What is the Constitution?

11th March 2016

Over the next number of weeks in the aftermath of the General Election, the Constitution will be mentioned in news bulletins. Many people are aware of what the Constitution is in general terms, but what does it really mean?

On 29 December 1937, following a Referendum, the people of Ireland decided to introduce a new Constitution. This Constitution replaced the one which had previously existed since 1922 and which was the first Independent Constitution of the Free State.

Our current Constitution sets out the framework within which Law and Order operates in the Republic of Ireland. It is the primary piece of law around which the Government, the Dáil, the Courts, the Irish Language, fundamental rights, the place of religion and other basic laws are framed.

Taking it in light of what we will hear over the next number of weeks in the news, the Government provisions for the Dáil are set out in articles 15 to 27. Under the terms of the Constitution, the Houses of the Oireachtas are divided into the Dáil and Seanad. There are 158 TD’s and 60 Senators.

The Constitution does not provide for the creation of Political parties. This is decided by political preferences from time to time. The Constitution does provide specifically for the position of An Taoiseach and indicates that a Dáil can only have a maximum life span of 5 years. It was because of the Constitution that the election was called on 26 February 2016 and also that there must be an election for the position of An Taoiseach on 10 March 2016.

From the Dáil then, the TD’s elect a government to govern. We will see this played in public over the next number of days and weeks. If a Government cannot be formed and consistence cannot be reached, then a further election will have to take place.

This will occur when the Taoiseach calls an election and requests the President to dissolve the Dáil. The position of the President is set out in Articles 12 to 14.

Aside from Politics, the position of the Courts is set out in Articles 34 to 37. The appointment of Judges, their remuneration, resignation and removal are provided for. Also, the division of the Courts system as between District, Circuit, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court also arises.

You will hear often in the in the news and press reference to Constitutional Rights. These are fundamental rights which are contained within Articles 40 to 44. They include the right to life, the right to earn a living, the right to legal representation, free association and of course, most recently, the right to equality which allows for marriage of those of the same gender. This has generally been the area of the constitution that is most litigated and which receives the most attention because of the importance that is placed on fundamental human rights.

Many countries that strive for constitutional stability do not have these types of rights and we are fortunate to have them and invoke them on a day to day basis.

To amend the Constitution a Referendum of the people is required. We have been regularly asked to amend the Constitution for issues such as abortion, divorce, and of course most recently equality. We have also been asked to amend the Constitution to allow for the creation of a new Court, known as the Court of Appeal, which has now taken place.

While it may not be apparent, the Constitution is not only something that is left on a shelf, but is something that is involved in each of our activities on a day to day basis.

Many people pass it by and simply are unaware of its significance, until of course election time. We could not exist without it and law and order would not be maintained but for it and the rules that it creates.

For further details, please contact – https://www.odwyersolicitors.ie/contact/