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.
Certainly, I received no information on these topics during my education until I began to study political science as an undergraduate. The good news is that, now more than ever with the spread of the internet, there are several resources available instantly and free of charge to those seeking to better understand how our political system works.
One of the most comprehensive and easy-to-follow resources that I have come accross is the 1996 report of the Constitution Review Group – which goes line-by-line through the Constitution, providing explanations and recommendations for change. I would advise anyone seriously interested in the issue of political/constitutional reform in Ireland to check out the report here: http://www.constitution.ie/reports/crg.pdf
Also, this page houses several publications from past Irish Contstituional Review Committees: http://www.constitution.ie/publications/default.asp?UserLang=EN
I’d like to add that I don’t personally agree with all of the CRG’s recommendations. For instance, the majority of the Group sees little problem with Article 12.4.1: ‘Every citizen who has reached his thirty-fifth year of age is eligible for election to the office of President’. As the CRG report points out, there is no upper limit on age for the presidency. To be fair, the CRG members are not alone in this, and there seems to be minimal popular desire to ammend this article.
Young people in their late teens, 20s and early 30s are the only group I know of who can be so openly legally discriminated against in Ireland, and this extends beyond politics (where they are shamefully under-represented in parliament and particularly in cabinet) to their treatment in matters of car insurance and social welfare. Of course, the hiring bans across wide areas of the public service are also effectively an anti-youth policy. Can you imagine if 12.4.1 excluded an otherwise enfranchised gender or ethnic group from presidential office, instead of an age group? What happens to people during that lat day of their 34th year to justfiy this limitation? While the Dáil evidently plays a far more significant role than the presidency, I don’t see why that means that the office should be subject to a different age limit.
Nonetheless, you don’t have to agree with all of the recommendations to acknowledge that the report is hugely informative, and can serve as a good grounding for debates on Irish political reform.