God and the Constitution
Sir, – Bruce Arnold’s concern at the invocation of the result of last week’s referendum as a justification for the immediate enactment of the draft Bill liberalising abortion law in Ireland, while not entirely without foundation, represents a rather moot point at present (“We have just voted God out of the Constitution”, Opinion & Analysis, May 30th).
It is indeed the case that the proposal approved by the people on a strictly textual analysis merely empowers and does not obligate the Oireachtas to legislate for the termination of pregnancy, such that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 remains constitutionally acceptable. However, this is not really sufficient to refute the demands of the class of people Arnold unfortunately and condescendingly characterises as “the mob” that more liberal legislation be introduced expeditiously, given that there appears to be a parliamentary majority in favour of such legislation. The Constitution confers law-making power on the Oireachtas as the democratically elected representatives of the people and if a majority thereof is in favour of more liberal legislation, it is perhaps best that such legislation be passed.
Furthermore, his criticism of the fact that, despite the apparent power of the people in our democracy, “the ultimate power remains in the hands of the Supreme Court, which interprets or ignores the constitutional text as it sees fit”, after the decision whereby that court “effectively nullified or ignored the preamble and each instance in the constitutional text in which the natural law doctrine is affirmed or implied”, sits uneasily with his proposed alternative. Affirming the role of natural law can only invite further interpretation by judges of an amorphous body of principles. If Arnold wishes to see the return of the “supervisory authority of natural law and of the implicit authority of God on which it is grounded”, he must be willing to accept that God will only ever command that which the judiciary decides that God commands.
While it remains an open question whether or not this is desirable, it is not clear that, on Arnold’s own analysis, the Supreme Court’s retreat from natural law makes much of a difference. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Bruce Almighty! – Yours, etc,