25 August 2009

A Social Contract for a Second Republic

A few days ago I sat down to put some thoughts on paper on the subject of a Second Irish Republic, and what form this would take. There have been some interesting comments on this subject recently both in the mainstream press, and in threads on both Gavin's Blog and irishelection. Most of the thoughts seem to be on Oireachtas reform along the lines of a move towards a unicameral legislature with a reduction in the proportion of representation, the a replacement of PR-STV with a list system, or enshrining tax levels within the Constitution along the lines of the Swiss model. All of these fail to tackle what I see to be the main flaw at the heart of the 1937 Constitution, and in an attempt to solidify my own thoughts on the matter I decided to write an op-ed piece, rather than a typical blog post.

A Social Contract for a Second Republic

As we approach both the 100th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland, and the 75th anniversary of the the 1937 Constitution, the country is in the deepest economic, political and moral crises of living memory, caused in no small part by a failure in the system of the State itself. Successive generations of Irish women and men have taken the model of democracy and government as handed to them by their forebears as custodians and guardians, passing it down without significant alteration to subsequent generations. What changes have been made to our national civic model have been clumsy additions bolted on and jury-rigged to provide a measure of temporary relief, but the fundamental flaws at the heart of the system itself remain. With each successive iteration of office holders these flaws are replicated, more errors enter the genetic code of our political, economic and civil society, and our Constitution and Republic are no longer fit for purpose as a contract of mutual cooperation and governance between the citizens themselves.

The State was born and baptised in blood and sacrifice, but it has been held captive to the memory of that sacrifice for too many generations. The State was forged by Great Men and Women, who have become giants that tower over the nation they created, whose very shadows themselves have become sacrosanct. The State was an infant whose Citizenry needed guidance through the uncertainty of independence and the chaos of Civil War, but the youth who approach the ballot box today for the first time are four generations removed from that infant State. The era of the Great Men and Women is passed, we are children no more and need no paternalistic guidance. The system created by their long shadows is creaking under the strain of modernity, weighed down by decades of corruption enacted in their name.

The time now is not for reform. Reform suggests that the base system is inherently solid and with revision and upgrade can once again be fit for purpose. This is not the case with our State. The flaws are too great, the gap between the Citizenry and the political and economic elite too vast, the inequalities too endemic. The time now is not for reform, the time now is for Rebirth. The time now is for a Second Irish Republic.

Ireland is a small nation, with a current population of just over four million, less than many cities around the world. Yet the level of real participatory democracy and civil control residing in the hands of the Citizenry is less than in many of these cities, let alone in comparable nations. A Second Irish Republic must begin with the drafting of a new Constitution, one which would enshrine the theories of Social Justice through true participatory Democracy as the soul of the new State.

A Constitution is a contract between the Citizenry of a State on how they want to live with each other. It should not be something imposed upon them, rather it should be something that they themselves have a hand in drafting, framing and amending. Under the 1937 Constitution, amendments to the Constitution can only be proposed by the Oireachtas and submitted to the Citizenry for approval (Article 46.2 states: “Every proposal for an amendment of this Constitution shall be initiated in Dail Eireann as a Bill, and shall upon having been passed or deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, be submitted by Referendum to the decision of the people in accordance with the law for the time being in force relating to Referendum”).

There is no current mechanism for the Citizenry themselves to propose alterations to the Constitution, a contract that ultimately governs almost all aspects of their interactions with each other. In this way the Citizenry themselves have been alienated from each other as an essential tool of dialogue, if not the core tool of dialogue between them on a national level, has been removed from their control. Any new Constitution must have provision for amendments to be initiated by the Citizenry outside the control and approval of the Oireachtas.

Under the 1937 Constitution, nomination of a candidate for the Presidency can be made by either twenty sitting members of the Oireachtas or by four or more local authorities. This provision could be extended to proposed amendments to the Constitution, with an amendment needing to be passed by the Oireachtas in the current manner, or be proposed by 2/3 of the local authorities. A method by which the Citizenry themselves could introduce a proposed amendment could be based around the California model that requires the signatures of 8% of the valid poll in the most recent gubernatorial election. When proposing amendments to a national, rather than a regional Constitution, perhaps a figure of 10% of the valid poll of the most recent national election would be more appropriate. On the basis of the total valid poll of 2,085,245 in the 2007 general election, a proposed Constitutional amendment submitted by the Citizenry in this manner would require 208,525 signatures, or roughly 5% of the current population of the State. Amending the Constitution should not be taken lightly, it should not be easy to do, but it should still be within the grasp of the Citizenry.

Before any Oireachtas reform can be attempted, before the 'special place of women' in the home can be erased from history, and before all references to national authority being derived from God can be removed to herald a true separation of Church and State, the Constitution of the nation must truly be of the people, by the people and for the people. Only when the ability of the Citizenry themselves to create, amend, approve and reject and in all aspects have complete ownership of their own social contract will the foundations of the State be strong enough for a nation based on social justice to be built.

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