The USSR, Irish politics and the Constitution

At the McGill summer school this week, Justice Adrian Hardiman made a very interesting and telling comparison between certain legal practices in the old Soviet Union and the impatience of certain groups in Ireland with the Constitution.

Some people, he suggested, looked fondly to the days when Soviet judges regarded their jobs as the application of the law as a political expression of the ruling party and government.

In other words, in the opinion of Adrian Hardiman there are people in Irish society who basically wish we didn’t have a constitution at all because the Constitution prevents the ruling elite from enforcing their will as and when they like and according to the latest ideologlical fashion.

For example there are undoubtedly many people who bitterly regret that the Constitution prevented the Government from introducing full marriage for same-sex couples now without the need to go to the people.

But we have a Constitution precisely to ensure that the law isn’t simply whatever the Government; and those who have most influence on the Government (namely Ireland’s liberal/left elite) want it to be at any given moment:

The Constitution is there to protect basic rights, to set down limits on government; to give the law a certain predictability.

It is not for the Government to suddenly take the law in a new and radical direction simply because it has the muscle to so. It is up to the people to do that through a constitutional referendum.

It’s as well we have Adrian Hardiman to remind us of such a basic fact as this and to prevent us sliding into some of the practices of the Soviet Union under, say, Leonid Brezhnev (pictured).