Constitution of Ireland, 1937

The 'Mother' of all Rights and Responsibilities in the Republic of Ireland.

Click below to visit the official Constitution of Ireland website or else scroll down to see what I've got to say about it!

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"Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong; where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours...then surely it is a braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men."
Roger Casement's speech from his trial dock, 1916 - Original painting available to view in King's Inns, Dublin.



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BACKGROUND & FUNCTION

The Constitution of Ireland (or Bunreacht na hÉireann), enacted in 1937 and preceded by the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) 1922, is the supreme source of citizen's rights in Ireland and covers matters such as family, personal rights, children's rights, education, fundamental rights, and private property rights.
It also sets out the State and its departments along with various other matters such as the colour of the flag, the official title for the nation, which is Éire or Ireland, what the legal position is in relation to the North of Ireland and it sets out the judicial system generally along with the role of the President and his/her powers.

One of the overriding features of the Constitution is the doctrine of the 'Separation of Powers'. This is a system of government, proposed by Frenchman Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, which states that the running of the nation should be divided across three independent arms; the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. In theory each arm acts as a watcher over the others to ensure that no one branch becomes too powerful. The Legislature (the TD's elected to the Óireachtas) make the laws, the Executive (Government) enforces them (and carries out the other day-to-day running of the country activities) and the Judiciary (the Courts) serves to interpret the actual meaning of the law. Naturally we have even managed to mess this up somewhat by virtue of the fact that our Executive are members of the Legislature and, thus, may introduce proposed laws on behalf of the Government. See any problem here?

Not all nations have a written constitution. In fact our neighbours, and former rulers, in Britain do not have a written constitution but instead rely on 800 years (check out Magna Carta) of precedent and legislation combined to act as the vehicle for ruling the nation.


ACCESSIBILITY

The Constitution is very easy to read and is designed to be very clear so that ordinary folk can read it and understand what it says. There's no complicated legalese. It is readily available in book shops or else you can use the online version which, since you are reading this web-page, might be more accessible for you. 

When you go onto the Constitution website, the link to which you can find in the green box at the top of this page, or indeed at the extreme top of any page on this website (or just click HERE!) the first thing you will see listed are all of the amendments which have been passed (and rejected) since the creation of the Constitution in 1937. Below these is a table of contents which very clearly directs you to whichever bit you're looking for. For example, if you select "THE COURTS" then you are taken directly to Article 34 which deals with the Courts. If you are looking for information on legislation then you need only click on "LEGISLATION" and you will be brought to Article 20 - Legislation.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION

The Irish are, for the most part, a peaceful and amicable people. We don't like to cause a fuss, or to criticise a poorly done job. Therefore, when other people, or companies, or even the State, infringe on our Constitutional rights, we tend to turn the other cheek and just accept it. 

Sometimes, however, an issue gathers such momentum, or is of such national concern, that the Government are forced to listen to the 'voice of the people' and roll back on whatever it was they were planning on doing or have already done. 

Under Article 15 of the Constitution of Ireland, the Óireachtas must not enact any law which is incompatible with the Constitution. Furthermore, if a law or part of a law is repugnant to the Constitution, that law, or the offending or part of it, is invalid. All laws passed by parliament are presumed to be constitutional until they are proven not to be. When a citizen suffers a loss or has a right taken away which the Constitution says they are entitled to, as a result of a law passed by the Óireachtas, that citizen may bring a case to the Supreme Court to be heard by a minimum of 5 judges challenging the constitutionality of that law. Should the Supreme Court determine that the offending law is indeed unconstitutional then the law is declared void.

REFERENDUM

Acknowledging the fact that times, and culture, change in many different ways, the Constitution allows for changes to be made to itself under Article 47. These changes can only be made by way of a Referendum of the People. In a referendum every citizen who has a right to vote for a member of the Dáil can cast a vote in favour of, or against, the proposed amendment. A good example of this was the Marriage Equality Referendum of 2015 whereby Ireland became the first country to legalise same sex marriage. This was the 34th amendment made to the Constitution since its inception in 1397. The amendment permitted a legal marriage to take place between two persons, regardless of their sexes. Prior to this it was deemed that marriage could only exist between a man and a woman. Consequently, given it's new Constitutional status, same sex marriage was adopted into legislation by way of an amendment to the Marriage Act 2015. The act came into force on 16 November 2015 and the first same-sex marriage ceremony was held on 17 November 2015.

PRESIDENTIAL OVERSIGHT - ARTICLE 26 REFERRAL

Sometimes the Government, or indeed any member of the Óireachtas, may introduce a Bill (proposed law) that may inadvertently contain features which are deemed to be unconstitutional. This means that the proposed law contains a feature which is at odds, or repugnant to, the rules as set out by the Constitution. From time to time such a law may indeed make it past the watchful gaze of the alert and learned Óireachtas TD's and their numerous advisors and be on its merry way to be signed into law by the President. The Constitution, therefore, prescribes that the President must examine this Bill before signing it into law and, where he/she identifies any potential element of unconstitutionality, may refer it to the Supreme Court for clarification under Article 26, having first consulted the Council of State regarding the matter. If the SC says the proposed law is indeed unconstitutional then the President cannot sign it and the Bill is dead in the water. If the SC says it is in fact constitutional then he must sign it and the Bill can never again be challenged in the courts. The decision of the Supreme Court is final.

YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

There are two types of constitutional rights in Ireland: enumerated and unenumerated rights. Enumerated rights are ones that are written directly into the text of the Constitution itself, such as the right to equality before the law. Unenumerated (inferred by other prescribed rights) rights developed by way of judicial ruling, in particular in the case of Ryan v Attorney General [1965] IR 294. In Ryan the Court recognised the right to travel and held that rights ‘are not confined to those specified in Article 40’. This allowed the court to 'read' rights into the Constitution by way of clever interpretation. Examples of other unenumerated rights are the right to marital privacy, the right to bodily integrity, the right to earn a livelihood, and, a right to an environment consistent with human dignity.

There are many lawyers that take issue with the doctrine of unenumerated rights, mostly due to the fact that these rights are 'discovered' by the judiciary and held to be Constitutional in a manner that is entirely undemocratic. You could read it as the judiciary unilaterally inserting rights into the Constitution which would in itself be repugnant to the referendum process as prescribed by the Constitution itself, along with a breach of the 'separation of powers' doctrine!

I do not propose to set out the entire Constitution here, since it is already so well set out for you, but please do take the time to read over the Constitution and learn what your rights and responsibilities are as citizens of Ireland. Every single jigsaw piece is essential to the complete picture, just as every righteous citizen is essential to a fair, balanced and sustainable legal system. 

I will, however, list some of your most basic rights here; those which are most often infringed upon, both knowingly and unknowingly, by fellow citizens, by companies and by the State:

Equality before the law.
Right to life.
Personal liberty.
Freedom of expression.
Freedom of assembly.
Freedom of association.
The right to fair procedures.
Bodily integrity.
Trial by jury.
Religious liberty.
The right to privacy.
The right to earn a livelihood.
Freedom to travel.
Inviolability of a citizen's dwelling.
Property rights.
The rights of the family.
The rights of children.

These are just some of the most fundamental rights afforded to every Irish citizen and are very clearly explained in simple terms on the Citizen's Information website which you can access directly by clicking HERE

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