A confusion of referendums?


Sir, – Stephen Collins writes that the plan to hold at least seven referendums over the next couple of years is a needless distraction from the pressing issue of Brexit and worse, could even undermine our system of representative democracy at a time when populism is doing great damage in the US and UK (“Do we really want seven referendums?”, Opinion & Analysis, September 28th).

Some of the proposed referendums deal with pressing issues for many of our people and others are of more marginal concern. On their own, many may not command a high turnout, and there is nothing more damaging to the legitimacy of our democratic system than constitutional changes approved by only a small section of our population.

However, there is no reason why these referendums can’t be held simultaneously, or even in conjunction with the next presidential, European, local or general election. The idea that our citizenry can only be trusted to think about one issue at a time is insulting. Holding the referendums simultaneously will save on the cost, on our citizens’ time, and, most importantly, promote the legitimacy of our political system by helping to ensure a high turnout. – Yours, etc,


Blessington, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Stephen Collins is concerned that representative democracy is being undermined by multiple voting on constitutional changes.

A straightforward way to prevent this trend would be to organise a single referendum that would thereafter give the Oireachtas authority to amend the Constitution, subject to any such proposal receiving a super-majority of, say, 70 per cent or 75 per cent in the Dáil. At the same time, the President should be required to refer the bill to the Supreme Court to ensure that it does not contravene any constitutional provisions (other than those relating to amendment by referendum, naturally). In this single case, the Supreme Court should be given authority, in the event that it intended to reject the Bill, to explain its reasoning and identify the specific faults in the Bill, to facilitate the Oireachtas in producing a satisfactory draft next time.

I favour giving their authority, and the corresponding responsibility, back to the elected representatives of the people. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Stephen Collins feels repealing the blasphemy clause in our constitution is not a priority as no one in this State has ever been prosecuted for that offence. However, many Islamic countries have cited our blasphemy laws as evidence to support their own implementation of similar laws. In many Islamic countries the penalty for blasphemy is death. By having laws on our books, and clauses in our Constitution, that criminalise blasphemy, we unwittingly give cover to fanatics and extremists in other parts of the world. – Yours, etc,


Kilkee, Co Clare.

Sir, – Patrick Whelan (September 29th) observes that “due to the rigid, inflexible nature of written constitutions” Irish society is limited in its ability to ensure its legal system is “relevant and up-to-date” and responsive “to changing political and social circumstances”.

And how right he is. If only we could adopt the unwritten constitutional model of our nearest neighbours, we would be able to rid ourselves of the lingering anachronisms and archaic, outdated ideas from our system of government, just as “Her Majesty the Queen, with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled”, managed to do in her own kingdom. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 15.