Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

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Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland
To ban the death penalty
Location Republic of Ireland Ireland
Date 7 June 2001 (2001-06-07)
Votes %
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/turnout 2,867,960 34.79%

The Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution Act 2001 (previously bill no. 16 of 2001) is an amendment of the Constitution of Ireland which introduced a constitutional ban on the death penalty and removed all references to capital punishment from the text. It was approved by referendum on 7 June 2001 and signed into law on 27 March 2002. The referendum was held on the same day as referendums on the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was also approved, and on the ratification of the Nice Treaty, which was rejected.


Capital punishment in Ireland had been abolished by the Criminal Justice Act 1990. The purpose of the amendment was therefore not to end the practice, but rather to forbid the Oireachtas from reintroducing the death penalty in future, even during a state of emergency. This is the only explicit exception to the sweeping powers otherwise granted to the state during such an emergency.

The last execution in Ireland occurred in 1954 when the murderer Michael Manning was hanged, the sentence being carried out by Albert Pierrepoint who travelled from Great Britain where he was an official hangman.[1] 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. Ireland 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.

Changes to the text[edit]

Article 15.5 to be renumbered as 15.5.1º and the insertion of a new subsection to Article 15.5:

2º The Oireachtas shall not enact any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty.

Addition of the highlighted text to the first sentence of Article 28.3.3º:

Nothing in this Constitution other than Article 15.5.2º 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 of the highlighted text from Article 13.6:

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 following subsection from Article 40.4:

5º 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.

Subsections 6º and 7º of Article 40.4 renumbered as subsections 5º and 6º respectively.

Oireachtas debate[edit]

The Twenty-first Amendment was proposed in Dáil Éireann by Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform John O'Donoghue on 11 April 20001 on behalf of the Fianna FáilProgressive Democrats coalition government led by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.[2] One member spoke against, Fine Gael TD Brendan McGahon; otherwise, it had the support of all members of the Dáil. It passed final stages without amendment on the same day.[3] It passed all stages in Seanad Éireann on 1 May, and proceeded to a referendum on 7 June 2001.[4]


A Referendum Commission was established by Minister for the Environment and Local Government Noel Dempsey.[5] It was chaired by former Chief Justice Thomas Finlay. At the time, its role included setting out the arguments for and against the proposal.[6]


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 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.

Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland referendum[7]
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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wallace, Colm (2016). Sentenced to Death: Saved from the Gallows. Bantry: Somerville Press. p. 49. ISBN 9780992736491. 
  2. ^ "Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill, 2001: Second Stage". Houses of the Oireachtas. 11 April 2001. Retrieved 24 May 2018. 
  3. ^ "Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill, 2001: Committee and Remaining Stages". Houses of the Oireachtas. 11 April 2001. Retrieved 24 May 2018. 
  4. ^ "Twenty-first Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill, 2001: Committee and Remaining Stages". Houses of the Oireachtas. 1 May 2001. Retrieved 24 May 2018. 
  5. ^ "S.I. No. 53/1998 - Referendum Act, 1998. Referendum Commission (Establishment) Order, 1998." Irish Statute Book. 2 March 1998. Retrieved 21 May 2018. 
  6. ^ "Referendum Act, 1998". Irish Statute Book. 26 February 1998. Retrieved 21 May 2018. 
  7. ^ "Referendum Results 1937–2015" (PDF). Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. 23 August 2016. p. 64. Retrieved 24 May 2018. 

External links[edit]