr Murphy said the Government had no discretion in setting the date for the inauguration.

“It is not a date at all. It is a constitutional matter. If we moved the inauguration, it would mean that we would have no President on Armistice Day,” he said.

He pointed out that President Higgins was inaugurated on November 11th, 2011. His predecessor Mary McAleese was also inaugurated in both 1997 and 2004 on Armistice Day.

Mr Murphy’s spokesman said the inauguration and the marking of the centenary of the Armistice were “not mutually exclusive” events and a morning inauguration will give the newly-elected President, whoever he or she might be, time to take part in the Armistice commemorations.

NUIG law professor Tom O’Malley said he agreed with the Government.

“I think the Government is probably right and if the inauguration was left until after November 11th then there would be a vacancy and I’m not sure that is provided for by the Constitution,” he said.

He said while there was a line in the Constitution that says a new president has to be inaugurated on the day after a former president leaves office there is an additional clause which says “or as soon as may be thereafter”.

He said that may give the Government “some wiggle room” but added that the “basic principle is there shouldn’t be any gap in the presidency if it is unnecessary so they are probably stuck with November 11th.”

He said it could depend on how the word thereafter was interpreted but he expressed the view that “there should be continuity of the presidency”.

DCU’s Dr Tom Hickey, who works in the fields of constitutional law and political theory, echoed the views of Mr O’Malley and while he said the language in the relevant clause of the Constitution might allow for a delay in an inauguration, such a move would be unlikely.

The Armistice commemorations will be run by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

A spokesman for Minister Josepha Madigan said: “The Department is aware of the coincidence of dates and is working with relevant departments to consider appropriate options to commemorate Armistice Day.

“The Government is mindful that November 11th marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1. The Taoiseach and other members of the Government have participated in Armistice Day commemorations in previous years and will give consideration as to how best to commemorate this significant anniversary.”

The first World War ended at 11am on November 11th, 1918. Commemorations to mark the centenary will take place across the world on that date. Danny Boyle, the film director who choreographed the London Olympic opening ceremony, has been put in charge of marking the Armistice in Britain.

It is expected that Queen Elizabeth II will mark the Armistice by inviting German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the ceremonies in London as a mark of reconciliation between the two countries.