Who has the right to decide when the election takes place?


Amid the current sometimes fevered speculation over the date of the election to the 32nd Dáil, one constant refrain is that the timing of the election is the prerogative of the Taoiseach. Members of Fine Gael, while they might express a personal preference, are punctilious in adding that ‘of course’ it is entirely up to the Taoiseach when the election takes place. More surprisingly, Labour TDs also seem to defer to this notion.

In some ways this is natural enough. After all, the Constitution states quite categorically: ‘Dáil Éireann shall be summoned and dissolved by the President on the advice of the Taoiseach.’ (Article 13.2.1). The Taoiseach does not need to consult, let alone secure the agreement of, anyone else, be that the Tánaiste, the government, the Dáil, the Council of State, or the parliamentary party. Hence, if Enda Kenny, today or at any time over the next five months, were to travel up to the Park and advise the President to dissolve the Dáil, that would settle the matter.

Yet perhaps things are not quite so straightforward. After all, constitutions consist not only of what is written therein but also of interpretations and of conventions that have developed about how the political process is to be conducted. Conventions are not as rigid as the words of a constitution and thus can change over time in response to events or to changing beliefs about how politics should be carried on, but nonetheless they carry weight while they last. What is written in a constitution might in reality give a partial or unrealistic view of what actually happens, and political practice might be rather different from what a literal reading of the constitution would imply.

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In the National Interest? Abuse of Dáil Privilege or acting in the Public Interest?


Posted on behalf of Dr. Jennifer Kavanagh – Waterford IT

The controversy surrounding the non-reporting of statements by Catherine Murphy TD made in Dáil Eireann last week appears to have been ameliorated by the pronouncement by Mr Justice Donald Binchy that an earlier court order was not intended to stop the reporting of Dáil statements. Some of the focus of this controversy may now move towards whether the statements by Catherine Murphy were an abuse of Dáil privilege. This issue will have to be pursued through the Houses of the Oireachtas. Continue reading

The Constitutional Convention should take some of the credit for the marriage referendum outcome

There are many people and organisations to credit for the outcome of the marriage referendum, not least the incredible campaign mounted by the Yes side, as described by Noel Whelan in today’s Irish Times.

A question to ask is whether this referendum would ever have happened but for the huge endorsement this issue received from the Constitutional Convention, which debated this matter in April 2013. Would a socially conservative Fine Gael have been willing to accept its junior coalition partner’s desire for a referendum on a matter that hadn’t been included in the programme for government? Would the issue have attracted quite such a degree of all-party consensus? Continue reading

Could the call for radical Seanad reform re-ignite debate over Oireachtas reform?

Posted by David Farrell, April 13, 2015

The Report of the Working Group on Seanad Reform was published earlier today (see here). It was given a limited range of options: no change, minor change, or major change (but not involving constitutional reform). In opting for the latter the working group has defied most expectations (certainly mine), and in so doing has potentially re-opened the far more important debate over the need for radical Oireachtas reform. Continue reading

Government report on the diaspora snubs the diaspora, the Dáil and the Irish Constitutional Convention

The government launched its new diaspora policy last week – Global Irish – in which it applauded itself on its diaspora policy. Lots of warm words waft throughout the 57-page glossy document. But buried in the detail is a confirmation (on p. 21) that the government has chosen to ignore the recommendation of the Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC), which at its meeting in September 2013 proposed that emigrants and residents in Northern Ireland be given the right to vote in presidential elections (see here). Continue reading

Survey on Seanad Reform*

The rejection of the Seanad-abolition referendum in 2013 left more questions unanswered than it asked. However, what was clear from discussion during the referendum is that the Seanad as-is is unsatisfactory to the consensus of people.
With the question still lingering, and numerous reform bills circulating the Oireachtas, the Government announced in December that it was setting up a working group to recommend options for Seanad reform. The group, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, comprises former senators and political scientists, including an editor of this website, Dr. Elaine Byrne.

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Government U-turn on Votes at 16 shows its Contempt for the Dáil

Posted by David Farrell, January 1, 2015

When the government established the Irish Constitutional Convention it committed to providing a response to Dáil Éireann within four months of receipt of a Convention’s report. That this commitment is no longer being adhered to is a matter of some regret. But at least there have been responses to the first couple of reports by the Convention, and in some instances these have included firm commitments for action.

A case in point is the Convention’s recommendation to lower the voting age. Continue reading