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  

Oran Doyle

Trinity College (Dublin)

David Kenny

Trinity College Dublin School of Law

Date Written: April 28, 2017

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Doyle, Oran and Kenny, David, Constitutional Change and Interest Group Politics: Ireland's Children's Rights Referendum (April 28, 2017). Chapter 10 in: Richard Albert, Xenephon Contiades and Alkmene Fotiadou, The Foundations and Traditions of Constitutional Amendment (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2960031

Oran Doyle (Contact Author)

Trinity College (Dublin) ( email )

2-3 College Green
Dublin 2, Leinster 2
Ireland

David Kenny

Trinity College Dublin School of Law ( email )

College Green
Dublin 2
Ireland

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