At a glance

Institute: 
Method: 
Duration: 
December 2012- March 2014

The Convention on the Constitution was established by parliamentary resolution to consider a range of changes to the Irish Constitution. It gave a selection of members of the Irish public the opportunity to have a direct and formal role on constitutional reform issues.

What problem was it trying to solve?

Initially the Convention on the Constitution considered ten issues in total. It was originally mandated to cover eight issues (1 - 8) and the Assembly selected a further two (9 & 10).

  1. Reducing the Presidential term of office from 7 to 5 years
  2. Lowering the voting age to 18 to 17.
  3. Review of the electoral system for the Dáil (the principle chamber of Ireland’s parliament)
  4. Giving non-resident Irish Citizens the right to vote in Presidential elections
  5. Same sex marriage
  6. Reviewing the constitutional clause on the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life.
  7. Increasing the participation of women in politics
  8. Removing the offence of blasphemy from the constitution.
  9. Reform of the Dáil
  10. Economic, social, and cultural rights

Who were the participants? How were they selected?

The Assembly consisted of 100 participants. This included a chairman, 29 members of the Irish parliament, 4 representatives from Northern Irish political parties and 66 randomly selected Irish citizens. The citizens were randomly selected whilst accounting for a balance in gender,  geography, age and socio-economic background. The 66 citizens were recruited via the polling group Behaviour and Attitudes.

What was the process?

The Constitutional Convention met over 10 weekends from December 2012 through to March 2014. The meetings were divided into three components to aid the decision-making; presentations by experts of papers that had been circulated in advance, debate between groups advocating for either side, and facilitated small group discussions.

It was mandated to consider eight issues, but it also had some agenda setting powers. After receiving submissions and a series of regional meetings to gather views on what should be considered the Assembly recommended two further issues for the agenda.

The design and process of the Constitutional Convention was core to its overall legitimacy in the decision-making process. The meetings included a mixture of expert presentations and facilitated small group discussions. The expert speakers and programme of the weekends were chosen by a steering group of politicians and citizens. The panels were balanced and included issue-relevant advocacy as well as other groups who presented the interests of the groups they represented.  The small group discussions were facilitated by a group of trained facilitators who were there to ensure everyone had an equal chance at being heard in the small group discussions.  In addition, the plenary sessions were open to the public and were streamed live.

What was the conclusion?

The members of the Constitutional Convention made various recommendations on the issues. See below.

Issue

Recommendation

Reducing the President’s term of office from seven to five years, and aligning with the European Parliament elections and local elections

No change to term of office; but supplementary recommendations were made

Reduce age of candidacy from 35 to 21

Allow Candidate nomination by electors

Reducing the voting age from 18 to 17

Reduce to 16

Amending the clause on the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life

Various

Use gender-neutral language

Include carers outside the home as well as those inside the home

Requirement for gender equality

No requirement for positive measures to increase participation of women

Provision for the legalisation of same-sex marriage

Add a statement requiring (rather than merely allowing) legalisation

Review Dáil electoral system

Various

Retain single transferable vote rather than changing to mixed member system

Increase minimum size of Dáil constituency from three to five TDs

Establish an electoral commission

Randomise order of candidates on ballot paper

Extend polling hours

Extend access to postal voting

Improve accuracy of electoral register

Permit non-Oireachtas ministers

Require ministers to resign Oireachtas seats

Permit legislation by popular initiative

Giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections

Recommended

Removing the requirement to criminalise blasphemy

Replace with a ban on incitement to religious hatred

Dáil reform

Various:

Ceann Comhairle given “more status” and elected by secret ballot

Mention committees in Constitution

Allow backbenchers and opposition to make appropriation motions, instead of requiring cabinet pre-approval

Various other non-constitutional changes

Economic, social and cultural rights (ESC)

Insert provision that the State shall progressively realise the ESC rights, subject to maximum available resources and that this duty is cognisable by the Courts

What was the impact? Did it solve the problem?

The Government was not obliged to act on the recommendations of the Convention on the Constitution. But it did commit to a formal response to each recommendation and a debate in parliament. Several of the recommendations were rejected, including the provision to reduce the voting age. Some have been taken forward, including the recommendation to legalise same-sex marriage which was put to a referendum in 2015. The vote was in favour of legalising same and it became legal in Ireland in 2015 under the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015.

Years after the Convention several of the recommendations are still being discussed. The Government has agreed to hold a referendum in 2018 to remove the constitutional provision that outlaws blasphemy. This is after the Constitutional Convention voted decisively to remove it. There are calls to hold a referendum on the constitutional clause that makes reference to a “woman’s place in the home”.

The success of the Convention on the Constitution led the Irish parliament to create another resolution to hold and Irish Citizens’ Assembly to consider a further 5 issues.

 

Photo credit Giuseppe Milo: Flickr