Amendments to the Constitution of Ireland
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An amendment may be made to any part of the Constitution of Ireland but only by referendum. An amendment must first be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament), then submitted to a referendum, and finally signed into law by the President.
Aside from constitutional referendums, the constitution also provides for a referendum on an ordinary bill, known as the ordinary referendum, but there has not been one so far.
- 1 Procedure
- 2 List of amendments and referendums
- 3 Major subjects
- 4 Previous constitutions
- 5 Proposed changes
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
The procedure for amending the constitution is specified in Article 46. A proposed amendment must take the form of a bill to amend the constitution originating in Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Oireachtas). It must first be formally approved by both the Dáil and the Senate, though in practice the Senate has only the power to delay an amendment adopted by the Dáil.
Then the amendment must be endorsed by the electorate in a referendum. A simple majority is sufficient to carry an amendment and there is no minimum turnout required for a constitutional referendum to be considered valid. The vote occurs by secret ballot. A proposal to amend the constitution put to a referendum must not contain any other proposal. While United Kingdom citizens resident in the state may vote in a general election, only Irish citizens can participate in a referendum.
After being approved by referendum an amendment must be signed into law by the President. Provided that the correct procedure has been complied with, the President cannot veto an amendment. The dates given for the amendments listed in this article are, unless otherwise stated, the dates on which they were signed into law.
The Constitution has also been amended by two other means. The Constitution provided that, for an initial period of four years, from 1937 to 1941, it could be amended by a simple Act of the Oireachtas without a referendum. The First and Second Amendments were adopted in this way. However, as a safeguard to prevent wholesale changes after it had been approved by the people, the President of Ireland was given the right to decline to sign a Bill amending the constitution until the amendment had been voted on by the people if he believed that the amendment materially changed the whole Constitution. However, the President in office, Douglas Hyde, did not refer any amendment directly to the people, but instead chose to sign the first two amendments directly into law. The Constitution stated that this power, along with the Oireachtas's power to amend the Constitution without automatic reference to the people, automatically lapsed three years after the entry into office of the first President.
Since the third anniversary of President Hyde's election, in 1941, every amendment has had to follow the pattern of passage through the Oireachtas followed by a public referendum. One partial exception to this, however, involved the changes made to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in 1999. The Nineteenth Amendment, adopted by referendum in May, 1998, did not itself amend those articles, but rather introduced a temporary special mechanism by which the Government could order their amendment once it was satisfied that certain commitments made by other parties to the Belfast Agreement had been complied with.
List of amendments and referendums
The following table lists all amendments to the Constitution, and all past and scheduled referendums relating to the Constitution. In general it does not list proposed amendments which failed to be passed by the Oireachtas, for which see the separate list of failed amendments to the Constitution of Ireland. The exception is the 2001 Twenty-second Amendment Bill, listed below to explain the gap in the numbering of subsequent amendments.
|Proposal||Enactment date||Subject||Referendum date||Electorate||Total poll||(%)[fn 1]||For||(%)[fn 2]||Against||(%)[fn 2]||Spoilt||(%)[fn 3]||Ref|
|Draft Constitution||1 July 1937[fn 4]||Enactment of the Constitution||1 July 1937||1,775,055||1,346,207||75.8||685,105||56.5||526,945||43.5||134,157||10.0|||
|The draft Constitution was not technically a bill, but had been passed by the Oireachtas in the same manner as a bill.|
|1st Amendment||2 September 1939||Definition of war||[fn 5]N/A|||
|Extended the definition of "time of war" to include a war in which the state is not a participant. This was to allow the Government to exercise emergency powers during the Second World War, in which the state was neutral.|
|2nd Amendment||30 May 1941||Textual adjustments||[fn 5]N/A|||
|An omnibus bill with a variety of mostly minor textual amendments. Some changes were only to the Irish text, to correspond more closely to the sense of the English text.|
|3rd Amendment Bill, 1958||N/A||Elections: Dáil: voting system||17 July 1959||1,678,450||979,531||58.4||453,322||48.2||486,989||51.8||39,220||4.0|||
|Proposal to alter the voting system for elections to Dáil Éireann from the multi-member single transferable vote (STV) to the single-member First Past the Post (FPTP) system. It also proposed to establish an independent commission for boundary delimitation of Dáil constituencies.|
|3rd Amendment Bill, 1968||N/A||Elections: Dáil: constituency boundaries||16 October 1968||1,717,389||1,129,477||65.8||424,185||39.2||656,803||60.8||48,489||4.3|||
|Proposed to allow greater malapportionment in favour of rural areas in boundary delimitation of Dáil constituencies.|
|4th Amendment Bill, 1968||N/A||Elections: Dáil: voting system||16 October 1968||1,717,389||1,129,606||65.8||423,496||39.2||657,898||60.8||48,212||4.3|||
|Another proposal to alter the Dáil voting system from STV to FPTP.|
|3rd Amendment||8 June 1972||Treaty: Europe: Accession||10 May 1972||1,783,604||1,264,278||70.9||1,041,890||83.1||211,891||16.9||10,497||0.8|||
|Permitted the state to join the European Communities.|
|4th Amendment||5 January 1973||Elections: franchise: voting age||7 December 1972||1,783,604||903,439||50.7||724,836||84.6||131,514||15.4||47,089||5.2|||
|Reduced the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.|
|5th Amendment||5 January 1973||Recognition of religions||7 December 1972||1,783,604||903,659||50.7||721,003||84.4||133,430||15.6||49,326||5.5|||
|Removed reference to "special position" of the Roman Catholic Church and to other named denominations.|
|6th Amendment||3 August 1979||Adoption board||5 July 1979||2,179,466||623,476||28.6||601,694||99.0||6,265||1.0||15,517||2.5|||
|To reverse a 1977 finding that certain orders made by the adoption board were unconstitutional.|
|7th Amendment||3 August 1979||Seanad: university constituencies||5 July 1979||2,179,466||622,646||28.6||552,600||92.4||45,484||7.6||24,562||3.9|||
|Allowed the Seanad representation of the University of Dublin and the National University of Ireland to be extended to graduates of other third-level institutions. This provision has never been invoked.|
|8th Amendment||7 October 1983||Abortion: recognised the right to life of the unborn||7 September 1983||2,358,651||1,265,994||53.7||841,233||66.9||416,136||33.1||8,625||0.7|||
|Intended to entrench the statutory prohibition of abortion at a Constitutional level.|
|9th Amendment||2 August 1984||Elections: franchise: votes for non-citizens||14 June 1984||2,399,257||1,138,895||47.5||828,483||75.4||270,250||24.6||40,162||3.5|||
|Overturned a 1983 Supreme Court decision that prevented the right to vote in Dáil elections being extended to UK nationals.|
|10th Amendment Bill, 1986||N/A||Rights: Divorce||26 June 1986||2,436,836||1,482,644||60.8||538,279||36.5||935,843||63.5||8,522||0.6|||
|Proposed to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. The ban was eventually lifted by the Fifteenth Amendment in 1996.|
|10th Amendment||22 June 1987||Treaty: Europe: Single European Act||26 May 1987||2,461,790||1,085,304||44.1||755,423||69.9||324,977||30.1||4,904||0.5|||
|Permitted the state to ratify the Single European Act.|
|11th Amendment||16 July 1992||Treaty: Europe: Maastricht Treaty||18 June 1992||2,542,841||1,457,219||57.3||1,001,076||69.1||448,655||30.9||7,488||0.5|||
|Permitted the state to ratify the Maastricht Treaty.|
|12th Amendment Bill, 1992||N/A||Abortion: exclusion of suicide||25 November 1992||2,542,841||1,733,309||68.2||572,177||34.6||1,079,297||65.4||81,835||4.7|||
|Proposed to partially reverse the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the X Case, which allowed abortion where a pregnancy is life-threatening, by excluding risk of suicide as permissible grounds.|
|13th Amendment||23 December 1992||Abortion: right to travel||25 November 1992||2,542,841||1,733,821||68.2||1,035,308||62.4||624,059||37.6||74,454||4.3|||
|Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state.|
|14th Amendment||23 December 1992||Abortion: right to information||25 November 1992||2,542,841||1,732,433||68.1||992,833||59.9||665,106||40.1||74,494||4.3|||
|Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries.|
|15th Amendment||17 June 1996||Rights: Divorce||24 November 1995||2,628,834||1,633,942||62.2||818,842||50.3||809,728||49.7||5,372||0.3|||
|Removed the constitutional prohibition of divorce, but retained certain restrictions on its occurrence.|
|16th Amendment||12 December 1996||Rights: bail restrictions||28 November 1996||2,659,895||777,586||29.2||579,740||74.8||194,968||25.2||2,878||0.4|||
|To reverse a 1965 Supreme Court ruling by allowed a court to refuse someone bail if it suspected a person would commit a serious criminal offence while at liberty.|
|17th Amendment||14 November 1997||Cabinet confidentiality||30 October 1997||2,688,316||1,268,043||47.2||632,777||52.6||569,175||47.4||66,091||5.2|||
|To reverse a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that meetings of the cabinet were absolutely confidential, and to permit the High Court to order the disclosure of cabinet discussions in certain circumstances.|
|18th Amendment||3 June 1998||Treaty: Europe: Amsterdam Treaty||22 May 1998||2,747,088||1,543,930||56.2||932,632||61.7||578,070||38.3||33,228||2.2|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Amsterdam Treaty.|
|19th Amendment||3 June 1998 / 2 December 1999 [fn 6]||Treaty: Good Friday Agreement||22 May 1998||2,747,088||1,545,395||56.3||1,442,583||94.4||85,728||5.6||17,064||1.1|||
|Allowed the state to be bound by the Good Friday Agreement and provided for the conditional amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which subsequently came into effect when the Good Friday Agreement did.|
|20th Amendment||23 June 1999||Elections: Local government||11 June 1999||2,791,415||1,425,881||51.1||1,024,850||77.8||291,965||22.2||109,066||7.6|||
|Provided that local government elections must occur every five years.|
|21st Amendment||27 March 2002||Rights: Death penalty||7 June 2001||2,867,960||997,885||34.8||610,455||62.1||372,950||37.9||14,480||1.5|||
|Entrenched the existing statutory prohibition of capital punishment.|
|22nd Amendment Bill, 2001||N/A||Courts: judges: discipline||N/A|||
|Proposed to establish a body for the investigation of judges and to amend the procedure for the removal of judges. It was introduced to the Oireachtas but lapsed after its second stage.|
|23rd Amendment||27 March 2002||Treaty: Rome Statute of the ICC||7 June 2001||2,867,960||997,565||34.8||629,234||64.2||350,512||35.8||17,819||1.8|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court.|
|24th Amendment Bill, 2001||N/A||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Nice||7 June 2001||2,867,960||997,826||34.8||453,461||46.1||529,478||53.9||14,887||1.5|||
|This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Nice. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-sixth Amendment in 2002.|
|25th Amendment Bill, 2002||N/A||Abortion: exclusion of suicide||6 March 2002||2,923,918||1,254,175||42.9||618,485||49.6||629,041||50.4||6,649||0.5|||
|This was a second attempt to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion and to prevent risk of suicide being invoked as grounds for an abortion.|
|26th Amendment||7 November 2002||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Nice||19 October 2002||2,923,918||1,446,588||49.5||906,317||62.9||534,887||37.1||5,384||0.4|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Nice Treaty.|
|27th Amendment||24 June 2004||Irish nationality||11 June 2004||3,041,688||1,823,434||59.9||1,427,520||79.2||375,695||20.8||20,219||1.1|||
|Abolished jus soli right to Irish nationality.|
|28th Amendment Bill, 2008||N/A||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Lisbon||12 June 2008||3,051,278||1,621,037||53.1||752,451||46.6||862,415||53.4||6,171||0.4|||
|This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-eighth Amendment in 2009.|
|28th Amendment||15 October 2009||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Lisbon||2 October 2009||3,078,032||1,816,098||58.0||1,214,268||67.1||594,606||32.9||7,224||0.4|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.|
|29th Amendment||17 November 2011||Courts: judges: remuneration||27 October 2011||3,191,157||1,785,707||55.9||1,393,877||79.7||354,134||20.3||37,696||2.1|||
|Relaxed the prohibition on the reduction of the salaries of Irish judges.|
|30th Amendment Bill 2011||N/A||Oireachtas inquiries||27 October 2011||3,191,157||1,785,208||55.9||812,008||46.7||928,175||53.3||45,025||2.5|||
|Proposed to reverse a 2002 Supreme Court ruling which prevented Oireachtas inquiries from making findings critical of individuals.|
|30th Amendment||27 June 2012||Treaty: Europe: European Fiscal Compact||31 May 2012||3,144,828||1,591,385||50.6||955,091||60.3||629,088||39.7||45,025||2.8|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the European Fiscal Compact.|
|31st Amendment Bill 2012||TBC||Rights: Children's rights||10 November 2012||3,183,686||1,066,239||33.5||615,731||58.0||445,863||42.0||7,206||0.7|||
|A general statement of children's rights, and a provision intended to secure the power of the state to take children into care who are at risk of abuse or neglect from their parents. The bill has not been signed into law pending the outcome of a legal challenge to its validity.|
|32nd Amendment Bill 2013||N/A||Seanad: abolition||4 October 2013||3,167,484||1,240,729||39.2||591,937||48.3||634,437||51.7||14,355||1.2|||
|Proposed to abolish Seanad Éireann.|
|33rd Amendment||1 November 2013||Courts: new Court of Appeal||4 October 2013||3,167,484||1,240,135||39.2||795,008||65.2||425,047||34.8||20,080||1.6|||
|Mandates a new Court of Appeal above the High Court and below the Supreme Court|
- Total poll as a percentage of the electorate
- As a percentage of the valid poll (total poll less spoilt votes)
- Spoilt votes as a percentage of the total poll.
- The Constitution was enacted by the plebiscite approving it. There was no formal signing into law. It came into force 180 days after the plebiscite, on 29 December 1937.
- The first two amendment acts were passed during the three-year transitional period when a referendum was not required.
- The first date is that of the Act making the initial amendment; the second is that of the government announcement triggering the subsequent amendment.
The European Union
A number of amendments to the Constitution of Ireland have related to the European Union (and its predecessors). Before the state could join the European Communities the Third Amendment was necessary. Membership granted powers to European institutions which the 1937 constitution had vested in the Oireachtas and the Government. It was also possible that many provisions of the constitution might in the future be found to be incompatible with European Union law. For these reasons the Third Amendment introduced a provision expressly permitting the state to join the Communities and stating in broad terms that European law has supremacy over the constitution.
A number of subsequent amendments have been made to expressly permit the state to ratify changes to the treaties of the EU. This is because of a 1987 ruling by the Supreme Court, in the case of Crotty v. An Taoiseach, that major changes to the EU treaties require a constitutional amendment. Referendums have therefore been held on the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty and the Treaty of Nice. There has however, been debate among legal scholars as to whether or not each and everyone of these treaties has been sufficiently far reaching as to necessitate a constitutional amendment.
The Eighth Amendment introduced the constitutional prohibition on abortion in 1983. Opponents of abortion sought this amendment partly because of fears that the Supreme Court would in the future infer an implicit right to an abortion in the provisions of the constitution. The court had already ruled, in the 1974 case of McGee v. The Attorney General, that reference in Article 41 to the "imprescriptable rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law" of the family conferred upon spouses a broad right to privacy in marital affairs. It was feared that this right might be extended to include the right to an abortion. There was further concern that the Supreme Court might take its lead from developments in judicial review in other nations, such as the controversial ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.
It was observed at the time of the adoption of the constitutional prohibition of abortion that its wording was very vague. Since its adoption a number of attempts have been made to modify the constitution in order to clarify the ban's precise implications. In particular there have been two failed attempts (in 1992 and 2002) to strengthen the ban, but two successful attempts to weaken its implications (both in December 1992).
The two failed amendments arose from a ruling of the Supreme Court in March 1992, in the case of the Attorney General v. X (more commonly known as the "X case"), that a woman is entitled to an abortion where there is a risk to her life from suicide. Opponents of abortion feared that this ruling could only be enforced in a way that would lead to a liberal abortion regime of the kind found in many other countries, such as the United Kingdom, but this has not yet come to pass (although the government has yet to legislate for the implications of the 'X' case). The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments guaranteed that the ban on abortion would not compromise the right to obtain information about, or freedom of travel to avail of, abortion services available abroad.
Prior to the adoption of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937, the state was governed under two other documents: the Dáil Constitution of the short-lived 1919–1922 Irish Republic and the constitution of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State. Each used different formal procedures for amendment of the text. The Dáil Constitution was enacted by Dáil Éireann (which was at that time a single chamber legislature) as an ordinary act of parliament. As a result it could be amended by simple vote of the legislature.
The Constitution of the Irish Free State originally provided for a process of amendment by means of a referendum. However the constitution could initially be amended by the Free State Oireachtas for eight years. The Oireachtas chose to extend that period, meaning that for the duration of its existence, the Free State constitution could be amended at will by parliament. In theory, it was argued that the constitution could not be amended in a way with conflicted with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 ratified by both the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. However the Statute of Westminster removed that restriction in the 1930s.
From 1997 to 2011, an All-Party Oireachtas Committee systematically reviewed the constitution, and in its first ten years published a series of ten progress reports and two pieces of commissioned research. In the 30th Dáil it published a further 5 reports (see Constitutional Reviews).
During the 31st Dáil, proposals for constitutional amendment fell under three headings: Government proposals set out in the Programme for Government, other Government proposals and matters referred to the Constitutional Convention.
Programme for Government commitments
The agreed programme of the government elected in March 2011 committed to referendums on five subjects "on a priority basis", and to establishing a constitutional convention to consider other issues. The priority issues were:
|Relaxing the absolute ban on reducing judges' salaries||29th amendment 2011||Approved by referendum on 27 October 2011, simultaneous with the 2011 presidential election. The issue had become contentious in the context of widespread salary cuts during the financial crisis which began in 2008.|
|Granting the Oireachtas the power to conduct inquiries which could make finding of fact about individuals||30th amendment 2011||Rejected by 53.3% of voters on 27 October 2011. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin suggested that the rejection called into question the government's plans for further amendments. Howlin in 2013 and Pat Rabbitte in 2012 were open to a second attempted amendment on the issue. The Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013 was passed within the scope of the existing Constitutional limitations.|
|Children's rights||31st amendment 2012||Approved by referendum on 10 November 2012; a court challenge is pending before it can be signed into law.|
|Abolition of Seanad Éireann||32nd amendment 2013||The text of the bill was published on 5 June 2013. The referendum was rejected in October 2013.|
|Protecting the confidentiality of citizens' communications with their public representatives||Not applicable||The issue was dealt with by legislation rather than constitutional amendment, in the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013.|
Other Government proposals
|New Court of Appeal; also abolish the "single-opinion rule" for Article 34 constitutionality of statutes judgments (but not for Bills under Article 26).||33rd amendment 2013||The Court of Appeal was proposed in 2009 by a Courts Service working group. Approved in referendum on 4 October 2013.|
|Specialist family law courts parallel to the High Court||TBD||Approved by Government in principle July 2012. Referendum planned for 2015.|
The Constitutional Convention was announced in the March 2011 programme for government, established with slightly amended terms of reference after Dáil and Seanad resolutions in July 2012, and first met on 1 December 2012. It will make recommendations on specified issues, and may consider others if time permits. The government must respond formally to its recommendations, but need not agree to them. As of August 2013[update], progress is as follows:
|Issue||Convention recommendations||Government response|
|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:|
|Reducing the voting age from 18 to 17||Reduce to 16||Referendum by 2015|
|Amending the clause on the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life||Various:||TBD|
|Provision for the legalisation of same-sex marriage||Add a statement requiring (rather than merely allowing) legalisation.||Formal response due. The Labour Party is in favour; news reports suggest Enda Kenny may permit a referendum without obliging his Fine Gael party to campaign in favour of it.|
|Review Dáil electoral system||Various:
|Giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections||Recommended.||TBD|
|Removing the requirement to criminalise blasphemy||Remove blashphemy and replace with an offence of incitement to religious hatred||TBD|
|Other issues, time permitting||The Convention will consider Dáil reform and Socio-Economic Rights in early 2014. A May 2013 motion to consider the proposed abolition of the Seanad was defeated.||TBD|
- Politics of the Republic of Ireland
- Abortion in the Republic of Ireland
- Constitutional amendment
- Referendum Commission
- Official website of the Referendum Returning Officer – Includes an archive of referendum statistics.
- The Unabridged Constitution of Ireland – This is an unofficial variorum edition with amendments alongside the original text. It is only accurate up until the Twentieth Amendment in 1999.
- Irish Legal Information Initiative
- Irish Statute Book online
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- Shatter, Alan (17 July 2012). "Address on Publication of Courts Service Annual Report 2011". Department of Justice and Equality. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- McDonald, Dearbhail (18 July 2012). "Shatter plans referendum to overhaul courts". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
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- Working Group on a Court of Appeal (May 2009). Report. Government Publications. Prn. A8/0153. Dublin: Stationery Office. pp. 221–224 & passim. ISBN 978-1-4064-2117-0.
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