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The Constitution of Ireland (Irish: Bunreacht na hÉireann, pronounced [ˈbunraxt nə ˈheːrʲən]) is the second constitution of independent Ireland and replaced the Free State Constitution of 1922.[1] It came into force on 29 December 1937 after having been passed by a national plebiscite on 1 July 1937.

The constitution falls broadly within the liberal democratic tradition. It establishes an independent state based on a system of representative democracy and guarantees certain fundamental rights, along with a popularly elected president, a separation of powers and judicial review. The constitution may only be amended by referendum.[2]



Copies of the constitution are published by the Government Publications Office. They are available for purchase there or in most large bookshops

The Constitution of Ireland replaced the Constitution of the Irish Free State which had been in effect since the independence of the Free State from the United Kingdom on 6 December 1922. There were two main motivations for replacing the constitution in 1937. Firstly, the Statute of Westminster 1931 granted parliamentary autonomy to the six U.K. Dominions within a Commonwealth of Nations. The Irish Free State constitution of 1922 was, in the eyes of many, associated with the still controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty. The largest political group in the anti-treaty faction, who opposed the treaty initially by force of arms, had boycotted the institutions of the new Irish Free State until 1926. In 1932 they were elected into power as the Fianna Fáil party. Since 1932, under the provisions of the Statute, some of the articles of the Constitution of the Irish Free State required by the Anglo-Irish Treaty, had been dismantled by acts of the Dail. Such amendments had removed references to the Oath of Allegiance, appeals to the Privy Council, the British Crown and the Governor General. The sudden abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936 was quickly used to redefine the royal connection.[3] Nevertheless, the Fianna Fáil government, led by Éamon de Valera, still desired to replace the constitutional document they saw as having been imposed by the U.K. government in 1922.

The second motive for replacing the original constitution was primarily symbolic. De Valera, an obscurantist political strategist, wanted to put an Irish cultural stamp on the institutions of government, and chose to do this in part via an obscure doctrine known as constitutional autochthony.


Drafting process

De Valera personally supervised the writing of the Constitution. It was drafted in two languages, Irish and English: in Irish by Micheál Ó Gríobhtha (assisted by Risteárd Ó Foghludha), who worked in the Irish Department of Education, and in English by John Hearne, legal adviser to the Department of External Affairs (now called the Department of Foreign Affairs). De Valera served as his own External Affairs Minister, hence the use of the Department's Legal Advisor, with whom he had previously worked closely, as opposed to the Attorney General or someone from the Department of the President of the Executive Council. Though many have presumed that the constitution was drafted in English and merely translated into Irish, in effect it was written in both languages almost simultaneously, with each co-author borrowing from the other's work. The result is that at a number of points the texts clash. Where the texts in the two languages conflict, the Irish texts prevail. The draft constitution was sent to the Vatican for review and comment prior to its publication and presentation to the Irish electorate.


The constitution was passed by Dáil Éireann (then the sole house of parliament) on 14 June and then approved in a plebiscite of voters on 1 July 1937. The plebiscite was held on the same day as the 1937 general election. It came into force on 29 December 1937. Among the groups who opposed the constitution were supporters of Fine Gael and the Labour Party the major opposition parties, Unionists, and some independents and feminists. The question put to voters was simply "Do you approve of the Draft Constitution which is the subject of this plebiscite?".

Plebiscite on the Constitution of Ireland[4]
Yes or no Votes Percentage
Referendum passed Yes 685,105 56.52%
No 526,945 43.48%
Valid votes 1,212,050 90.03%
Invalid or blank votes 134,157 9.97%
Total votes 1,346,207 100.00%
Voter turnout 75.84%
Electorate 1,775,055

Legal continuity

At the time the constitution was adopted there was uncertainty over whether its enactment amounted to a 'legal' amendment of the Free State constitution or a violation of its terms. If the enactment of the constitution were considered to be illegal in this way it could be considered an act of peaceful revolution. De Valera's government insisted that, owing to the principle of popular sovereignty, provided it was approved by the people in a plebiscite it was not necessary for the new constitution be adopted legally under the terms of the old. Nonetheless, in order to avoid a challenge to the new constitution in the courts, senior judges were required to make a formal declaration that they would uphold the constitution in order to be permitted to remain in office once the constitution had come into force.

Main provisions

The official text of the constitution consists of a Preamble and fifty articles arranged under sixteen headings. Its overall length is approximately 16,000 words. The headings are:

  1. The Nation (1–3)
  2. The State (4–11)
  3. The President (12–14)
  4. The National Parliament (15–27)
  5. The Government (28)
  6. International Relations (29)
  7. The Attorney General (30)
  8. The Council of State (31–32)
  9. The Comptroller and Auditor General (33)
  10. The Courts (34–37)
  11. Trial of Offences (38–39)
  12. Fundamental Rights (40–44)
  13. Directive Principles of Social Policy (45)
  14. Amendment of the Constitution (46)
  15. The Referendum (47)
  16. Repeal of Constitution of Saorstát Éireann and Continuance of Laws (48–50)

The constitution also includes a number of transitional provisions which have, in accordance with their terms, been omitted from all official texts since 1941 . These provisions are still in force but are now mostly spent.

Preamble (full text)

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,
We, the people of Éire,
Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,
Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,
And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,
Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

Characteristics of the nation and state

  • National sovereignty: The constitution declares the right of the Irish people to self-determination (Article 1). The state is declared to be sovereign and independent (Article 5).
  • United Ireland: Article 2, as substituted after the Good Friday Agreement now states that everyone born on the island of Ireland has the right "to be part of the Irish Nation" (but Article 9 limits this to persons born on the island having an Irish parent). Article 3 declares the will of the Irish people to create a united Ireland, provided this occurs peacefully, and with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
  • Name of the State: The constitution declares that the name of the state is "Éire, or, in the English language, "Ireland" (Article 4). Under the Republic of Ireland Act, the term Republic of Ireland is the official description of the state but not its name.
  • National flag: The national flag is defined as a tricolour of green, white and orange (Article 7).
  • Capital city: The Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) must usually meet in or near Dublin (Article 15) and the President's official residence must be in or near the city (Article 12).
  • Popular sovereignty: It is stated that all powers of government derive, under God, from the people (Article 6).

National and Official Languages

Article 8 of the Constitution of Ireland states the following;

"8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.
8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.
8.3 Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof."

It should be noted however that the State has never enacted legislation under Article 8.3.[5]

The Irish text of the constitution takes precedence over the English text (Articles 25 and 63). However, the second amendment included changes to the Irish text to align it more closely with the English text rather than vice-versa. The Constitution provides for a number of Irish language terms that are to be used even in English. The old Irish terms Taoiseach and Tánaiste, for the head and deputy-head of government, made their first appearance in the constitution, whilst the terms Oireachtas, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann had previously featured in the Free State constitution.

Organs of government

The Constitution establishes a government under a parliamentary system. It provides for a directly elected, largely ceremonial President of Ireland (Article 12), a head of government called the Taoiseach (Article 28) and a national parliament called the Oireachtas (Article 15). The Oireachtas has a dominant directly elected lower house known as Dáil Éireann (Article 16) and an upper house Seanad Éireann (Article 18), which is partly appointed, partly indirectly elected and partly elected by a limited electorate. There is also an independent judiciary headed by the Supreme Court (Article 34).

National emergency

Under Article 28, the constitution grants the state sweeping powers during a "time of war or armed rebellion", which may include an armed conflict in which the state is not a direct participant. In such circumstances a "national emergency" may be declared to exist by both houses of the Oireachtas. During a national emergency the Oireachtas may pass laws that would otherwise be unconstitutional and the actions of the executive cannot be found to be ultra vires or unconstitutional provided they at least "purport" to be in pursuance of such a law. However, the constitutional prohibition on the death penalty, introduced by an amendment made in 2001, is absolute and applies even during a "time of war". There have been two national emergencies since 1937: an emergency declared in 1940 to cover the threat to national security posed by World War II, and an emergency declared in 1976 to deal with the threat to the security of the state posed by the Provisional IRA.

International relations

  • European Union: Under Article 29 EU law takes precedence over the constitution if there is a conflict but only to the extent that such EU law is necessitated by Ireland's membership. The Supreme Court has ruled that any EU Treaty that substantially alters the character of the Union must be approved by a constitutional amendment. For this reason separate provisions of Article 29 have permitted the state to ratify the Single European Act, Maastricht Treaty, Amsterdam Treaty, Nice Treaty and Treaty of Lisbon
  • International law: Under Article 29 international treaties to which the state is a party are not to be considered part of the domestic law of the state unless the Oireachtas decides otherwise. The article also declares that "Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law" but the High Court has ruled that this provision is merely aspirational and is not enforceable.

Individual rights

Under 'Fundamental Rights' title

  • Equality before the law: Guaranteed by Article 40.1.
  • Prohibition on titles of nobility: The state may not confer titles of nobility and no citizen may accept such a title without the permission of the Government (in practice this is usually a formality) (Article 40.2).
  • Personal rights: The state is bound to protect "the personal rights of the citizen" and in particular to defend the "life, person, good name and property rights of every citizen" (Article 40.2).
  • Unenumerated Rights: The language used in article 40.3 has been interpreted by the courts as implying the existence of unenumerated rights afforded to Irish citizens under natural law. Such rights upheld by the courts have included the right to marital privacy and the right of the unmarried mother to custody of her child.
  • Prohibition of abortion: Prohibited by Article 40.3, except in cases in which there is a threat to the life of the mother. However, this prohibition may be circumvented because there is also the right to travel abroad, as well as the right to distribute and obtain information of services (such as abortion) not available within the state, but lawfully available in other countries.
  • Habeas Corpus: Guaranteed by Article 40.4. The Defence Forces are exempt from habeas corpus during time of rebellion or war. Since the Sixteenth Amendment it has also been constitutional for a court to deny bail to someone charged with a crime where it suspects they may commit an offence.
  • Inviolability of the home: An officer of the state may not forcibly enter someone's home unless permitted to do so by law (Article 40.5).
  • Freedom of speech: Guaranteed by Article 40.6.1. However, this may not be used to undermine "public order or morality or the authority of the State". Furthermore, the constitution explicitly requires that the publication of "blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter" be a criminal offence. The only case of blasphemy was Corway -v- Independent Newspapers (1999), which was dismissed by the Supreme Court who concluded that it was impossible to say "what the offence of blasphemy consists". However while the Defamation Act 2009 abolished the offences of seditious and obscene libel, section 36 provides for a fine not exceeding €25,000 upon conviction on indictment for a blasphemous statement.
  • Freedom of assembly: Guaranteed by Article 40.6.1, but only when exercised "peaceably and without arms" and not a "nuisance to the general public".
  • Freedom of association: Article 40.6 protects this right, but states that it may be regulated by the state "in the public interest", provided it is not regulated in a manner which is discriminatory.
  • Family and home life: Under Article 41 the state promises to "protect the family" and its "imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law". Under the same article the state must ensure economic circumstances do not oblige a mother to work outside of the home. The provision also provides that before a divorce is granted adequate financial provision must be made for any children and for both spouses.
  • Education: Article 42 guarantees parents the right to determine how their children shall be educated, provided a minimum standard is met. Under the same article the state must provide for free primary level education. Currently Irish law also guarantees free second and third level education.
  • Private property: Guaranteed subject to "social justice" and the "common good" (Article 43).
  • Freedom of worship: Guaranteed subject to "public order and morality" (Article 44.2.1).
  • Prohibition of establishment: The state may not endow any religion (Article 44.2.2).
  • Religious discrimination: The state may not discriminate on religious grounds (Article 44.2.3). Currently, Irish law also forbids discrimination in employment and services (from both the public and private sectors) on grounds of gender (including transsexuals), marital status, family status, sexual orientation, age, disability, race (including nationality) and membership of the Traveller community, as well as religion (or lack thereof).

Under other provisions

  • Prohibition of the death penalty: Under the twenty-first amendment of 2001, the Oireachtas (parliament) may not enact any law allowing for the imposition of the death penalty (Article 15), even during a time of war or armed rebellion (Article 28).
  • Prohibition of ex post facto laws: The Oireachtas may not enact ex post facto criminal laws (Article 15).
  • Trial by jury: A trial for a serious offence must usually be before a jury (Article 38). However, in certain circumstances a trial without a jury may occur before a military tribunal or "special court".
  • Sexual discrimination: The sex of an individual cannot be a reason to deny them the right to citizenship (Article 9), or to vote for or be a member of Dáil Éireann (Article 16).

Directive Principles of Social Policy

Article 45 outlines a number of broad principles of social and economic policy. Its provisions are, however, intended solely for the guidance of the legislature and cannot be enforced by a court of law. This Article is the remainder of the metaconstitution that preceded it. In the 21st century, the Directive Principles of Social Policy feature little in parliamentary debates. However, no proposals have been made for their repeal or amendment. They require, in summary, that:

  • Justice and charity must inform national institutions.
  • The free market and private property must be regulated in the interests of the common good.
  • The state must prevent a destructive concentration of essential commodities in the hands of a few.
  • The state should ensure efficiency in private industry and protect the public against economic exploitation.
  • Everyone has the right to an adequate occupation.
  • The state must supplement private industry where necessary.
  • The state must protect the vulnerable, such as orphans and the aged.
  • No one may be forced into an occupation unsuited to their age, sex or strength.

Transitory provisions

The transitory provisions of the constitution consist of thirteen articles numbering 51 to 63 that provide for a smooth transition from the state's pre-existing institutions to the newly established state. Article 51 provides for the transitional amendment of the constitution by ordinary legislation. The remaining twelve deal with such matters as the transition and reconstitution of the executive and legislature, the continuance of the civil service, the entry into office of the first president, the temporary continuance of the courts, and with the continuance of the attorney general, the comptroller and auditor general, the Defence Forces and the police.

Under their own terms the transitory provisions are today omitted from all official texts of the constitution. The provisions required that Article 51 be omitted from 1941 onwards and the remainder from 1938. However, paradoxically, under their own provisions Articles 52 to 63 continue to have the full force of law and so may be considered to remain an integral part of the constitution, even though invisible. This created the anomalous situation that, in 1941, it was deemed necessary, by means of the Second Amendment, to make changes to Article 56 despite the fact that it was no longer a part of the official text.

The precise requirements of the transitory provisions were that Articles 52 to 63 would be omitted from all texts published after the day on which the first president assumed office (this was Douglas Hyde who was inaugurated in 1938) and that Article 51 would be omitted from the third anniversary of this inauguration (1941). Unlike the other articles, Article 51 expressly provides that it would cease to have legal effect once it was removed from the document.


Any part of the constitution may be amended but only by referendum. The procedure for amendment of the constitution is specified in Article 46. An amendment must first be adopted by both Houses of the Oireachtas, then be submitted to a referendum and finally comes into effect on being signed into law by the President. The constitution has been amended twenty one times since its adoption. Controversial amendments have dealt with such topics as abortion, divorce and the European Union.

Judicial review

The constitution states that it is the highest law of the land and grants the Supreme Court authority to interpret its provisions, and to strike down the laws of the Oireachtas and activities of the Government it finds to be unconstitutional. Under judicial review the quite broad meaning of certain articles has come to be explored and expanded upon since 1937. The Supreme Court ruled, before their alteration in 1999 , that Articles 2 and 3 did not impose a positive obligation upon the state that could be enforced in a court of law. The reference in Article 41 to the "imprescriptable rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law" of the family has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as conferring upon spouses a broad right to privacy in marital affairs. In the 1974 case of McGee v. The Attorney General the court invoked this right to strike down laws banning the sale of contraceptives. The court has also issued a controversial interpretation of Article 40.3, which prohibits abortion. In the 1992 case of the Attorney General v. X (more commonly known simply as the "X case") the Supreme Court ruled that the state must permit someone to have an abortion where there is a danger to her life from suicide.

Issues of controversy

The "national territory"

As adopted in 1937 Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution made the controversial claim that the whole island of Ireland formed a single "national territory". These articles offended Unionists in Northern Ireland who considered them tantamount to an illegal extra-territorial claim. Under the terms of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the state amended Articles 2 and 3 to remove reference to a "national territory" and to state that a united Ireland should only come about with the consent of majorities in both parts of the island of Ireland. The new Articles also guarantee the people of Northern Ireland the right to be a "part of the Irish Nation" and to Irish citizenship.


The Constitution of Ireland guarantees freedom of worship and forbids the state from creating an established church. Previously the constitution contained a clause which explicitly recognised a number of religions including the Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Jewish religions. Controversially it also recognised the "special position" of the Catholic religion. However, it was removed by referendum in 1973 (see below). Nevertheless the constitution still contains a number of explicit religious references, such as in the preamble, the oath sworn by the President and Article 44.1, which reads:

The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.

The constitution has also, since 1983, contained a controversial prohibition of abortion. However, this does not apply in cases where there is a threat to the life of the mother (including from risk of suicide) and may not be used to limit the distribution of information about abortion services in other countries or the right of freedom of travel to procure an abortion.

A number of ideas still found in the constitution reflect the Catholic social teachings current in the 1930s. Such teachings informed the provisions of the (non-binding) Directive Principles of Social Policy and the system of vocational panels used to elect the senate. The constitution also grants very broadly worded rights to the institution of the family.

As adopted in 1937 the constitution included two particular controversial provisions that have since been removed. These were a prohibition of divorce and a reference to the "special position" of the Catholic Church. Article 44, Sections 2 and 3 read:

Few contemporary commentators argue that the original text of the Constitution would be fully appropriate today. Those that have have argued that:

  • incorporating Catholic social teaching into law was common to many predominantly Catholic countries in the 1930s. Divorce, for example was banned in other states such as Italy, which repealed its ban in the 1970s.
  • the reference to the Catholic Church's special position was of no legal effect and there was significance in the fact that the "special position" of Catholicism was held to derive merely from its greater number of adherents, a concept that ran contrary to the Church's view of itself before the Second Vatican Council. Notably, Éamon De Valera resisted pressure from right-wing Catholic groups such as Maria Duce to make Catholicism an established church or to declare it the "one true religion".
  • the prohibition on divorce was supported by senior members of the Church of Ireland
  • the constitution's explicit recognition of the Jewish community was progressive in the climate of the 1930s.

However Sections 2 and 3 of Article 44 which recognised specific religions were deleted from the constitution in 1973. The ban on divorce was removed in 1996. However, the remaining religious articles - including the Preamble - remain controversial and widely debated.[6]

Alleged sexism

The constitution guarantees women the right to vote and to nationality and citizenship. However it also contains a provision that was objected to by women's organisations at the time of the its enactment in 1937. Article 41.2 states:

  • Subsection 1: In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
  • Subsection 2: The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

Article 41.2.1 could, however, be viewed in the context of the 1930s and some point out that it is not coercive and there is no constitutional obligation for women to stay in the home. Instead, some argue that the provision highlights the value of the unremunerated role that women in the home contribute to society.

A Republic?

In 1949, it was officially declared that the state could be described as a republic. However, there is debate as to whether or not the state was a republic in the period of 1937-1949 (between these dates the state was not described in any law as a republic nor was Ireland's official description, the Republic of Ireland). To this day, the constitution does not mention the word "republic" but does include provisions stating that the state is a "sovereign, independent and democratic state" and that all power is derived, under God, from the people.

Nonetheless, debate largely focuses on the question of whether, before 1949, the head of state was the President of Ireland or King George VI. The constitution did not mention the king, neither did it state that the President was head of state. The President exercised some of the usual internal roles of a head of state, such as appointing the Government and promulgating the law.

However, in 1936, George VI was declared "By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India" and, under the External Relations Act of the same year, it was this King who represented the state in its foreign affairs. Treaties, therefore, were signed in the name of the King, who also accredited ambassadors and received the letters of credence of foreign diplomats. Representing a state abroad is seen by many scholars as the key characteristic of a head of state. This role meant, in any case, that George VI was the Irish Head of State in the eyes of foreign nations. In 1949, the Republic of Ireland Act was adopted. This proclaimed a republic and transferred the role of representing the state abroad from King George VI to the President. No change was made to the constitution.

Name of the state

The constitution, adopted in 1937, provides that the name of the state is "Éire", or, in the English language, "Ireland". Originally the draft constitution had stated that the state was to be called just Éire and used the term throughout the Constitution, but the English text of the constitution was amended during the Dail debates to replace Éire with Ireland[7] except in article 4 which was amended to provide the alternative English language name, and in the preamble where Éire is used alone.

The name of the state was the subject of a long dispute between the British and Irish governments which has since been resolved.[8]

Lack of recognition for non-traditional family units

See also: Recognition of same-sex unions in Ireland

Article 41.1.1˚ of the constitution recognises the family as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law” and guarantees its protection by the State. However, these rights and protections are not available for every family unit, much to the dismay of many liberals, egalitarians, single parents, unmarried co-habiters, homosexuals and gay rights activists.

The institution of marriage enjoys a privileged position in the constitution. A family exclusively based on marriage is envisaged – Article 41.3.1˚ states that “[t]he State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the Family is founded”. The effect is that non-marital unit members are not entitled to any of the encompassed protections, including those under the realms of tax, inheritance and social welfare, granted by Article 41. For example, in State (Nicolaou) v. An Bord Uchtála [1966] IR 567, where an unmarried father, who had become estranged from the mother of his child some months after living and caring for the same child together, was prevented from invoking the provisions of Article 41 to halt the mother’s wishes of putting the child up for adoption. The then Mr. Justice Walsh of the Supreme Court stated that “the family referred to in [Article 41 was] the family which is founded on the institution of marriage”.

Constitutional Reviews

The constitution has been subjected to a series of formal reviews in the last 40 years.[9]

The then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, encouraged the establishment of an informal Oireachtas committee, which undertook a general review of the Constitution and issued a report in 1967.
A draft report was produced by a legal committee, chaired by the Attorney General Colm Condon. No final report was published.
The Inter-Party Committee on the Implications of Irish Unity addressed constitutional issues in relation to Northern Ireland. Its work was continued by the 1973 All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Irish Relations and later by the 1982 Constitution Review Body, a group of legal experts under the chairmanship of the Attorney General. Neither of the 1972 groups published a report.
The New Ireland Forum was established in 1983, and its report in 1984 covered some constitutional issues.
The Progressive Democrats published a review entitled Constitution for a New Republic.
In October 1994 , the government established a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, which considered some constitutional issues relating to Northern Ireland. The Forum suspended its work in February 1996 but met once more in December 1997.
The Constitution Review Group[10] was an expert group established by the government in 1995, and chaired by Dr T.K. Whitaker. Its 700-page report, published in July 1996,[11] has been described as "the most thorough analysis of the Constitution from the legal, political science, administrative, social and economic perspectives ever made".[12]
The first All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution[13] was set up in 1996.

All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution

First Committee

The first All-Party Committee (1996-97), chaired by Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe, published two progress reports in 1997:

  • 1st Progress Report, 1997[14]
  • 2nd Progress Report, 1997[15]

Second Committee

The Second All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (1997–2002) was chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Brian Lenihan. It published five progress reports:

  • 3rd Progress Report: The President, 1998[16]
  • 4th Progress Report: the courts and judiciary, 1999[17]
  • 5th Progress Report: abortion, 2000[18]
  • 6th Progress Report: the referendum, 2001[19]
  • 7th Progress Report: Parliament, 2002[20]

The second committee also published two commissioned works:

  • A new electoral system for Ireland?, by Michael Laver (1998)[21]
  • Bunreacht na hÉireann: a study of the Irish text, by Micheál Ó Cearúil (1999)[22]

Third Committee

The current (2002) committee is chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Denis O'Donovan. It describes its task as being to "complete the programme of constitutional amendments begun by the earlier committees, aimed at renewing the Constitution in all its parts, for implementation over a number of years". It describes the job as "unprecedented", noting that "no other state with the referendum as its sole mechanism for constitutional change has set itself so ambitious an objective."[23]

The committee has divided its work into considering three types of amendment:

  • technical/editorial: changes in form but not in substance, for example changing 'he' to 'he or she' where it is clear that a provision in the Constitution applies to both men and women.
  • non-contentious: changes in substance generally agreeable to the people, for example describing the President as Head of State.
  • contentious: changes in substance which of their nature divide people, for example changes in the character and scope of human rights.

The current All-Party Committee has published three reports:[24]

  • 8th Progress Report: Government, 2003[25]
  • 9th Progress Report: Private Property, 2004[26]
  • 10th Progress Report: The Family, 2006[27]

The committee summarises its remaining tasks as being to consider:

  • fundamental rights (apart from the right to life and property rights, which have already been considered)
  • Article 45 (Directive Principles of Social Policy)
  • a miscellany ranging from the Preamble, the name of the state, the position of the Irish language, to the transitory provisions.

Historical response to Constitution

When the constitution was enacted in 1937, the British government, according to the New York Times "contented itself with a legalistic protest".[28] Its protest took the form of a communiqué on 30 December 1937 in which the British stated:[29] by declaring:[29][30]

"His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom has considered the position created by the new Constitution ... of the Irish Free State, in future to be described under the Constitution as 'Eire' [sic] or 'Ireland' ... [and] cannot recognize that the adoption of the name 'Eire' or 'Ireland', or any other provision of those articles [of the Irish constitution], involves any right to territory ... forming part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ... They therefore regard the use of the name 'Eire' or 'Ireland' in this connection as relating only to that area which has hitherto been known as the Irish Free State."

The Irish Government received a message of goodwill from 268 United States congressmen including eight senators. The signatories expressed "their ardent congratulations on the birth of the State of Ireland and the consequent coming into effect of the new constitution", adding that "We regard the adoption of the new constitution and the emergence of the State of Ireland as events of the utmost importance."[31]

See also


  1. ^ "Constitution Of Ireland Bunreacht Na hÉireann". The All-Party Oireachtas Committee On The Constitution. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  2. ^ Article 46(2)
  3. ^ Dáil Éireann - Volume 64 - 12 December, 1936. Executive Authority (External Relations) Bill, 1936 - Committee Stage.
  4. ^ "Referendum Results 1937–2009". Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.,1894,en.pdf. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  5. ^ as per O'Hanlon J. in The State (Mac Fhearraigh) v Mac Gamhna, (1983) T.É.T.S 290.
  6. ^ Minutes & Recordings of the College Historical Society debate on the presence of God in the Constitution, featuring Archbishop John Neill, Patsy McGarry and Senator Ronan Mullen.
  7. ^ "Dáil Éireann - Volume 67 - 25 May, 1937 - Bunreacht na hEireann (Dréacht)—Coiste". Retrieved 2008-10-24. 
  8. ^ Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office, Lord Dubs, House of Lords Debates volume 593 Column 1188 (19 Oct 1998).
  9. ^ See All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution: Constitutional Reviews. This section is adapted from this source, under the presumption of fair use of government publications
  10. ^
  11. ^ Constitution Review Group (1996). Report of the Constitution Review Group. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-2440-1. 
  12. ^ See Constitution Review Group
  13. ^
  14. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (1997). First progress report. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-3858-5. 
  15. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (1997). Second progress report. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-3868-2. 
  16. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution; Chair: Brian Lenihan (1998). Third progress report: The President. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-6161-7. 
  17. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution; Chair: Brian Lenihan (1999). Fourth progress report: the courts and judiciary. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-6297-4. 
  18. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution; Chair: Brian Lenihan (2000). Fifth progress report: abortion. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-9001-3. 
  19. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution; Chair: Brian Lenihan (2001). Sixth progress report: the referendum. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7557-1168-8. 
  20. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution; Chair: Brian Lenihan (2002). Seventh progress report: parliament. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7557-1211-0. 
  21. ^ Laver, Michael; All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (1998). A new electoral system for Ireland?. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 1-902585-00-3. 
  22. ^ Ó Cearúil, Micheál; All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (1999). Bunreacht na hÉireann: a study of the Irish text. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-6400-4. 
  23. ^ See Work Programme of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution
  24. ^ see Publications of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution
  25. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (2003). Eighth progress report: government. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7557-1552-7. 
  26. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (2004). Ninth progress report: private property. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7557-1901-8. 
  27. ^ All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (2006). Tenth progress report: private property. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7557-1901-8. 
  28. ^ [ULSTER'S INCLUSION BARRED BY BRITAIN; London Protests Claim That Belfast Eventually Must Be Ruled by Dublin; LITTLE CHANGE IS SEEN; Premier of Northern Ireland Attacks Constitution as an 'Affront to His Majesty' - New York Times, 30 December 1937]
  29. ^ a b Circular dated 1 April 1949 from the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs to Heads of Post Abroad (Circular Document No.B38, 836. DEA/7545‑B‑40)
  30. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 30 December 1937 Britain accepts new name for the Free State. Full text of British Government's communiqué cited in Clifford, Angela, The Constitutional History of Eire/Ireland, Athol Books, Belfast, 1985, p153.
  31. ^ [ The Canberra Times - Thursday 13 January 1938

Further reading

  • Brian Farrell, De Valera's Constitution and Ours
  • Brian Doolan, Constitutional Law and Constitutional Rights in Ireland
  • Jim Duffy, "Overseas studies: Ireland" in An Australian Republic: The Options - The Appendices (Republic Advisory Committee, Vol II, Commonwealth of Australia, 1993) ISBN 0-644-32589-5
  • Michael Forde, Constitutional Law of Ireland
  • John M. Kelly, The Irish Constitution
  • Tim Murphy & Patrick Twomey, Ireland's Evolving Constitution 1937-1997: Collected Essays
  • Micheál Ó Cearúil, Bunreacht na hÉireann: A Study of the Irish Text (published by the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, The Stationery Office, 1999).
  • James Casey, "Constitutional Law in Ireland"
  • Séamas Ó Tuathail, "Gaeilge agus Bunreacht"

Obtaining copies

Paper copies of the constitution are available from the Irish Government Publications Office, Molesworth St, Dublin 2. For electronic copies see below.

External links

Text of the constitution
1937 Dáil debates


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