The ‘Wrong’ Kind of Constitutional Complexity

A common argument put forward by those who advocate the repeal of the pro-life amendment is that the Constitution is no place to deal with the ‘complexities’ of abortion. Better by far to leave all of that to the wisdom of the legislature, so the reasoning goes.

While not entirely unsurprising, the fact that this has generated a certain kind of credibility is bewildering.

It is a view that has been reiterated on several occasions, most recently by the Chair of the Joint Committee on abortion, Senator Catherine Noone, at the launch of the Committee’s Report.

One can only wonder if any of those who advance this position have ever actually opened their copy of Bunreacht na hÉireann or even taken the time to acquaint themselves with the many other Amendments that now form part of its text.

If they had done so they might perhaps, have been more circumspect in adopting the ‘too complex for the constitution’ line.

What about children’s rights? There is now an explicit children’s rights provision in the Constitution, even though the topic of children’s rights is extremely complex.

Or what about the constitutional amendments that have given legal force to various EU treaties, including the Lisbon Treaty?

Here was a Treaty that one EU Commissioner, our own Charlie McCreevy, said “no sane, sensible person” would read.

His exact words were:

“I don’t expect ordinary, decent Irish people, or anyone else in the globe, to sit down and spend hours and hours reading sections about sub-sections referring to articles of other sub-articles.”

So much for the inappropriateness of linking complex issues to Constitutional Amendments.

Let us take another example; the Twenty-Third Amendment of the Constitution, which amended Article 29 of the Constitution in order to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. To my knowledge international binding agreements of this sort are not renowned for their simplicity.

What all of this demonstrates is not that abortion or the right to life is too complex for the constitution. What it demonstrates is that it is the ‘wrong’ kind of complexity. By all means let us keep complex amendments liberals like. But by no means let us keep the Eighth. That is the clear reasoning at work here. Sure we can hold summits, conduct pan-European debates, engage with the entire EU political class to canvass for a certain treaty outcome; but try and figure out how to keep or ‘ratify’ a fundamental human right in the constitution? Sorry, your on your own, its just too hard…

In an appalling dereliction of duty, the Committee chose to cut the knot of complexity rather than make any attempt to unfold it in a life affirming manner. It is lazy parliamentary hubris masquerading as serious critique.

As the Minority Report issued by Peter Fitzpatrick, Mattie McGrath and Ronan Mullen, puts it:

“Bunreacht na hÉireann is the basic legal text of the Irish State, within which all fundamental rights are protected, such as the freedom of speech, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, the right to private property, the right to a fair trial etc. Constitutions are the correct place to secure and protect fundamental rights.”

It is time to call out the majority of the Committee members on their ‘too complex for the constitution’ line.

(David Mullins is parliamentary assistant to Mattie McGrath).