Proposals on constitutional changes to be issued within days

22 Feb 2012

Dail Eireann

(via the Irish Times)

THE CABINET is about to issue draft proposals for the make-up constitutional convention pledged in the programme for government last year.

A Government spokesman said last night that the establishment of the convention, covering constitutional reform, was "agreed in principle" by Ministers yesterday but that the Cabinet saw Opposition support as critical to its success.

Consultation would be sought with the Opposition and the "architecture" of the convention would be finalised after that.

The draft proposals are to be published "before the end of this week or early next week", the spokesman added. No meetings have been arranged with the Opposition yet. The spokesman said that the Taoiseach had stated that the proposed abolition of Seanad Éireann would not come under the convention's remit.

Mr Kenny is taking the lead in establishing the convention with his department and in co-operation with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

When the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition was established last March, the parties undertook to "establish a constitutional convention to consider comprehensive constitutional reform" which would report within 12 months.

The convention would consider such issues as changes in the Dáil electoral system; reducing the presidential term from seven to five years; same-sex marriage; amending the clause on women in the home; reducing the voting age to 17; letting emigrants vote in presidential elections.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said after the defeat of the Abbeylara amendment on parliamentary inquiries that the convention could help to rebuild trust among the public towards politicians.

"A key priority is to ensure that the process is highly inclusive and achieves meaningful participation by ordinary members of the public; is a participative, informed, accessible and open public forum; and has a direct and meaningful involvement of the political parties represented in Dáil Éireann. In this context, the citizens' assembly model is an approach that is being carefully examined."

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has also said a citizens' assembly drawn from the electoral register would be part of the constitutional convention. The proposal originally set out by the Labour Party in opposition was for 30 lawyers and constitutional experts; 30 members of the public chosen at random; and 30 active politicians who would not necessarily be members of the Oireachtas. But the programme for government did not specify any particular structure.

In the general election, Fine Gael advocated a constitution day where a series of amendments would be put to the electorate.