Irish Constitution—what is it?

On the 22nd May next we will be voting on two referenda to change the Irish Constitution.  The purpose of my article isn’t to suggest what way to vote but just to give a bit of a background to our Constitution which is now 78 years old.
This fundamental document establishes and describes the main institutions of the Irish State.  The power to run the State is divided into three separate areas, the Legislative power (Dáil Eireann, Seanad Éireann and The President), the Executive power (the government, Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Cabinet Ministers) and the Judicial power (the Courts).
Fundamental rights under the Irish Constitution.
The Constitution also recognises and declares that the people living in Ireland have certain fundamental rights.  These rights are natural to human rights and are confirmed and protected by the Constitution although not every right that you possess is in the Constitution.  These rights are protected by the Constitution but they are not absolute.  If there is a conflict between the constitutional rights of individuals, the Courts look at all the circumstances and weigh all the factors to decide which constitutional right is more important in that particular case.
The main constitutional rights which regularly come before the Courts are as follows:

  • Equality before the law.
  • Right to life.
  • Personal Liberty.
  • Freedom of expression.
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Freedom of association.
  • Right to fair procedures.
  • Bodily integrity.
  • Trial by a Jury.
  • Religious liberty.
  • The right to privacy.
  • The right of earn a livelihood.
  • Freedom to travel.
  • Inviolability of citizens dwelling.
  • Property rights.
  • The rights of the family.

Of the rights above the one that can often be forgotten is the right to fair procedures.  The Courts, and all other administrative bodies or persons making decisions that affect you, must treat you fairly.  There are two essential rules of fair procedure:
(i) The person making the decision that affects you must not be biased or appear to be biased.
(ii) You must be given an adequate opportunity to present your case.  You must be informed of the matter and you must be given a chance to comment on the material put forward by the other side.
Right to Vote
We are fortunate to have a constitution therefore, people should read the information provided by the Independent Referendum Commission, make up their mind and exercise their vote as they consider appropriate.  I am always of the view that it is important to exercise your right to vote because if you didn’t have it you would sorely miss it.