Referendums and constitutional change
Sir, – Michael Drury (September 30th) favours giving the Oireachtas the powers of a constituent assembly to enact constitutional change by a super-majority. He may need reminding of the experience, within living memory for some of our citizens, of the Irish Free State in this regard.
The 1922 constitution of the Irish Free State gave the Dáil the power to amend the constitution for an eight-year period after its enactment so as to iron out any teething problems with the new experiment in constitutionalism on this island.
In 1929, just before this eight-year period ran out, the Dáil voted to amend the amendment procedure itself, and extended its own power to amend the constitution for a further eight years, removing the right of the people to a referendum; and in 1931, inserted Article 2A into the constitution.
This article allowed for widespread invasions of civil rights, military tribunals, detention without trial and retroactive criminal punishment, all at the whim of the executive, and was described by Chief Justice Kennedy in his stinging dissent in State (Ryan) v Lennon as “the antithesis of the rule of law” and, borrowing a phrase from Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers, “the favourite and most formidable instruments of tyranny”.
Mr Drury will have to forgive me for being less trusting that elected politicians will always protect the rights of political minorities, and that transient political majorities will not make fundamental changes to the political system so as to entrench their own power. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Some of your columnists and a number of letter-writers have questioned the value of having Irish voters cast ballots on several referendums that are likely to be proposed by the Government to amend the Constitution. After centuries of political oppression, it is regrettable that every Irish citizen of voting age is not keenly interested in such proposals which could have a notable affect on our political system. Why be concerned about voting? A current study by Freedom House states that only 39 per cent of the global population live in nations that ensure full political rights and civil liberties. Polling day may never compete with the excitement of a GAA title match, but the polling results can have a far greater impact – even if the title match had ended more than 66 years of waiting! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The seven referendums are surely a blessing for schoolchildren and teachers, who can look forward to many more school-free days. – Yours, etc,