Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

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The Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland provided that the confidentiality of meetings of the cabinet would not prevent the High Court from ordering that certain information be disclosed when this was in the public interest. It was effected by the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1997, which was approved by referendum on 30 October 1997 and signed into law on 14 November of the same year.

Changes to the text[edit]

  • Insertion of new Article 28.4.3:
The confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter-
i. in the interests of the administration of justice by a Court, or
ii. by virtue of an overriding public interest, pursuant to an application in that behalf by a tribunal appointed by the Government or a Minister of the Government on the authority of the Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into a matter stated by them to be of public importance.
  • (Existing Article 28.4.3 retained but renumbered as 28.4.4)


In 1992, during the enquiries of a tribunal into political corruption, the Supreme Court ruled that, as the constitution stood, the confidentiality of meetings of the Government (the Republic's cabinet) was unbreachable and absolute. The court derived its ruling from Article 28.4.2, which requires that the Government observe the principle of collective responsibility. The purpose of the Seventeenth Amendment was to allow cabinet confidentiality to be relaxed in certain circumstances.

The amendment was adopted during the Fianna FáilProgressive Democrats coalition government of Bertie Ahern but had been first drafted and suggested by the previous Fine GaelLabour Party government led by John Bruton. The amendment, therefore, had the support of all four major parties. The referendum occurred on the same day as the 1997 presidential election, and voting went 632,777 (52.6%) in favour and 569,175 (47.4%) against.


Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland referendum[1]
Choice Votes  %
Referendum passed Yes 632,777 52.65
No 569,175 47.35
Valid votes 1,201,952 94.79
Invalid or blank votes 66,091 5.21
Total votes 1,268,043 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 2,688,316 47.17

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