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.
7 thoughts on “The Constitution Review Group report – a great (free) resource for Irish citizens”
Addendum here: see Lenihan committee’s 3rd progress report http://www.constitution.ie/reports/3rd-Report-President.pdf (page 13) for a call to reduce the presidential eligibility threshold to 18. However, like many other proposals for reform that have been generated by official Oireachtas agencies and Committees over the decades, it was, of course, completely ignored.
The reason for the age limit is that our constitution is in parts a straight cog…sorry I mean… inspired by of the US constitution. They have a 35 year old age limit and so do we. We should remove it, and we should do so this autumn along with holding a referendum to allow the Oireachtas to lower the term to no less than 5 years if it so wishes as part of a later and broader legisatlve electoral reform.
I imagine one response would be that 95% of those who are under 35 today will be over 35 before too long (and often, when they are, retrospectively agree that they weren’t qualified enough when they were younger). Whereas Black people don’t usually become white, nor do women often become men, barring the occasional Michael Jackson or Renee Richards.
Having said that, a very high minimum age can have some racial and gender effects. In Australia, for example, Aboriginal people have a significantly shorter lifespan, so if one copied Hayek’s idea of 45 as the voting age for the upper house, it may be that Indigenous voters comprise only (say) 1% of the electorate for that chamber, as opposed to 2% of the adult population generally. On the other hand, women tend to live longer than men so they would probably comprise noticeably more than 50% of an electoral roll restricted to over-45s.
I don’t think it matters if the President is 34 and 3/4 or 35 and 1/4. (Though, in some positions I think there is value in having some life experience and a back-catalogue of accomplishments – even if age doesn’t correlate with the accumulation of wisdom.)
The key point here is about civic education and the presentation of an objective critique of the current nature of democratic governance that highlights its virtues and deficiciencies.
Probably the wrong thread, but an interesting take on the ‘wethecitizens’ CA exercise in today’s IT:
could we please remove all necessity to swear on bibles please, the constitution is wormholed with an obsolete religion,
Here’s a link to another resource, the 1987 report by the committee on the constitution. http://opac.oireachtas.ie/AWData/Library3/Library2/DL005495.pdf