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There are some socialists and other progressives arguing for a rejection of the 30th amendment * but their opposition is based on one and/or two rickety foundations.

Firstly, there has always been an affinity between socialism and the better parts of liberalism, especially those parts which defend and seek to expand personal freedom. However, an overly rigorous defence of negative liberty (freedom from intrusion, compulsion etc.) can be at odds with the public good. This is one of those situations. No one seriously believes that ordinary citizens will be hauled before a committee of the Oireachtas and unjustly treated. However, some opponents of the amendment argue that because they fear that it MIGHT be possible, the amendment should be voted down.

Secondly, there is among socialists and some other progressives a strong and healthy anti-establishment culture. It is so strong, however, as to be quite easily manipulated by the establishment. On this issue it is happening. The constant derision of parliamentary democracy and elected politicians – the aim of which is to paint pseudo-radicals, who are often journalists, in a good light and to convince the general public that there is no hope of real change – has been effective. In this instance some socialists have been duped into thinking that because the proposal comes from government it should be opposed or that giving more power to politicians (the “establishment”) is anti-progressive. There is an old socialist test: Which side are you on? In this instance one way to BEGIN to clarify a true anti-establishment stance is to look at who favours and who opposes. However,   while doing so remember the attractions of being seen as “anti-establishment” or the depth of true anti-establishment culture on the left which makes it likely that some socialists will mistakenly take the establishment side and favour a rejection.

* 30th Amendment to the Constitution – Oireachtas inquiries

Existing text of section 15.10:

1. Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders, and shall have power to attach penalties for their infringement, and shall have power to ensure freedom of debate, to protect its official documents and the private papers of its members, and to protect itself and its members against any person or persons interfering with, molesting or attempting to corrupt its members in the exercise of their duties.

It is proposed to renumber this as 15.10.1 and insert:

2. Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an inquiry with another House, in a manner provided by law, into any matter or matters stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance.

3. In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person (whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated, and the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry relates.

4. It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2 applies.

 

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2 Comments

  1. “No one seriously believes that ordinary citizens will be hauled before a committee of the Oireachtas and unjustly treated. However, some opponents of the amendment argue that because they fear that it MIGHT be possible, the amendment should be voted down”.

    A couple of comments. First, why the emphasis on ordinary citizens? A constitutional provision ought to protect all citizens, even extraordinary ones (whatever that might mean). And why are you so certain, looking to the future, that citizens would not be hauled before a committee of the Oireachtas and unjustly treated? Politicians are motivated by concerns that render them far less impartial than, for example, relevant members of the judiciary, and we have plenty of historical and international evidence to suggest that parliamentary committee’s can and do unjustly treat citizens (in ways that can often be traced to political motives that emerge on the basis of narrow self or party interest).

    In addition, I think constitutional law is precisely the place where considerations about what might be possible deserve special attention when weighed against what is likely to happen. The reasons are obvious. The notion of what is likely to happen is a very slippery one. Our ability to forecast the future is poor and the political landscape evolves in unexpected ways. We ought, therefore, to ere on the side of caution in bestowing special powers on members of the Oireachtas, especially given the dangerous concentration of power that already exists in the executive, which currently effectively controls the committee system.

    A constitution should protect citizens, especially in those rare or extreme cases that help us to circumscribe the limits of law. It is precisely because the constitution is our last defence against state tyranny that it ought to be based on the possible, where possible, rather than on the probable. I would rather put my faith in a well constructed constitution that can stand the test of time than the well-meaning intentions of certain current politicians and their future replacements.

  2. Perhaps I should have expanded on the term “ordinary citizens”. My point is that this amendment is aimed at invading the privacy of some citizens in the interests of other citizens. I realise fully the objections to which that sentence is open but I dispute the notion of a common interest except in the most basic of areas like life and personal liberty. I accept too that a clash of rights may need an accomodation rather than outright victory for one. The essence of the question on amendment 30 is do a group of rights centred on privacy prevail in order to help keep secret the doings of some citizens against their fellow citizens?

    The idea that this amendment raises fears about state tyranny at some stage in the future is fantasy. It is attractive to defend against the possible rather than the unlikely but the very definition of possible is fraught. It can involve certainty: that something at some time will happen. It can involve simply not knowing. Practical decisions involve the evaluation of risk. In this case adopting amendment 30 is not a risky choice for now or for the future. Rejecting this amendment involves a certainty: that our society will not be as open as it might be. Perhaps I mean that it it will not be as open as I would like it to be.


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