Constitutional Change and Interest Group Politics: Ireland's Children's Rights Referendum
Chapter 10 in: Richard Albert, Xenephon Contiades and Alkmene Fotiadou, The Foundations and Traditions of Constitutional Amendment (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2017)
28 Pages Posted: 1 May 2017
Date Written: April 28, 2017
In 2012, a referendum was held to insert a new Article on children’s rights into the Irish Constitution. This amendment, according to its proponents, addressed problems that had emerged in Irish constitutional law where “parents rights” where held to be superior to “children’s rights”. In this chapter, we use the experience of this constitutional referendum to explore how processes of formal constitutional amendment can be used to alter intricate matters of constitutional law doctrine, and to illustrate the difficulties that such attempts encounter. We argue that the calls for this reform were based on a misunderstanding of this area of constitutional law, and that the changes wrought by the amendment were minimal. Despite this, interest groups that had called for the amendment insisted that it was a major change, leading to a confusing referendum campaign that failed to engage the public and resulted in the referendum passing by a surprisingly narrow margin. From this experience, several lessons can be drawn about the difficulties of amending constitutions to achieve changes in legal doctrine; about the role of legal academics in highlighting constitutional problems and correcting misunderstandings of constitutional issues; and about the underexplored role of interest groups in effecting constitutional change.
Keywords: comparative constitutional law; comparative constitutional theory; constitutional change; referendums; Irish constitutional law
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