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Constitution’s ‘unique reverence for popular sovereignty’ on agenda
A stamp printed in Ireland commemorates 21st anniversary of Irish Constitution, circa 1958 Pic: Shutterstock

23 Aug 2019 / education Print

Irish Constitution’s ‘unique reverence for popular sovereignty’ to be examined

UCC’s Constitution project will hold a conference at the end of this month.

Entitled ‘Sovereignty, Populism and Constitutional Politics’, the 30-31 August conference is being organised in association with the British and Irish chapter of the International Society of Public Law.

The venue is the executive education building at Lapp’s Quay, in Cork city.

The keynote speaker is Professor Gráinne de Burca of New York University and formerly of Harvard and Oxford.

The conference theme is the unique reverence for popular sovereignty in the Irish Constitution, as evidenced by the fact that it requires that every single proposed amendment of the Constitution be approved by the people in popular referendum.

This feature of Irish constitutionalism has many corollaries:

  • It gives the Irish people a practical ownership over their constitution,
  • It puts a great deal of pressure on the referendum process,
  • It emphasises popular democracy, perhaps occasionally at the expense of a sharper focus on representative democracy and the role of parliament,
  • It adds an extra dimension to citizenship,
  • It impacts on Ireland’s engagement in international relations, due to the necessity to authorise the ratification of certain treaties by way of referendum,
  • It calls upon the courts to supervise the referendum process and give effect to the intention of the electorate.

The amendment process has been invoked relatively frequently. A total of 41 proposed amendments have been put to referendum since 1937, of which 29 were approved.

This frequency has noticeably increased, with 13 referendums in the last 10 years (compared with just eight in the first 40 years of the Constitution’s existence).

Comparative perspective

All of this means that popular sovereignty is built in to the Irish constitutional experience in a way that is very rare from a comparative perspective, the conference organisers believe.

This popular involvement in constitutional change is comparatively unusual and may have helped to protect the Irish constitutional order from populist critiques of elite politics.

Its unique advantages and pitfalls will be considered at the UCC conference.

Registration: Admission €40 (students/unwaged €20) with an optional conference dinner for an additional €35.

Up to nine hours of certified continuous professional development will be available for attendance.

To book click here:

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