Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

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The Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland introduced a constitutional ban on the death penalty and removed all references to capital punishment from the text. It was effected by the Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution Act, 2001, which was approved by referendum on 7 June 2001 and signed into law on 27 March 2002.

Changes to the text[edit]

  • Insertion of new Article 15.5.2:
The Oireachtas [parliament] shall not enact any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty.
  • Addition to first sentence of Article 28.3.3 (added text in bold):
Nothing in this Constitution other than Article 15.5.2 shall be invoked to invalidate any law enacted by the Oireachtas which is expressed to be for the purpose of securing the public safety and the preservation of the State in time of war or armed rebellion, or to nullify any act done or purporting to be done in time of war or armed rebellion in pursuance of any such law.
  • Deletion from Article 13.6 (removed text in bold and ruled):
The right of pardon and the power to commute or remit punishment imposed by any court exercising criminal jurisdiction are hereby vested in the President, but such power of commutation or remission may, except in capital cases, also be conferred by law on other authorities.
  • Deletion of the entirety of Article 40.4.5:
Where an order is made under this section by the High Court or a judge thereof for the production of the body of a person who is under sentence of death, the High Court or such judge thereof shall further order that the execution of the said sentence of death shall be deferred until after the body of such person has been produced before the High Court and the lawfulness of his detention has been determined and if, after such deferment, the detention of such person is determined to be lawful, the High Court shall appoint a day for the execution of the said sentence of death and that sentence shall have effect with the substitution of the day so appointed for the day originally fixed for the execution thereof.
  • (Article 15.5 accordingly renumbered as Article 15.5.1 and subsections 6 and 7 of Article 40.4 renumbered as subsections 5 and 6 respectively)

Overview[edit]

The last execution in the Republic occurred in 1954 when the murderer Michael Manning was hanged, the sentence being carried out by Albert Pierrepoint who travelled from Britain where he was the official hangman. The penalty has been abolished in law since 1990. It is furthermore a condition of the membership of any country of the European Union that it abolish capital punishment. The Republic is also party to a number of international agreements forbidding the death penalty. These include Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights which forbids capital punishment even during time of war.

The Twenty-first Amendment was intended to give the state's long-standing abolition of capital punishment constitutional standing and prevent the Oireachtas (parliament) from reintroducing the penalty without a further referendum. In line with the state's commitment to abolition even during time of war, the Twenty-first Amendment provides that the death penalty cannot be imposed even during a "national emergency". This is the only explicit exception to the sweeping powers otherwise granted to the state during such an emergency. While the changes shown above are those made to the English-language version of the constitution, constitutionally it is the Irish text that has precedence.

The Twenty-first Amendment was introduced by the Fianna FáilProgressive Democrats coalition government of Bertie Ahern and was supported by every political party with representation in the Dáil (the lower house of parliament). It was submitted to a referendum on the same day as the Twenty-third Amendment, which permitted the state to recognise the International Criminal Court and was also approved by voters, and the failed Twenty-fourth Amendment, which would have permitted the state to ratify the Treaty of Nice but was rejected.

The Twenty-first Amendment was approved on a low turnout by 62% in favour to 38% against. There were media reports after the referendum on the Twenty-first Amendment that many opponents of the death penalty had mistakenly cast a "no" vote, in the belief that they were being asked to vote on capital punishment per se rather than on an amendment that would prohibit it.

Result[edit]

Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland referendum[1]
Choice Votes  %
Referendum passed Yes 610,455 62.08
No 372,950 37.92
Valid votes 983,405 98.55
Invalid or blank votes 14,480 1.45
Total votes 997,885 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 2,867,960 34.79

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