I gCoiste ar an mBille um Bunreacht Shaorstait Eireann. (In Committee on the Constitution of Saorstát Eireann Bill.) - ARTICLE 49—AMENDMENTS OF THE CONSTITUTION.

Mr. KEVIN O'HIGGINS

I formally move Article 49, which reads:—"Amendments of this Constitution within the terms of the scheduled Treaty may be made by the Parliament/ Oireachtas, but every such amendment must be submitted to a Referendum of the people, and shall not be passed unless a majority of the voters on the Register record their votes, and either a majority of the voters on the Register or two-thirds of the votes recorded are in favour of the amendment." That is the Article as it stands. I have to announce, and it may meet the mentality behind some of the amendments, that we are prepared to alter that Article to read as follows:—"Amendments of this Constitution within the terms of the Scheduled Treaty may be made by the Parliament, but every such amendment passed by the Parliament after the expiration of a period of five years from the date of the coming into operation of this Constitution must be submitted to a Referendum of the people, and shall not be passed unless a majority of the voters on the Register record their votes, and either a majority of the voters on the Register or two-thirds of the votes recorded are in favour of the amendment," and to add: "Any such amendment may be made within the said period of five years by way of ordinary legislation, and as such shall be subject to provisions of Article 46 hereof." That amendment will enable the Parliament for five years to amend this Constitution by way of ordinary legislation. It is realised that in all the circumstances of the time, this Constitution is going through with what would, if the circumstances were otherwise, be considered undue haste. It is realised that only when the Constitution is actually at work will the latent defects that may be contained in it show themselves, and it would be awkward to have to effect changes in the Constitution—changes about which there might be unanimity in the Dáil and in the Senate—if it were necessary to go to a Referendum and get the majority of the voters on the Register to record their votes in favour of such amendment. That would be a cumbrous process, and very often it might be out of all proportion to the importance of the amendment we might wish to make. If the Article were to stand as it is in the text of this Draft Constitution we would have, for the slightest amendment, to go to the country and go through all the elaborate machinery of a Referendum. Now we are providing, by this Government amendment, that for five years there can be changes by ordinary legislation in the Constitution, and after that time the Referendum will be necessary to secure a change. The only provision is that while we are stating that amendments may be made by ordinary legislation, the provisions of Article 46 will apply, which provisions enable a certain proportion of the Senate to call for a Referendum, and in that case a Referendum would have to be held.

Mr. THOMAS JOHNSON

As my amendment is first on the list in this matter, I appreciate the position taken by the Minister, and I think, so far as I am concerned, it will not be necessary to move my amendment. I would like to say, having in view the strength of the arguments that were used at an earlier hour in regard to the activities of this next succeeding Parliament, that it will probably be engrossed in matters of immediate legislation, for two or three years at any rate, and will not, perhaps, have time to consider questions of constitutional moment. But the five years' period is not adequate. I would suggest for consideration without stressing it overmuch, whether the five year period could not be extended, say, to seven years or to ten, because it is obvious, that constitutional matters will not be in the minds of the people if these other legislative demands are being attended to in the Parliament. I thought of, perhaps, two Parliaments, thinking, of course, of eight years. But, I suggest that five years is hardly long enough to give play to the possible amendments that are required.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

If it would meet the Deputy, we would consider putting in something to this effect:—"Within the lifetime of the first two Parliaments or eight years, whichever shall be the longer," or something that way.

Mr. JOHNSON

Yes, that would meet my point.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY

I wish to congratulate the Minister very heartily on the amendment which he has proposed, which, I think, is a very excellent one, and goes a long way to meet certain objections. There are two amendments on the paper in my name to this Article. Amendment 9 falls through, because it is covered by the amendment proposed from the Ministerial benches.

AN LEAS-CHEANN COMHAIRLE

There is an amendment from Deputy Figgis before yours.

Mr. DARRELL FIGGIS

I accept the proposal that has been put forward by the Minister for Home Affairs. The Article as it stood there tied us up straight away, but if it were made two Parliaments, or alternatively eight years, it would meet my case.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY

I suppose I should move the next amendment, which, I think, is non-contentious. It is an amendment designed to show, what is obviously the intention of everybody, that on any Referendum you might have more than one amendment proposed to the people; on account of the use of the words "every such amendment passed by Parliament," and so forth, as read by the Minister, it is quite liable to be contended that you should have a separate Referendum for each amendment. Clearly, that is not intended.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

Is Deputy Gavan Duffy moving one of these amendments?

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY

Yes, No. 9. After the words "in favour of the amendment" to add the words: "Provided that this Article shall not be construed to prevent the submission of more than one amendment to the same Referendum."

Mr. O'HIGGINS

We are not accepting that particular amendment. We do not agree that the text as it stands or as it will stand, excludes the possibility of more than one amendment being put to the people, but these amendments will be put severally. They would not be put collectively.

Mr. GAVAN DUFFY

That may be, but would it not depend upon the subject matter? There might be two or three that hung together.

Mr. O'HIGGINS

If it was merely a case that because of one amendment, several others were necessary or contingent on it, these could be put together, but if you wanted to effect three or four distinct amendments, not interwoven, these would be put, I take it, on the Referendum Paper as distinct entities and the people would vote separately for each of them. But there is nothing in the text to exclude that, and we do not consider that this amendment is necessary, and because it is not necessary, we do not propose to accept it.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE

Amendment No. 10 is withdrawn.

Mr. T. JOHNSON

Is the Minister's proposal to bring forward an amendment at the next reading, or could he do it now?

Mr. O'HIGGINS

It is undertaken we will consider the question of inserting there during the lifetime of the first two Parliaments, or eight years, whichever shall be the longer. We propose to put the Article as it is. We definitely undertake to consider the point raised.

Motion made and question put:—"That Article 49 as amended stand part of the Bill."

Agreed to.