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An amendment may be made to any part of the Constitution of Ireland but only by referendum. An amendment must first be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament), then submitted to a referendum, and finally signed into law by the President.
Aside from constitutional referendums, the constitution also provides for a referendum on an ordinary bill, known as the ordinary referendum, but there has not been one so far.
The procedure for amending the constitution is specified in Article 46. A proposed amendment must take the form of a bill to amend the constitution originating in Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Oireachtas). It must first be formally approved by both the Dáil and the Senate, though in practice the Senate has only the power to delay an amendment adopted by the Dáil.
Then the amendment must be endorsed by the electorate in a referendum. A simple majority is sufficient to carry an amendment and there is no minimum turnout required for a constitutional referendum to be considered valid. The vote occurs by secret ballot. A proposal to amend the constitution put to a referendum must not contain any other proposal. While United Kingdom citizens resident in the state may vote in a general election, only Irish citizens can participate in a referendum.
After being approved by referendum an amendment must be signed into law by the President. Provided that the correct procedure has been complied with, the President cannot veto an amendment. The dates given for the amendments listed in this article are, unless otherwise stated, the dates on which they were signed into law.
The Constitution has also been amended by two other means. The Constitution provided that, for an initial period of four years, from 1937 to 1941, it could be amended by a simple Act of the Oireachtas without a referendum. The First and Second Amendments were adopted in this way. However, as a safeguard to prevent wholesale changes after it had been approved by the people, the President of Ireland, was given the right to decline to sign a Bill amending the constitution until the amendment had been voted on by the people if he believed that the amendment materially changed the whole Constitution. However, the President in office, Douglas Hyde, did not refer any amendment directly to the people, but instead chose to sign the first two amendments directly into law. The Constitution stated that this power, along with the Oireachtas's power to amend the Constitution without automatic reference to the people, automatically lapsed three years after the entry into office of the first President.
Since the third anniversary of President Hyde's election, in 1941, every amendment has had to follow the pattern of passage through the Oireachtas followed by a public referendum. One partial exception to this, however, involved the changes made to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in 1999. The Nineteenth Amendment, adopted by referendum in May, 1998, did not itself amend those articles, but rather introduced a temporary special mechanism by which the Government could order their amendment once it was satisfied that certain commitments made by other parties to the Belfast Agreement had been complied with.
List of amendments
Under transitory provisions
- First Amendment (2 September 1939): Extended the definition of "time of war" to include a war in which the state is not a participant. The motive behind this amendment was to allow the Government to exercise emergency powers during the Second World War, in which the state was neutral.
- Second Amendment (30 May 1941): This was an omnibus amendment to a variety of articles aimed at introducing a variety of changes to the document, some significant and others minor, while it was still possible to do so without the need for a referendum.
- Third Amendment (8 June 1972): Permitted the state to join the European Communities.
- Fourth Amendment (5 January 1973): Reduced minimum voting age from 21 to 18.
- Fifth Amendment (5 January 1973): Removed reference to "special position" of the Roman Catholic Church and to certain other named denominations.
- Sixth Amendment (3 August 1979): Provided that orders made by the Adoption Board could not be declared unconstitutional because they were not made by a court.
- Seventh Amendment (3 August 1979): Allowed the state to determine by law which institutions of higher education would be entitled to elect members of the Senate.
- Eighth Amendment (7 October 1983): Introduced the constitutional prohibition of abortion.
- Ninth Amendment (2 August 1984): Extended the right to vote to certain non-nationals.
- Tenth Amendment (22 June 1987): Permitted the state to ratify the Single European Act.
- Eleventh Amendment (16 July 1992): Permitted the state to ratify the Maastricht Treaty.
- Thirteenth Amendment (23 December 1992): Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state.
- Fourteenth Amendment (23 December 1992): Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries.
- Fifteenth Amendment (17 June 1996): Removed the constitutional prohibition of divorce, but retained certain restrictions on its occurrence.
- Sixteenth Amendment (12 December 1996): Allowed a court to refuse someone bail if it suspected a person would commit a serious criminal offence while at liberty.
- Seventeenth Amendment (14 November 1997): Permitted the High Court to order the disclosure of cabinet discussions in certain circumstances.
- Eighteenth Amendment (3 June 1998): Allowed the state to ratify the Amsterdam Treaty.
- Nineteenth Amendment (3 June 1998): Allowed the state to be bound by the Good Friday Agreement and provided for the conditional amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which subsequently came into effect when the Good Friday Agreement did.
- Twentieth Amendment (23 June 1999): Provided that local government elections must occur every five years.
- Twenty-first Amendment (27 March 2002): Introduced the constitutional prohibition of the death penalty, and also removed all incidental references to the death penalty from the text.
- Twenty-third Amendment (27 March 2002): Allowed the state to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court.
- Twenty-sixth Amendment (7 November 2002): Allowed the state to ratify the Nice Treaty.
- Twenty-seventh Amendment (24 June 2004): Restricted the right to Irish citizenship.
- Twenty-eighth Amendment (15 October 2009): Allowed the state to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.
- Twenty-ninth Amendment (27 October 2011): Relaxed the prohibition on the reduction of the salaries of Irish judges.
- Thirtieth Amendment (31 May 2012): Allowed the state to ratify the European Fiscal Compact.
- Thirty-first Amendment (10 November 2012): Introduced an article into the constitution on children and their rights.
There is officially no 12th, 22nd, 24th or 25th Amendment. These numbers correspond to bills which were introduced but not enacted. While the number of a failed amendment bill is typically re-used for the next amendment bill to be introduced, this has not always happened.
Failed amendments and missing numbers
- Third Amendment Bill (1958): This was a proposal to alter the electoral system for elections to Dáil Éireann from proportional representation under the Single Transferable Vote to the British First Past the Post system. It also proposed to establish an independent commission for the drawing of constituency boundaries on a constitutional basis. It was put to a referendum on 17 June 1959 but was defeated.
- Third Amendment Bill (1968): This proposed to specify more precisely the system of apportionment in the drawing of constituency boundaries. It would have permitted rural constituencies to elect a disproportionate number of TDs (see malapportionment). The proposal was put to a referendum on 16 October 1968 but was rejected.
- Fourth Amendment Bill (1968): This was a second attempt to alter the electoral system by abolishing proportional representation in favour of First Past the Post. It was submitted to a referendum on the same day as the Third Amendment Bill (1968) and was defeated.
- Tenth Amendment Bill (1986): This proposed to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. It was put to a referendum on 26 June 1986 but was defeated. The ban on divorce was eventually lifted by the Fifteenth Amendment in 1996.
- Twelfth Amendment Bill (1992): This proposed to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion by stating that an abortion could not be procured to protect the health, rather than the life, of the woman, and that risk to the life of the woman from suicide could not be grounds for an abortion. This was put to a referendum on 25 November 1992 but was defeated.
- Twenty-second Amendment Bill (2001): This proposed to establish a body for the investigation of judges and to amend the procedure for the removal of judges. It was not passed by the houses of the Oireachtas.
- Twenty-fourth Amendment Bill (2001): This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Nice. This was rejected in a referendum on 7 June 2001. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-sixth Amendment in 2002.
- Twenty-fifth Amendment Bill (2002): This was a second attempt to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion and to prevent risk of suicide being invoked as grounds for an abortion. It was submitted to a referendum on 6 March 2002 but was defeated.
- Twenty-eighth Amendment Bill (2008): This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon. This was rejected in a referendum on 12 June 2008. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-eighth Amendment in 2009.
- Thirtieth Amendment Bill (2011): This would have allowed both Houses of the Oireachtas to conduct full inquiries into any matter of concern. This amendment was rejected in a referendum on the 27th of October, 2011.
List of referendums
The following is a list of every referendum in the state since 1937.[fn 1] The Constitution of Ireland was approved by plebiscite on 1 July 1937 and every subsequent referendum has concerned a constitutional amendment. Dates given are those on which referendums were held.
|1 July 1937||Constitution of Ireland||Enactment||1,775,055||1,346,207||75.8||685,105||56.5||526,945||43.5|
|17 July 1959||3rd Amendment Bill, 1958||Voting system||1,678,450||979,531||58.4||453,322||48.2||486,989||51.8|
|16 October 1968||3rd Amendment Bill, 1968||Constituency boundaries||1,717,389||1,129,477||65.8||424,185||39.2||656,803||60.8|
|16 October 1968||4th Amendment Bill, 1968||Voting system||1,717,389||1,129,606||65.8||423,496||39.2||657,898||60.8|
|10 May 1972||3rd Amendment||European Communities||1,783,604||1,264,278||70.9||1,041,890||83.1||211,891||16.9|
|7 December 1972||4th Amendment||Voting age||1,783,604||903,439||50.7||724,836||84.6||131,514||15.4|
|7 December 1972||5th Amendment||Recognition of religions||1,783,604||903,659||50.7||721,003||84.4||133,430||15.6|
|5 July 1979||6th Amendment||Adoption board||2,179,466||623,476||28.6||601,694||99.0||6,265||1.0|
|5 July 1979||7th Amendment||Seanad reform||2,179,466||622,646||28.6||552,600||92.4||45,484||7.6|
|7 September 1983||8th Amendment||Prohibition of abortion||2,358,651||1,265,994||53.7||841,233||66.9||416,136||33.1|
|14 June 1984||9th Amendment||Votes for non-citizens||2,399,257||1,138,895||47.5||828,483||75.4||270,250||24.6|
|26 June 1986||10th Amendment Bill, 1986||Divorce||2,436,836||1,482,644||60.8||538,279||36.5||935,843||63.5|
|26 May 1987||10th Amendment||Single European Act||2,461,790||1,085,304||44.1||755,423||69.9||324,977||30.1|
|18 June 1992||11th Amendment||Maastricht Treaty||2,542,841||1,457,219||57.3||1,001,076||69.1||448,655||30.9|
|25 November 1992||12th Amendment Bill, 1992||Abortion restrictions||2,542,841||1,733,309||68.2||572,177||34.6||1,079,297||65.4|
|25 November 1992||13th Amendment||Right to travel||2,542,841||1,733,821||68.2||1,035,308||62.4||624,059||37.6|
|25 November 1992||14th Amendment||Abortion information||2,542,841||1,732,433||68.1||992,833||59.9||665,106||40.1|
|24 November 1995||15th Amendment||Divorce||2,628,834||1,633,942||62.2||818,842||50.3||809,728||49.7|
|28 November 1996||16th Amendment||Bail||2,659,895||777,586||29.2||579,740||74.8||194,968||25.2|
|30 October 1997||17th Amendment||Cabinet confidentiality||2,688,316||1,268,043||47.2||632,777||52.6||569,175||47.4|
|22 May 1998||18th Amendment||Amsterdam Treaty||2,747,088||1,543,930||56.2||932,632||61.7||578,070||38.3|
|22 May 1998||19th Amendment||Good Friday Agreement||2,747,088||1,545,395||56.3||1,442,583||94.4||85,728||5.6|
|11 June 1999||20th Amendment||Local government||2,791,415||1,425,881||51.1||1,024,850||77.8||291,965||22.2|
|7 June 2001||21st Amendment||Death penalty||2,867,960||997,885||34.8||610,455||62.1||372,950||37.9|
|7 June 2001||23rd Amendment||Rome Statute of the ICC||2,867,960||997,565||34.8||629,234||64.2||350,512||35.8|
|7 June 2001||24th Amendment Bill, 2001||Treaty of Nice||2,867,960||997,826||34.8||453,461||46.1||529,478||53.9|
|6 March 2002||25th Amendment Bill, 2002||Abortion restrictions||2,923,918||1,254,175||42.9||618,485||49.6||629,041||50.4|
|19 October 2002||26th Amendment||Treaty of Nice||2,923,918||1,446,588||49.5||906,317||62.9||534,887||37.1|
|11 June 2004||27th Amendment||Citizenship||3,041,688||1,823,434||59.9||1,427,520||79.2||375,695||20.8|
|12 June 2008||28th Amendment Bill, 2008||Treaty of Lisbon||3,051,278||1,621,037||53.1||752,451||46.6||862,415||53.4|
|2 October 2009||28th Amendment||Treaty of Lisbon||3,078,032||1,816,098||58.0||1,214,268||67.1||594,606||32.9|
|27 October 2011||29th Amendment||Judges' Remuneration||3,191,157||1,785,707||55.9||1,393,877||79.7||354,134||20.3|
|27 October 2011||30th Amendment Bill 2011||Oireachtas Inquiries||3,191,157||1,785,208||55.9||812,008||46.7||928,175||53.3|
|31 May 2012||30th Amendment||European Fiscal Compact||3,144,828||1,591,385||50.6||955,091||60.3||629,088||39.7|
|10 November 2012||31st Amendment Bill 2012||Children||3,183,686||1,066,239||33.5||615,731||58.0||445,863||42.0|
- The "total poll" column in the table below gives the total number of votes cast, including spoilt votes. The percentages given in the "for" and "against" columns are derived from the total number of valid, or unspoilt votes. A green coloured row indicates a proposal approved by the electorate; red indicates a rejected measure. All data are taken from the official website of the Referendum Returning Officer .
The European Union
A number of amendments to the Constitution of Ireland have related to the European Union (and its predecessors). Before the state could join the European Communities the Third Amendment was necessary. Membership granted powers to European institutions which the 1937 constitution had vested in the Oireachtas and the Government. It was also possible that many provisions of the constitution might in the future be found to be incompatible with European Union law. For these reasons the Third Amendment introduced a provision expressly permitting the state to join the Communities and stating in broad terms that European law has supremacy over the constitution.
A number of subsequent amendments have been made to expressly permit the state to ratify changes to the treaties of the EU. This is because of a 1987 ruling by the Supreme Court, in the case of Crotty v. An Taoiseach, that major changes to the EU treaties require a constitutional amendment. Referendums have therefore been held on the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty, the Amsterdam Treaty and the Treaty of Nice. There has however, been debate among legal scholars as to whether or not each and everyone of these treaties has been sufficiently far reaching as to necessitate a constitutional amendment.
The Eighth Amendment introduced the constitutional prohibition on abortion in 1983. Opponents of abortion sought this amendment partly because of fears that the Supreme Court would in the future infer an implicit right to an abortion in the provisions of the constitution. The court had already ruled, in the 1974 case of McGee v. The Attorney General, that reference in Article 41 to the "imprescriptable rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law" of the family conferred upon spouses a broad right to privacy in marital affairs. It was feared that this right might be extended to include the right to an abortion. There was further concern that the Supreme Court might take its lead from developments in judicial review in other nations, such as the controversial ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.
It was observed at the time of the adoption of the constitutional prohibition of abortion that its wording was very vague. Since its adoption a number of attempts have been made to modify the constitution in order to clarify the ban's precise implications. In particular there have been two failed attempts (in 1992 and 2002) to strengthen the ban, but two successful attempts to weaken its implications (both in December 1992).
The two failed amendments arose from a ruling of the Supreme Court in March 1992, in the case of the Attorney General v. X (more commonly known as the "X case"), that a woman is entitled to an abortion where there is a risk to her life from suicide. Opponents of abortion feared that this ruling could only be enforced in a way that would lead to a liberal abortion regime of the kind found in many other countries, such as the United Kingdom, but this has not yet come to pass (although the government has yet to legislate for the implications of the 'X' case). The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments guaranteed that the ban on abortion would not compromise the right to obtain information about, or freedom of travel to avail of, abortion services available abroad.
Prior to the adoption of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937, the state was governed under two other documents: the Dáil Constitution of the short-lived 1919–1922 Irish Republic and the constitution of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State. Each used different formal procedures for amendment of the text. The Dáil Constitution was enacted by Dáil Éireann (which was at that time a single chamber legislature) as an ordinary act of parliament. As a result it could be amended by simple vote of the legislature.
The Constitution of the Irish Free State originally provided for a process of amendment by means of a referendum. However the constitution could initially be amended by the Free State Oireachtas for eight years. The Oireachtas chose to extend that period, meaning that for the duration of its existence, the Free State constitution could be amended at will by parliament. In theory, it was argued that the constitution could not be amended in a way with conflicted with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 ratified by both the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. However the Statute of Westminster removed that restriction in the 1930s.
From 1997 to 2011, an All-Party Oireachtas Committee systematically reviewed the constitution, and in its first ten years published a series of ten progress reports and two pieces of commissioned research. In the 30th Dáil it published a further 5 reports (see Constitutional Reviews)
The agreed programme of the government elected in March 2011 committed to referendums on five subjects "on a priority basis", and to establishing a constitutional convention to consider other issues. The priority issues are:
- abolition of Seanad Éireann,
- granting the Oireachtas the power to conduct inquiries which could make finding of fact about individuals,
- protecting the confidentiality of citizens' communications with their public representatives,
- relaxing the absolute ban on reducing judges' salaries (which became contentious in the context of widespread salary cuts during the 2008–2011 Irish financial crisis), and
- children's rights.
On the 27 October 2011, two referendums were put to the people of Ireland, simultaneous with the 2011 presidential election. The first of these dealt with judges' pay while the latter dealt with Oireachtas inquiries. The judges' pay amendment was passed by an overwhelming majority becoming the Twenty-ninth Amendment, while the Oireachtas enquiries was rejected by a margin of 53.3% against to 46.7% in favour.
In July 2012 Alan Shatter, the Minister for Justice and Equality, announced plans for an amendment relating to the courts system. This would establish specialist courts parallel to the High Court, and possibly alter the framework for referral of bills by the President to the Supreme Court. The plan follows the recommendations of a 2009 working group, while adding further elements.
In March 2011 the newly elected Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced that the Government intended to establish a constitutional convention to consider "comprehensive constitutional reform" and to report on the following issues:
- the Dáil electoral system
- reducing the President's term from seven to five years
- provision for same-sex marriage
- changing a reference to the "role of women in the home" to the "role of parents in the home"
- removing the requirement to criminalise blasphemy
- reducing the voting age
- such other changes as are recommended by the convention
- Politics of the Republic of Ireland
- Abortion in the Republic of Ireland
- Constitutional amendment
- Referendum Commission
- Official website of the Referendum Returning Officer – Includes an archive of referendum statistics.
- The Unabridged Constitution of Ireland – This is an unofficial variorum edition with amendments alongside the original text. It is only accurate up until the Twentieth Amendment in 1999.
- Irish Legal Information Initiative
- Irish Statute Book online
- "Amending The Constitution". Constitution.ie. The All-Party Oireachtas Committee On The Constitution. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- "Bunreacht na hÉireann - Constitution of Ireland". Department of An Taoiseach. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- Dáil debates Vol.728 No.3 p.5 22 March 2011
- McGee, Harry (1 November 2011). "Five reasons why referendum was lost". The Irish Times. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
- Shatter, Alan (17 July 2012). "Address on Publication of Courts Service Annual Report 2011". Department of Justice and Equality. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- McDonald, Dearbhail (18 July 2012). "Shatter plans referendum to overhaul courts". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Working Group on a Court of Appeal (May 2009). Report. Government Publications. Prn. A8/0153. Dublin: Stationery Office. pp. 221–224 & passim. ISBN 978-1-4064-2117-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Coulter, Carol (18 July 2012). "Convention dwarfed by flagged changes to Constitution". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 July 2012.