Written answers

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Department of An Taoiseach

Constitutional Convention Recommendations

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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69. To ask the Taoiseach the status of the reports of the Constitutional Convention from the Thirty-First Dáil Éireann and if he will bring them before the new Dáil Éireann, the new constitutional convention or the relevant Oireachtas committees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10405/16]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The previous Government committed to responding to the Reports of the Convention on the Constitution in the Dáil. During its term in office, it responded to all nine of the Convention’s Reports, as follows:

- to the First Report, on Reducing the Voting Age and the Presidential Term, on 18 July 2013,

- to the Second Report, on the Role of Women and Women in Politics, on 10 October 2013,

- to the Third Report, on Same Sex Marriage, on 17 December 2013,

- to the Fourth Report, on Electoral Reform, on 18 December 2014,

- to the Sixth Report, on Blasphemy, on 2 October 2014, and

- to the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Reports, on amending the Constitution to give citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections; Dáil Reform; Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and Conclusions and Final Recommendations, respectively, on 14 January 2016.

The Reports contained 38 recommendations, at least 18 of which would involve change in the text of the Constitution.

In responding to the Convention’s Reports, the Government accepted six recommendations for Constitutional change: on marriage equality, reducing the voting age to 16, reducing the age threshold for candidacy for Presidential elections, removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution, enhancing the reference in the Constitution to the office of Ceann Comhairle to give it more status, and including a reference to Oireachtas Committees in the Constitution.

Referendums were held on two of these issues in May 2015, on reducing the age threshold for candidacy in Presidential elections and on marriage equality. The Programme for a Partnership Government proposes that referenda be held on a further two of these issues - the question of amending Article 40.6.1(i) of the Constitution to remove the offence of blasphemy and giving the office of Ceann Comhairle constitutional standing. It also proposes that a referendum be held on Article 41.2.1° regarding a “woman’s life within the home”, an issue considered by the Convention in its Second Report.

The Programme for a Partnership Government also states that the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, on economic, social and cultural rights, will be referred to the new Oireachtas Committee on Housing for consideration of the substantial questions it raises on the balance of rights, proper governance and resources.

In respect of the Fifth Report on amending the Constitution to give citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections, the last Government had indicated that it was necessary to analyse the full range of practical and policy issues that would arise in any significant extension of the franchise, before a decision could be made on the holding of a referendum.

That analysis is ongoing and will be considered by Government in due course.

As regards the recommendations relating to Dáil Reform contained in the Convention's Seventh Report, Standing Orders were amended in January to provide for election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot. This occurred on the first sitting day of the new Dáil on 10 March. Standing Orders were also amended to introduce a system whereby the Taoiseach will appear before the Working Group of Committee Chairs twice a year. Provision has also been made by Standing Orders for the proportionate allocation of Committee chairs using the d’Hondt system.

As all of the Convention’s Reports have been responded to and actions taken as summarised above, it is not proposed that the Reports be brought before the new Dáil or a new Convention. The Deputy will however be aware that the new Government has committed in the Programme for a Partnership Government to the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly, within six months and without participation by politicians, with a mandate to look at a limited number of key issues over an extended time period.

These issues will not be limited to those directly pertaining to the Constitution and may include issues such as, for example, how we, as a nation, best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population. The Citizens’ Assembly will also be asked to make recommendations to the Dáil on further constitutional changes, including on the Eighth Amendment, on fixed term parliaments and on the manner in which referenda are held (e.g. should ‘super referendum days’, whereby a significant number of referenda take place on the same day, be held).

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