Looking on from abroad for most of the campaign, I was amazed at some of the proposals for reform that emerged. Both of the government parties have posted documents detailing these promises on their websites. In my opinion, Labour had one of the most radical political reform policy platforms of the campaign. The key plank of that platform was laid out in: ‘Labour’s Plan for a New Constitution’ which was issued on Feb 18th, 2011.
It was made very clear that this was a key policy priority for the Labour Party:
‘‘ ‘A vote for Labour is a vote for a Constitutional Convention. I urge you to vote Labour to seize this opportunity to design tomorrow’s Republic’.
Eamon Gilmore TD
Leader, the Labour Party”
I urge all readers to follow the link and check out the detail of the proposal. Reading it, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly I thought that the plan is very radical, envisioning nothing less than a referendum on an entirely new constitution for Ireland ‘before 2016’. My second thought was that, for such an important plan, it’s rather sketchy on the details.
However, Labour’s plan reads like a Ken Follet epic next to the details on the Convention in the negotiated Programme for Government. As I understand it, our current masterplan for Irish constitutional overhaul is sketched out over about half of a page.
Furthermore the contents of that half page are fairly bleak, as they imply that the Constitutional Convention will be limited to a narrow range of topics, and will be empowered merely to ‘report’ its findings to the government.
In the time since the election, political reform has evidently not been prioritized by a government facing multiple chronic problems, at home and abroad. However, during that time a group of volunteers (including the author) in an Irish civil society organization called Second Republic have been trying to fill in some of the details, in order to get the reform process moving. Our main goal has been to design a Constitutional Convention (or citizens’ assembly, or whatever you prefer to call it!) that could: 1) Actually work in practice and 2) Give Irish citizens ownership over the process of reforming their state. We have drafted a plan that tries to drill into how such a project could operate. You can read a draft version here.
We have already had help from dozens of people, and we are currently working on costing the proposal, and dealing with some of the outstanding issues that we list at the end. The document is in the process of being redrafted (we hope to release early in September). Any comments on how we could improve it would be most welcome, as we will be asking the government to implement this proposal, in fulfillment of their promises during the election campaign. You can contact all of us who are working on this with comments and suggestions at: email@example.com.