Remembering the Constitution: The Easter Proclamation and Constitutionalism in Independent Ireland
32 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2010
Date Written: August 3, 2010
The phrase “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” in the Proclamation of the Republic in 1916 - understood as referring to the rights and the welfare of actual children - is one that has unparalleled resonance in political, legal and social debates in contemporary Ireland, particularly in the light of the long-standing systematic abuse of children that has been brought fully to light in recent years. The power of the phrase is illustrated by the fact that it has been proposed by an Oireachtas committee as the keystone of a new Article in the Constitution dealing with children’s rights. This rhetorical force seems immune to demonstrations that the phrase was intended by its authors in a metaphorical sense, as a reference to different religious and political identities on the island of Ireland. Other, similar, programmatic statements in Irish constitutional history, such as the Democratic Programme of Dáil Éireann (1919) and the Directive Principles of Social Policy contained in Bunreacht na hÉireann (1937), have never captured the public imagination in the same way. In regard to the latter, a sharp contrast can be drawn between the Directive Principles of Social Policy and the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution of India (1950). Whereas the Irish directive principles languish in obscurity, the Indian directive principles are a frequent point of reference in legal and political argument and channel aspirations for a better, more just society just as, in a more limited fashion, the rhetoric of the Proclamation does in Ireland. This contrast prompts reflection on the power of what ordinary citizens imagine the constitution under which they live to provide and to aspire to and the different roles which constitutions play in the creation and maintenance of national identity. The nature of the “constitutional faith” which is thus manifested is a topic of renewed interest in Ireland, at a time of lively debate as to whether the constitution needs to be renewed and as to what role the rhetorical tropes of the Proclamation should play in that process.
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