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Senator Criticises ‘Silence’ on Constitutional Convention

Resource type: News

The Irish Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Mary Minihan

One of the Taoiseach’s nominees to the Seanad has accused the Government of failing to keep Oireachtas members informed about the forthcoming constitutional convention.

Independent Senator Katherine Zappone was addressing the Irish Council for Civil Liberties “Hear Our Voices” event in Dublin yesterday.

“Why are members of the Oireachtas not receiving detailed information about the design and establishment of the convention? . . . I honestly do not know what there is ‘silence’ rather than consultation, little or no information rather than ongoing communication,” she said.

Fearing the Government was perhaps “consumed” by issues around the economy and the survival of the euro, she said: “Absolute preoccupation with economic matters is never good for a society or a democracy.”

Dr Zappone called on Government backbenchers to “claim their power” by playing a significant role in shaping the convention, whether or not they were selected as members.

The Government has said the convention should consist of 100 members, of whom 66 will be “ordinary citizens”. The remaining 33 will be made up of Oireachtas members and one MLA from each of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

An expert advisory group, to be established to provide information and advice, will comprise political scientists, constitutional lawyers and academics. Dr Zappone praised the ICCL for raising concerns about the membership of the expert advisory group.

“I know many of my colleagues agree with your arguments that the advisory group should not be limited to constitutional lawyers, academics and political scientists,” she said.

ICCL director Mark Kelly accused the Government of ignoring the views of civil society groups on constitutional reform.

He said the Constitution was “long overdue an overhaul” despite being celebrated at home and abroad for its recognition of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

However, he warned that the potential of the convention would be realised only if the voices of civil society were given a meaningful place in the forthcoming discussions.

Mr Kelly said a commitment to limit party representation and “attempts at political control” should be made prior to establishing the convention.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is an Atlantic grantee.