Irish liberals love to take pride in the fact that Ireland – by remaining democratic throughout the twentieth century while much of Europe was upended in conflict – is one of the longest surviving democracies in Europe.
However, given the premature character of the Irish constitutions, the question must be asked as to whether a document so prone to alteration functions in the manner of a traditional, or ideal constitution, or if it is effectively a tool of mass-rule subject to government NGO funded campaigns, as demonstrated by the 2018 Abortion Referendum.
In theory, constitutions are legal-heavy documents whose contents are generally considered to be inviolable, however, in practise, only the United States has maintained such a legal tradition. For Europe, constitutions are merely a form of legitimation for electoral diktat and representative democracy. Within the Irish context, the maintenance of our current constitution is largely a product of the convenience it gives the Irish government in general political activities.
The Irish constitution of 1922 was altered a total of 27 times before being retired for a more stable document in 1937. That constitution has now been amended on 32 occasions out of a total 38 attempts at revising the constitution.
For a legal document which underpins the state’s authority and its legislation to be altered so frequently acts to delegitimise the document, as it is demonstrated to function not as a legally binding document to which the state adheres, but as a political tool to be altered by the whims of statesmen.
This, then, arises the question as to whether the current Irish constitution still retains political value. While it may be legitimated by the stubborn, sycophantic faith that Irish liberals place in it, an abstract measure of a constitution’s value will find that the 1937 constitution ranks among the least reliable legal documents in use this century.
It is alterable upon referendum and is generally quite broad in permitting the state certain activities. The legislative apparatus of a state is only as good as the government running it, one which is currently detached from the interests of the Irish people.
The current dysfunctional state of political governance in Ireland must be assumed to be a product of the state’s susceptibility to be moulded by political actors and given the increasingly low quality of statesman that Ireland has suffered under over the past decades, the legislation of the state acts as a reflection of that.
While the Irish government’s obsession with replacement migration and so-called “tolerance” continually is demonstrated to have adverse effects on Irish people, the constitution as it stands has been repeatedly used by the government to grant itself authority through referenda on various issues.
Though the constitution is out-dated and susceptible to alteration in accordance with direct democratic mandate, there remains opportunities to be exploited for right-wing populists in Ireland.
The wave of recent protests may have unforeseen consequences on the government’s desire to institute a referendum on the right to housing. As seen in the results of the 2004 citizenship referendum, the Irish population has the capabilities to express its grievances against migrant exploitation of Irish law.
After only 5 years prior having shamefully legalised the practise of abortion, will a new opportunity to express populist sentiments, albeit from a rightist perspective, be offered in the near future? The ability to express national populist sentiment through the direct democratic mechanisms provided by the frequency of referenda in Ireland may contribute to the growing expression of nativist sentiment in Ireland.