Convention on the Constitution
The Resource Area contains information on the Constitution and the work of the Convention.
The Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) is the fundamental legal document that describes how Ireland should be governed, the main institutions of the State – the President, the Oireachtas (Parliament), the Government and the Courts – and sets out the rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens. It is more than a legal document. It reflects the ideas, concepts and values of Irish society. Above all it is the people’s Constitution and may only be changed by the people.
The current Constitution was enacted in 1937. It has been amended on numerous occasions, reflecting ongoing societal change in Ireland. It is not a static document and continues to be subject to regular judicial interpretation.
The last major review of the Constitution was carried out in 1996 by the Constitution Review Group, chaired by Dr. T K Whitaker. It’s report lead to the establishment of the All-Party Oireachtas Committees on the Constitution (1996-97 and 1997-2002) which between them published 10 Progress Reports on various aspects of the Constitution. These reports are available on www.constitution.ie (see Browse/Constitution). It is now generally accepted that given the many changes that have taken place in Irish society in more recent years, the time is now right to look at certain aspects of the Constitution and consider further amendments to make it fit for the 21st Century.
The Convention on the Constitutional is a forum comprising of 100 people, representative of Irish society and parliamentarians from the island of Ireland, with an independent chairman.
The Convention has been established by Resolutions of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It has been asked to consider and make recommendations to the Oireachtas on a range of topics as possible future amendments to the Constitution. The Convention is to complete its work within 12 months.
For its part, the Government has undertaken to respond to the Convention’s recommendations within four months by way of debates in the Houses of the Oireachtas and where it agrees with a particular recommendation to amend the Constitution, to include a timeframe for a referendum.
The Resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas sets out the following topics for consideration by the Constitutional Convention:
Reduction of the Presidential term of office to five years and the alignment with local and European elections;
Reduction of the voting age to 17;
Review of the Dáil electoral system;
Irish citizens’ right to vote at Irish Embassies in Presidential elections;
Provisions for same-sex marriage;
Amendment to the clause on the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life;
Increasing the participation of women in politics; and
Removal of the offence of Blasphemy from the Constitution.
Following the conclusion of the above business, the Convention will also have an opportunity to make such other recommendations for constitutional reform as it sees fit.
Note: Matters on which a previous commitment to hold a referendum was given, for example on children’s rights (approved by referendum on 12 November 2012) and the abolition of the Seanad, are not within the scope of the Constitutional Convention.
The Convention meets in formal plenary sessions, mainly at weekends, to consider specific topics. It is to complete all eight topics within a 12 month period. Smaller sub-committees may be established at the discretion of the Chairman, to explore any of the matters under the remit of the Convention.
The work of the Convention is supported by an Advisory Panel that includes leading academics, political scientists and constitutional lawyers. The role of the Advisory Panel is to provide specialist guidance on a variety of issues being examined.
All matters before the Convention, including any maters being considered by sub-committees, may be determined by a majority of votes of the members present at its plenary sessions. In the event of a tied vote, the Chairman shall have the casting vote. The Convention is to submit a report to the Oireachtas following each of its plenary sessions.
Members of the Convention will receive briefing prior to each of the formal deliberations.
The full terms of reference of the Convention on the Constitution are set out in the Convention section of this website.
The independent Chairman was appointed by the Government following consultations with opposition representatives.
Membership of the Constitutional Convention comprises 66 citizens, 33 parliamentarians and an independent Chairman.
Citizens were selected randomly using the electoral register and on the basis of groups representative of Irish society generally and balanced in terms of gender, age and region, etc. A summary of the recruitment process is available on this website at Convention/ Documents.
Political parties and groups in the Dáil and Seanad nominated representatives on the basis of their relative strengths in the Oireachtas. Political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly were invited to nominate one representative each.
Membership of the Constitutional Convention is not open to application. The composition of the Convention is confined to the Chairman, 66 citizens randomly selected and listed on the electoral register and 33 parliamentarians from the Houses of the Oireachtas, including nominated representatives from each of the political parties in Northern Ireland Assembly that accepted an invitation from the Government.
It is not possible to provide public access to meetings of the Convention. However, the Convention’s plenary meetings will be streamed live on the website www.constitution.ie (Watch VIDEO) and will also be archived in that area of the site.
Submissions to the Constitutional Convention should primarily be made through its website. The website has been designed to make this an easy process. Simply click on the ‘Make a Submission’ button and follow the instructions given. All submissions will be brought to the attention of Convention members.
Authors of submissions may be invited to make an oral presentation to the Convention.
Views on any matters to do with the topics being discussed by the Convention may also be sent by email or via social media platforms. Please see ‘Contact Us’ for details.
All submissions received by the Convention will be made available (read-only format) on this website.
The Convention’s plenary meetings will be streamed live on the website, with an opportunity to submit views and comments during the deliberations. The outcome of the Convention’s plenary meetings will be reported on the website.
The Convention reserves the right to modulate any submissions received that, in the opinion of the Chairman, are such that may cause offence.
The Advisory Panel comprises in the main leading academics, political scientists and constitutional lawyers. They provide specialist guidance on the variety of issues being considered by the Convention.
The Convention has been asked to complete its work within 12 months of its first plenary meeting.
A schedule of plenary meetings covering 2013 will be posted on the Convention’s website in due course.
The Constitutional Convention has been asked to begin its programme of work by first considering two topics – the voting age and the Presidential term of office – and to report on these to the Oireachtas within 2 months.
The Government has committed to responding to each recommendation of the Constitutional Convention within four months and will arrange a full debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas in each case. In the event that the Government accepts a recommendation that the Constitution be amended, it will include a timeframe for the holding of a referendum.
The cost of running the Convention is being met from within the Vote of the Department of the Taoiseach. The Convention is administered by a small team of civil servants seconded for the term of the Convention.