I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, Schedule, Part II, at the end of the portion of the column relating to Article L to add the words "The insertion after the words ‘by way of ordinary legislation' of the words ‘but no such amendment passed by the Oireachtas in respect of Articles VI, VII, VIII, IX, XVIII, XIX, XXIV, XXVIII, XLIII, XLVI, XLIX, L, LXI, LXII, LXIII, LXIV, LXV, LXVI, LXVIII, LXIX, LXX shall become law until after a general election shall have been held and a Resolution approving of such amendment shall have been passed by Dáil Eireann on the recommendation of the Executive Council first elected after such general election.'"
The object of the amendment is to ensure that any amendments of the Constitution which are effected by the Dáil will not be equivalent, merely, to an ordinary Act of the Oireachtas, under Article L of the Constitution, before the expiration of a period of 16 years from the date of the coming into operation of the Constitution. During that time the Constitution can be amended by ordinary legislation; in other words, by an ordinary Act of the Dáil. Any such Act of the Oireachtas, purporting to amend the Constitution, within that period can, therefore, itself be altered or repealed or amended by another ordinary Act of the Oireachtas. Therefore, when the Seanad has been abolished, in accordance with the terms of this Bill, the position shall be, unless some safeguard such as is proposed in this amendment is inserted in the Bill, that the Constitution will have completely disappeared or, if it does not disappear, will be alterable by an ordinary Act of the Oireachtas.
The Articles supposed to safeguard the rights of the citizen, as set out in the amendment, are fundamental Articles of the Constitution. Article VI provides for the inviolability of the liberty of the subject, and the remedy by way of habeas corpus for unlawful detention; Article VII provides for the inviolability of the dwelling; Article VIII provides for the guarantee of the citizen's right of free expression of opinion, and so on, with the various Articles enumerated in the amendment. It is obvious that if these fundamental rights are to be continued in any way that will give any safeguard to the citizens there must be some check, after the passing of this Bill abolishing the Seanad, against depriving the citizens of this State of these fundamental rights by the passage of a mere Act of the Oireachtas which could be done in the course of a few hours in this Dáil. That is the object aimed at in this amendment. It is proposed in respect of these Articles which set forth, and guarantee to the citizens of the State, the various fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution— that Articles, subject to the provision of Article L, that they should not be in a position to be repealed, altered, or swept away by an ordinary Act of the Dáil. The proposal is that during the residue of the period of 16 years mentioned in Article L the guarantees contained in these Articles for the rights of the citizens should be preserved by making it impossible, constitutionally, for the Dáil to pass an ordinary Act in any way prejudicing or affecting those rights.
The proposal is that the Constitution, during the residue of that period, can still be amended by ordinary legislation which will amount now to an ordinary Act of the Dáil, but that that Act shall not operate as law until after a general election has been held during which the people will have an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the Constitutional amendments that have been proposed, and that after that general election, whatever Executive Council is elected as the result of it will have complete control over the situation. If the Executive Council that originally proposed an amendment to the Constitution is returned, by the mere passing of a resolution of the then elected Dáil the Constitutional amendment will there and then become law. On the other hand, if the Executive Council that proposed the amendment of these fundamental rights is not returned and the Executive Council that does take its place takes a different view from the previous Executive, it has complete control over the situation.
This Dáil is no more sovereign than any of its predecessors or any of its successors. The Dáil—the Oireachtas as it stands at the moment—is a sovereign Assembly. Its sovereignty is to some extent cut down by the Constitution and by the provisions of the Constitution, but to the extent only to which the powers of the Oireachtas are cut down by the Constitution. The Oireachtas is sovereign and the position would, therefore, be that this Dáil could, if Article L is allowed to remain in its present state, sweep away the entire Constitution of the State by an ordinary Act of the Dáil passed in a few hours. It is obvious that some remedy must be found for that state of affairs.
The President has down in his name an amendment dealing with the position of the judges. He has expressed the view of himself and his Government that they accept the principle of the independence of the judiciary, and that the only matter between himself and the Opposition was one of the numerical amount of the majority which was necessary to remove a judge. Now if that amendment is carried, as I presume it will be, and inserted in this Bill and the Bill becomes law, the Constitution, of course, is amended ipso facto, but the law which amends the Constitution to that extent is itself only an ordinary Act of the Oireachtas which can itself be repealed by another ordinary Act. Therefore, as things would stand, except some such principle as we are proposing is inserted in the Bill, the independence of the judiciary would not be preserved even by the President's amendment, nor even by the amendment which we proposed on the last occasion when the matter was before the House.
We want to see that the fundamental rights of the Constitution, guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizens of this State, will continue to have some effective guarantee. Under the system of unicameral legislation which will obtain if this Bill becomes law, and if Article L is allowed to stand as it is at the moment, there will be no effective guarantee for the Constitutional rights which, for the moment, are set forth in the Constitution. The right of freedom of expression of opinion can be limited in any way and on any day by an Act passed by the Dáil. The Article which provides for the freedom of expression of opinion, Article IX, can be amended by ordinary legislation in accordance with the provisions of Article L. To take that Article as an example, we propose that the constitutional right of the citizen freely to express his opinion and freely to form lawful political associations should not be made the sport of whatever political Party happens for the moment to form the Government of this country. We propose that if any Government, having a majority for the moment in this House, wishes to interfere with the constitutional right of freedom of expression of opinion that they will not be enabled to do that by means of their chance majority, or the majority which they happen to have for the time being, but that, before any alteration is made in such a fundamental right as that, the people should have the opportunity of expressing their opinions as to whether their constitutional rights are or are not being interfered with. We suggest that the proper way to do that, in present circumstances, is to provide that no such amendment to the Constitution in reference to that fundamental right, or in reference to any of the fundamental rights set forth at the moment in the Constitution, should be capable of being prejudiced, or in any way affected by an ordinary Act of the Dáil before the people have had any opportunity of expressing their opinions upon it. In the last couple of weeks in this House we have heard a lot of talk about democracy. The proposal that we are putting forward is essentially democratic. It should not be in the power of the Executive Council to interfere with the guaranteed constitutional rights of the citizens.
On the occasion of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill which the House considered a few weeks ago the Minister for Industry and Commerce challenged the Opposition to give reasons why the Bill which he and his Government were fostering in relation to the deprivation of the Universities of their representation should not be passed. That, apparently, is the attitude of the present Government. I pointed out on that occasion that the Universities had a constitutional vested right at the moment, and that the onus lay on those who were taking away that constitutional right to give reasons why it should be taken away. The same argument could be put forward in relation to other constitutional rights unless some such provision as we are proposing is inserted in the Constitution. The Ministry may bring in a Bill to provide for the limitation of the right of free assembly, the right of freedom of expression of opinion and the Minister for Industry and Commerce will use the same—I was going to say—arguments, but it is really lack of argument. He will ask the Opposition why should not the right of freedom of expression of opinion be cut down. The Government, he would say, is charged with the duty of preserving public peace, that they think the people should not have the right of expressing their opinions; that the Government have been elected by the people and that nobody should open their mouths against the Government or say anything by way of opposition or criticism. The Ministry would ask the Opposition for reasons as to why that right should not be cut down rather than take up the attitude that it is upon them to justify the proposal to take away a vested constitutional right.
We have some reason to anticipate that these rights may be in some way whittled down by the present Government, having regard to their attitude and to the fact that recently they brought in a Bill to take away a right which was vested in certain people under the Constitution, a right which has existed in this country for nearly 12 years. For these reasons which, I submit, are quite unanswerable, we put forward this amendment, not believing that it will be accepted, but looking forward with a certain amount of derisive anticipation to the ridiculous arguments that will be put up against it.