I gCoiste ar an mBille um Bunreacht Shaorstait Eireann. (In Committee on the Constitution of Saorstát Eireann Bill.) - ARTICLE 46.—REFERENDUM AND INITIATIVE.


Article 46 reads:—"Any Bill passed or deemed to have been passed by both Houses may be suspended for a period of ninety days on the written demand of two-fifths of the Members of the Chamber/Dáil Eireann, or of a majority of the Members of the Senate/ Seanad Eireann, presented to the President of the Executive Council not later than seven days from the day on which such Bill shall have been so passed or deemed to have been so passed. Such a Bill shall be submitted by referendum to the decision of the people if demanded before the expiration of the ninety days either by a resolution of the Senate/ Seanad Eireann, assented to by three-fifths of the members of the Senate/ Seanad Eireann, or by a petition signed by not less than one-twentieth of the voters then on the register of voters, and the decision of the people on such referendum shall be conclusive. These provisions shall not apply to Money Bills or to such Bills as shall be declared by both Houses to be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety." This particular Article gives to a three-fifth proportion of the Seanad the power of applying for a referendum on any measure. The referendum is a feature of the Constitutions of Australia, America and Switzerland. It is, we consider, particularly suited to this country, in the circumstances of the time. It will impress on the people more forcibly perhaps than would otherwise be the case that henceforth the law of this country is their law, is the creature of their will, is something which they can make, alter, or repeal, as it seems best to them. That personal actual contact between the people and the laws by which they are governed is advisable in a country which is passing out of a condition of bondage and a country where the traditional attitude of the people is to be against the law and against the Government. The referendum, we consider, will be a stimulus to political thought and the political education of the people. It will compel the people to think of the necessity for certain laws, and to think of the effects of certain laws, and all that political thought will have a steadying effect upon the country. It is argued for the referendum, also, that it is some check on corruption, that if you, by any chance or by any mischance, had a corrupt legislature that at least it would need a man with a very long purse to corrupt all the people or a sufficient number of the people to carry a measure by referendum. There is a proposal "to insert in line 13 after the word ‘people' the words ‘by a majority of the votes recorded.' (Tomas Mac Eoin)." It might save time if I said that that was a proposal we are prepared to accept.


I am not sure whether we ought to take it as evidence of the conservative nature of opinion in the Dáil or the radical nature of opinion in the Dáil that nobody is anxious to discuss this very big principle. I think the Minister in introducing it has perhaps wisely slurred over the implications of the referendum, and I think it well, right now to say that, in my opinion, this clause is definitely intended to be, and will in effect be, a conservative influence. While I am saying that I am not going to oppose it. I think it would be a dangerous thing if not an unwise thing to say that we are going to refuse to accept the principle that the people in the mass will have a right to put their veto on an Act that the Parliament thinks wise to pass, but it should be made clear, in the discussion of this clause, that it is intended to be a brake upon the activities of reformist, radical, socialistic, or bolshevistic Parliaments. If there is any risk of that with the majority of agriculturists among the electorate this clause at least will prevent it, and I only rise to say that we recognise that it has a conservative influence, and that despite that fact I am not going to oppose it.


A Chinn Chomhairle, I am not rising to speak on the question of the referendum itself, which is a matter which I have always strongly agreed to, believing that whether they be radical or whether they be conservative, the people have a right to have their will expressed, to have their will known. But it is because I am in such entire agreement with the proposals for a referendum, and their adoption in the Constitution, and the creation thus of rule by the people that I had down an amendment which was wrongly placed in yesterday's Orders of the Day. You will remember that you drew attention that it was put down for Article 44 when it should have been down for Article 46. It was:—"To substitute in the second sentence instead of the words ‘on the petition signed by not less than 100,000 voters on the Register,' the following words:—"On the petition of not lees than 30,000 voters on the Register."

My reason for that is very brief, and need not take up any time. It is that if the referendum is intended to be adopted it may as well be in the form in which it can be put to use and not embodied in a form in which it is extremely unlikely it can ever be used. The mechanical difficulty of getting rather more than one hundred thousand actual signatures before the referendum can be put into effect is a mechanical difficulty which will impose itself between the Constitution and its practical effect in operation. It will be quite sufficient to get the actual signatures of 30,000 voters without asking for 100,000. I think the 100,000 would practically make this Article in the Constitution remain in the Constitution and never come into effect, whereas 30,000 voters will be quite difficult enough to get. If anyone contemplates the difficulty of getting 30,000, he will see it is no easy task, without making it more difficult than it is.


The amendment now proposed was sent in as an amendment to Article 44, but as it refers to Article 46, it can be taken now.

Amendment put and lost.
Question—"That Article 46, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put and agreed to.