Irish Citizens Decide: A Review of the Irish Convention on the Constitution

A free event to be held at UCD Newman House, November 13, 2015, 9.30am-1.00pm

To register, see here

Ireland’s Convention on the Constitution, which met from late 2012 to early 2014, was a world first both in allowing ordinary citizens a place in discussions about the future of our Constitution and also due to its role in the calling of the marriage referendum earlier this year.

This half-day seminar – which has been supported by the Department of the Taoiseach – will review the work, operation and outcomes of the Convention. The panelists will include former members and organisers of the Convention, the academic team who supported and monitored its operation, and journalists who provided critical coverage of it.


9.30 arrive and registration

9.45: Welcome and introduction: Prof Ken Carty (research director of the British Columbia citizens’ assembly) will make some opening remarks

10.00: Panel discussion on the Convention and its outcomes. Confirmed participants include: Tom Arnold (Chair of the Convention), Art O’Leary (Secretary), Dr Jane Suiter (DCU), Dearbhail McDonald (Legal Editor, Irish Independent), and Senator Katherine Zappone, Deirdre Donaghy and Aideen Larkin (three members of the Convention).

11.30: tea/coffee break

12.00: What can we learn from the Irish Constitutional Convention? A presentation of research findings by the academic team who supported the work of the Convention.

13.00: End of workshop. A free lunch will be provided.

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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The Constitution Review Group report – a great (free) resource for Irish citizens

A topic that emerged rather unexpectedly from the We the Citizens event that I attended in June was the importance of civic education. At my table, the argument for focusing attention on this topic was that citizens need to be politically well-informed in order to understand the powers of political offices and the consequences of  their political decisions.

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Political Reform Poll Results

By Jane Suiter

Political reform ran a poll here for a number of weeks, it has taken a little time to report the findings for which I apologise. We received some 485 responses to the poll with people from 16 to 65 responding from most counties across the country. These are of course not nationally representative but are probably representative of those that read this site. Some of the results make for interesting reading with unsurprisingly an appetite for political reform, some of it quite radical. Continue reading

ReformCard: a tool to help voters decide

The editors and contributors behind have teamed with a large volunteer team of project managers, web designers and others to produce ReformCard a measurement tool to rank each party based on the quality of their policies on political reform.  We hope this will prove a critical instrument in informing the election 2011 debate. It provides the 25 proposals for political reform in Ireland which we believe provide the best possible combination to transform the political system and ensure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century. Continue reading

A looming constitutional crisis?

By Michael Gallagher

There has been some discussion as to whether, in the event of Brian Cowen’s deciding not to contest the forthcoming election, it would be constitutional for him to remain as Taoiseach, given that the constitution states (Art 28.7.1) that the Taoiseach must be a member of Dáil Éireann. There has been speculation that this could create a constitutional difficulty, given that the Taoiseach is nominated by the Dáil. Would we then be without a Taoiseach until the 31st Dáil meets? Continue reading

Can we do it ourselves or must we await visionary leadership?

The Irish Times has an interesting series this week on where we should go from here. Some of the ideas so far are insightful and thought provoking. Joseph O’Connor points to the huge programme of political reform which is needed and argues for a bottom up approach that envisages change coming from the people inlcuding citizens, artists and sportpeople among others. He points to the affinities we owe to one another, as citizens of this “still beautiful place”. Maureen Gaffney
on the other hand while also recognising the need for reform appears to be envisaging a more top down approach with a hankering for visionary leadership.  Whether that is on offer is a moot point but there is surely a possibiity that the current elites may agree to a bottom up approach if only to assuage the current absence of trust in all polticians and the political system.