First, I wish to apologise for the non-availability of the transcript of my broadcast remarks yesterday morning, contrary to arrangements I had made, or thought I had made. Secondly, I wish to apologise for my absence earlier today and I regret not having heard all the contributions. I am grateful to those who have contributed and, perhaps especially, to the Independent Senators whose views merit respect from all sides of the House. I am grateful also to the Seanad as an institution for the opportunity it has provided in order to discuss the issues I have chosen to raise at this time.
We are now embarked on a fundamental debate. The issues before us are no less than the identity, the hopes and the destiny of our people, what we are and what we hope our children to become. These are, of course, the perennial concerns of all communities. For us, they have been brought into critical focus by a conjuncture of events and issues which have become matters of great concern to every citizen in this State.
The debate which commenced formally in this Chamber yesterday has, of course, been in progress for at least a generation at one level or another among our people, whether in the formal sessions of our democratic institutions, in informal gatherings or in the private consciences of almost everyone in this island. As opinion — public, media and political opinion — in Britain is showing signs for the first time of coming to grips with the real issues in Northern Ireland, the time has come for us to consider the possibilities in this State. To flinch from them now would be tantamount to saying that we are afraid of the future and that would be unworthy of a people who, throughout their difficult and frequently unhappy history, have never lacked courage or imagination, even when they lacked opportunity.
We should be grateful that we have the opportunity to solve our problems. That opportunity, for which another name is freedom, is provided by the present Constitution of the State. Our State is remarkable in several respects. That it emerged from war and crisis and that it survived and grew through its first years is an enormous tribute to its founders, in whom I include the second Government as well as the first Government. The Government of the day, the Opposition and the Irish electorate showed impressive maturity and steadiness during the debate from which the 1937 Constitution emerged and surely no one of whatever particular persuasion in this Assembly would suggest that our people are less mature today or that they are less capable of taking the great decisions which were entrusted to them a generation ago.
Since 1937, the State has continued to develop both internally and externally and it can be said that we have become today a modern European country with many of the problems and expectations of our fellow Europeans. This achievement undoubtedly owes much to the de Valera Constitution and I would like to acknowledge today that many of the attractive features of our institutions are a monument to his efforts. The Constitution of 1937 has proved to be in many respects a strong and enduring charter of the rights of the people and has provided a foundation for stability and social order despite many serious challenges down the years. Its human rights clauses, vindicated and applied on an ever-widening scale by our courts, have protected our people against many unintended but nevertheless potentially serious inroads into their freedom by Executives and Legislatures of all parties, which in their enthusiasm to achieve economic or social objectives, have from time to time ignored without evil intent certain basic rights of our people.
And in case my remarks on radio have created the mistaken impression that my own interest in constitutional change is somehow motivated by partisan political concerns, let me say that I fully accept that, inasmuch as the ethos of the religion of our majority is excessively enshrined in our institutions or exemplified in the acts of Irish Governments over the years, this side of the House also bears considerable responsibility. None is free from a share of the blame.
Neither did I have in mind, when I proposed this debate, that there was anything fundamentally wrong with the value system of our people. There is not; and, what is more, I regard the pride which we can take in our traditions and history as one of the foundations of national solidarity. Our people have nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, the construction out of the tragic history of this land of a viable, stable and developing democracy is an achievement of which many in this State are not sufficiently proud. It is an extraordinary achievement for which we have not, I believe, demonstrated adequate gratitude to the memory of the men and women of all political affiliations whose life work it was in the early decades of this State.
But the Constitution, for all its merits, is not holy writ, although I have the impression that one of the Senators opposite referred to it as "de Valera's bible". Perhaps I am misinformed. We have made several changes in it already. It was originally itself a result of a quite fundamental constitutional change. The cohesion, solidarity and stability of the State derive from dynamic, not fossilised, institutions. That is not to say that I would wish to see the Constitution changed merely for the sake of change. I do believe, however, that our Constitution should accommodate the important external and domestic changes in our national situation since 1937. Our Constitution should, moreover, have deleted from it any defects which experience had shown it to contain. In a series of referenda on our Constitution the people have demonstrated that they understand these principles completely. That should give us, the legislators, added confidence in facing this debate.
Because of my own belief in Republican principles and my commitment to the goal of Irish unity to be achieved only by consent, I believe that our Constitution should today be broadly in a form that would be appropriate to this island in today's circumstances had the British never made the tragic mistake of partitioning Ireland. This, if we believe in the aspiration to national unity — as I myself do with a passion which some in recent days have criticised as out-running political prudence — should be the acid test of our constitutional provisions. But when have we sought to apply it? Never seriously, up to this time; and it was frustration with the subconscious partitionism of this failure that more than anything else motivated me, inspired by the commitment to Irish unity inherited from my parents, coming from totally diverse backgrounds, towards a political career which I started in this House 16 years ago. In these terms our Constitution is undeniably defective.
Let me say that I am disappointed by the attitude adopted by the Opposition in this debate. It is not consistent with the position adopted by that party's leaders and spokesmen over many years. In launching this initiative I was in fact inspired by what many leaders of Fianna Fáil had said in the past on this issue. I am not ashamed to say so.
But, before referring back to these sources of inspiration, let me for a moment go back to the root of the matter — the circumstances in which our present Constitution came into existence. They were explained frankly by Mr. de Valera in an interview with the late Michael McInerney some years ago. He told Michael McInerney, as reported in The Irish Times— and his explanation was confirmed according to the author of this article by other Ministers of that Cabinet — that “the first, the central and supreme purpose of the entire exercise of the new Irish Constitution was to complete the national revolution in so far as the 26 Counties were concerned, to obtain the voluntary and firm declaration from the Irish people of the independence and sovereignty of Ireland.”
All else, Mr. de Valera went on to say, had to be subordinated to that central purpose, and compromise with the Church was all important to nullify its opposition. If the Church came out against the Constitution the whole aim would be defeated and the referendum lost. De Valera had to stress that central purpose several times, and explained the tactics which naturally followed. The Republican dream, he said, had to come to life, somehow, even, he implied, although it is not stated in the interview, in a partial or defective form.
Mr. Seán MacEntee, happily still with us, the sole survivor of the First Dáil, elected 63 years ago, and a man whom I would wish to see honoured in some special way by this, the Twenty-Second Dáil, told Michael McInerney that in 1937 Fianna Fáil was most unpopular with the Hierarchy. He said:
We had a very hostile Hierarchy, and they were very anxious to ‘get at us'. We had indeed only one supporter among the bishops, Dr. Dignan. We simply had to protect our flanks. With his ‘special position' proposal, de Valera produced yet another example of ‘his genius for the empty formula'. The Church accepted the compromise but its total insistence for a complete ban on divorce was conceded almost without Cabinet debate, though in the years that followed some Ministers did regret that they had not given it more consideration.
Mr. Costello, later to be Taoiseach, urged moderation in relation to Article 41 on divorce, as did Frank MacDermot and Dr. Howlette, but without success.
In his public statement in the Dáil as to the rationale of the new Constitution, Mr. de Valera disclosed very frankly the extent to which he had found it necessary to modify his Republican principles in order to secure that the Constitution would not be opposed by the Catholic Hierarchy. In words which, as Michael McInerney pointed out, echoed quite remarkably Craigavon's “A Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”, Mr. de Valera told Deputies who objected to what they saw as sectarian elements in the Constitution — Deputies like Frank MacDermot — that they failed to recognise one obvious fact. He stated:
The fact is that 93% of the people here and 75% of Ireland as a whole, belong to the Roman Catholic Church and believe in its teachings. The whole philosophy of life of the people comes from these teachings of the Catholic Church. In a democratic society we are ruled by the representatives of these Irish people, by the Dáil deputies and the Government Ministers.
I have no desire to express a historical judgment on this statement or on the circumstances explained to Michael McInerney that led the then President of the Executive Council to speak in these terms, which were far removed from those of the great Republican tradition which for many people then and subsequently Mr. de Valera had incarnated. It is sufficient to say, first, that one must, on reflecting on what happened then, have regard to the prevailing atmosphere of that period, over a quarter of a century before Vatican II, an atmosphere which affected in various degrees the attitudes of all parties, not just Fianna Fáil, to the task at hand; and, secondly, that I do not believe that either the Catholic Church leadership of today or the politicians of today or the people of this State today would, if a Constitution were now being enacted, wish to see it imbued with the specifically Catholic ethos, which is so divisive vis-à-vis our million Protestant compartiots in Northern Ireland and the much smaller number of Protestants and members of the Jewish community in this part of the island.
Mr. de Valera's successor, Seán Lemass, had his own views on the Constitution, which he expressed trenchantly to Michael McInerney, complaining that the Constitution had acted as a "straitjacket," preventing many ideas from being implemented because of the new property safeguards and the attitude to the North. He tried, but failed, to end the practice of describing the North officially as "The Six Counties" and to use the description "Northern Ireland" instead.
I recall an incident in my own journalistic career about 20 years ago when I wrote an article for The Sunday Press about the Northern Ireland issue expressing views not unlike those I have been expressing recently. I referred to “Northern Ireland” and that paper changed that to “Six Counties” throughout the article. That seemed to me to be a degree of journalistic licence which I could not tolerate and I wrote to the features editor saying that if he wished me to continue to contribute I should be grateful if he would publish a letter in which I could vindicate my use of the term “Northern Ireland”, citing Seán Lemass as my authority. This letter was published and I continued to write for The Sunday Press. This, incidentally, led to a situation where, when canvassing for membership of this House, I met a councillor of my own party who promised me his vote with enthusiasm. Half an hour later he asked me if I were a member of Fine Gael, saying that he thought I belonged to Fianna Fáil because I wrote for The Sunday Press. Then he said “Now I can vote for you with a clear conscience”.
Mr. Lemass went on to say: "After all there will always be a Northern Ireland Government. It will have far more powers than it has now and would have its own laws on Education, divorce, birth control and other fundamental rights including personal rights and religion.""Changes in the Constitution", he told this correspondent, "also are necessary here and, in fact, the Constitution should be changed every 25 years at least as our society develops into a modern state".
In 1966 Mr. Lemass was succeeded as leader of the then Government and of Fianna Fáil by Mr. Lynch. He in turn expressed his openness to change in our present Constitution in the present context of a divided Ireland when in the Dáil on 28 July 1970 he said: "In so far as there are constitutional difficulties which are legitimately seen by people to be infringements of their civil rights, then their views are worthy of intensive examination and we should try to accommodate them in our Constitution and in our laws." And some months later, at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis of 20 February 1971, he quoted his earlier statement adding:
It was the great Protestant patriot Charles Stewart Parnell who said, ‘No man may set a boundary to the march of a nation'. Despite the terrible events of the last two years the South is moving, not towards combat and harshness, but towards a new and hopeful vision of peace and progress for everyone in all of Ireland. Where it can be shown that attitudes embodied in our laws and Constitution give offence to liberty of conscience, then we are prepared to see what can be done to harmonise our views so that, without detracting from genuine values, a new kind of Irish society may be created equally agreeable to North and South.
Those were the words of the leader of Fianna Fáil addressing their Ard-Fheis.
No one could misinterpret those words which so clearly spell out the willingness to make change in our Constitution within the framework of the existing State, not waiting until reunification would come about, for he went on to indicate how this action might lead to progress towards subsequent unity, by adding in the very next sentence: "Then the whole nation in extension of Parnell's statement, could begin to remove barriers to its progress and develop the ability and willingness to accommodate the best in its laws and practices and its religious and cultural traditions". I echo those words. I endorse them. I share the views of those two leaders of Fianna Fáil as they expressed them and I wish they were shared and expressed today by that Party.
Still quoting Mr. Lynch:
We wish to extend an olive branch to the North and we wish the North to accept it. If this means that we must grasp some nettles which sting our pride then we will readily do so if the result be a just and lasting peace throughout our island.
I, too, believe, like Mr. Lynch and Mr. Lemass, that we should grasp these nettles. I think I have said enough to indicate that my proposal for a review of the Constitution and legislation is nothing new — it is merely a reiteration of the views expressed by leaders and, indeed, members of Fianna Fáil down the years, from the time when Mr. de Valera was constrained by certain pressure to enact a Constitution with marked confessional elements right down to our own day.
I turn now to the argument that changes in the Constitution and in our laws would make no difference to the situation in Northern Ireland, a traditional argument that has been frequently expressed, indeed, in informal debate on this subject over many years past during the decade of violence that we have seen.
First, and here I share the views expressed by other Senators, we need to review our Constitution for our own sake. We have to do this for one purpose, to give us a Constitution which would reflect the pluralist ideal which underlies all true republicanism and has done so ever since Tone first gave it expression. We need to review it too for practical reasons expressed in this House because it contains clauses which prevent us from legislating in the public good, whether it be in the interests of children — the adoption of illegitimate children; if there is a constitutional obstacle there, as some people believe, and I hope there might be some way around it — or whatever other areas there may be to deal with property speculation. In fact, one of our problems, although, curiously enough, people have not seen it this way, is that we are now in serious difficulty for domestic, economic and social purposes because we are having considerable difficulty in finding ways of dealing with these problems without amending the Constitution. Individual amendments put forward on these issues might not necessarily secure support but we cannot go for a new Constitution incorporating all these changes, all those that were put forward, big and small alike, in the 1967 report and others that have become necessary since then: we cannot put them forward in a new Constitution unless we face the issues I am asking the House, and the country, to face because if we did so we would either have to enact an Article 2 and an Article 3, throwing them in the face of every Northern Unionist or change them, and we have not been willing to face that latter alternative. So we cannot change anything in our Constitution that might be controversial and Articles 2 and 3 have now become an obstacle to the domestic development of our Constitution, badly needed for social and economic purposes.
Second, I reject the argument that it would make no difference in Northern Ireland. Such an argument can be made only by those who have had little or no contact with the Protestant people of Northern Ireland and who see them as one million extremists. Of course constitutional change, designed to make this a pluralist society, and at the same time to remove what all Unionists see as a claim on their territory, contained in Articles 2 and 3, will not convert a majority of Unionists to a united Ireland overnight or perhaps in the decades to come. But it would, by reducing the pressures that give rise to their siege mentality, open up the possibility of easier dialogue between them and the Nationalists in Northern Ireland and, with respect to a minority of Unionists which I am convinced would grow over time, it would remove an obstacle to the contemplation of a new relationship with this State based on the common interests we share and in the context of an Anglo-Irish relationship so structured as to enable Unionists to retain their sense of a British-Irish identity, and citizenship of the United Kingdom if they wished to do that.
It is fair to say that the Unionist group who came to see the Leader of the Opposition and myself yesterday in response to my initiative on our Constitution did not arrive here bearing any gifts of conditional offers of unity if only we would change our Constitution. They were concerned simply to tell us why they were Unionists and why they thought changes in our Constitution and laws might promote better North-South relations without political strings. Let me say that I admire the courage they showed in coming here. Actions of that kind are not always popular in Northern Ireland in these days of polarisation, and unpopular actions in Northern Ireland can sometimes have very tragic consequences. They had nothing to gain by coming here. What they had to say, however uncomfortable for many of us, represents a major element in their community's view of our State. It is good that we should know it and take it into account in our approach to this whole problem.
Leaving aside the obvious fact that their tradition in Northern Ireland has itself an inglorious record to look back on as far as civil rights for Catholics are concerned and that has to be said — one for which, of course, these particular gentlemen carry no personal responsibility — some of their views were ones which seemed to me, and I am sure to the Leader of the Opposition also, to be a little unrealistic. Thus their contention that the removal of Articles 2 and 3 would in some way help to reduce the violence of the IRA seems to imply a belief that the IRA derive some sense of authority for their actions from our Constitution when, in fact, they reject it and refuse to recognise our democratic State established by that Constitution, have extended their campaign of sectarian murder even to a Protestant Member of this House, the late Billy Fox, and shoot our gardaí when intercepted in robbing our banks and post offices.
But whatever we may think of that particular argument put forward by these Unionists we must be prepared to listen to this authentic voice of Unionism, and to note carefully what has been said to us and to respond, to the fullest extent possible, to their genuine concerns and preoccupations. Can we ignore, after all, coming from such a source, such statements as this: "If there is to be hope that the two traditions in Ireland might ultimately meet upon the same road, the first steps, however faltering, must soon be taken". Can people deeply concerned to remove obstacles to reunification ignore such statements as — I quote again from that document: "Those parties or groups who allege that there is no requirement for constitutional change both relating to the territorial claim and the creation of a pluralist society, must face the challenge head-on and accept that this means their endorsement of either partition or the unification of Ireland by force." Note those words carefully; I believe they contain much truth. By adopting a "No Surrender" attitude on the details of our Constitution and laws we, who reject violence, would in my view effectively be endorsing and ensuring the permanence of Partition.
I certainly cannot in conscience ignore the call to my Government that if we are sincere in wishing to lay down foundations for the future peaceful co-existence of the two traditions in Ireland, then we must ensure that the Republic emerges from what the Unionists describe as its "irredentist and theocratic chrysalis into the sort of egalitarian State in which Tone, Davis and Connolly might have been content to live". Incidentally, the voice of social conscience heard in this House yesterday and today from the newly-elected Senator Brendan Ryan, finds an echo in the language used in this sentence by the representatives of Northern Unionism.
Finally, can any of us be indifferent to the claim on our emotions contained in the use by this group, coming from a tradition so different from ours, as their epilogue, of the verse of Thomas Davis:
What matter that at different shrines
We pray unto one God?
What matter that at different times
Our fathers won this sod?
In fortune and in name we're bound
By stronger links than steel;
And neither can be safe and sound
But in other's weal.
That last line was prophetic indeed — as if Davis foresaw that a time would come when both traditions in this country might be simultaneously threatened, as we are both today, by a revolutionary movement intent on establishing throughout this island an evil military dictatorship, whose method of ruling this country are foreshadowed by their kangaroo courts, their shootings of their own colleagues and co-religionists, their ruthless elimination of all who stand in their way, be they police or politicians, or ordinary Irish people eating or drinking in a restaurant or a pub.
I could quote other evidence, a huge volume of it, for the proposition that, if we make a move towards putting our house in order, this could set off a train of events in Northern Ireland that would transform the face of politics in this island. I never visit Northern Ireland when I do not meet Protestants who either in some cases want to see a united Ireland, or in other cases more numerous recognise that it is going to come about in time, and would like to see a settlement reached now — if only we would make the first move. These are of course a minority of the Protestant community, too small a minority today to influence the outcome of a decision on a new relationship between North and South within the context of an equally new Anglo-Irish relationship, which my predecessor as Taoiseach, the present Leader of the Opposition, must be given the credit for having attempted to initiate.
It is our job in the South to create those circumstances where that minority among Unionists grow and whereby the people of Northern Ireland may ultimately give their consent to a new and peaceful arrangement in Ireland.
But that consent will be given ultimately by a majority in Northern Ireland that will comprise the great bulk of the Nationalist community and a proportion — between one-quarter and one-third — of the Unionist community. It does not require a majority of the Unionists — or perhaps I should say more precisely the Protestant community to give their consent. It requires that a fraction, a quarter or a third, give their consent together with the great bulk of the Nationalist community. It is towards that fraction that we should be directing ourselves rather than imagining that we have to convince every last hard-liner before there can be movement towards the two parts of Ireland, together.
There is, to my mind, a serious misunderstanding in the idea proposed by some, that change in our Constitution should be, as it were, withheld from the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland and from our own people here until the Northern Protestants are prepared to consider it as an attractive feature of an eventual solution "package".
This is a tragic fallacy. It implies the extraordinary illusion that the Unionists and Loyalists of Northern Ireland are really as eager as we are for Irish unity. Would that they were. It is a tragic fallacy because its persistence as the grounds for refusal in the South to confront the difficult problem posed by our Constitution in relation to Northern Ireland, are to an important degree responsible for the persistence of instability, conflict and suffering in Northern Ireland. The heartrending human tragedy of Northern Ireland should not be treated as a counter in some political calculation.
Some months ago I said that if elected Taoiseach I would ask each and every one of our citizens to help me to help solve the problem of Northern Ireland. I said that I would ask everyone to make a great gesture of friendship and hope to the people of Northern Ireland. In asking all our people to consider the problems of our Constitution in relation to Northern Ireland, I am asking them to consider seriously their personal responsibility and their personal opportunity to help resolve the conflict. I do not believe that when they have reflected on the issue in this sense they would wish their Government to adopt what is objectively a cruel, misguided, bargaining strategy, one sure result of which would be, to my mind, the deeper entrenchment of Partition.
It is, of course, true that it is Britain, not this State, that was ultimately responsible for Northern Ireland and for the years of sectarian discrimination against the minority in Northern Ireland. Britain has never discharged its responsibility in Northern Ireland in a satisfactory way, so far as we are concerned. It is our hope that the British will, like ourselves and many politicians in Northern Ireland, wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to promote political progress in Northern Ireland. That is our hope. But the record of centuries of British involvement in Ireland shows that, despite intermittent goodwill and effort, London inevitably and perhaps understandably always puts British interests first. Partition and, more recently, the collapse of the power-sharing Executive are tragic examples of this system of priorities. What I am trying to say is that, while we in Dublin are of course only too eager to work with the British Government and the political leaders of the two sections of the community in Northern Ireland to help devise a solution which will ensure peace and reconciliation, we here owe it to the people of Northern Ireland, whom we regard as fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen, to play our part in lessening the tensions and improving the relations between the South and North.
Why should we not do so? Coldly and publicly to tell the majority in Northern Ireland that we will not consider our Constitution until they are reduced to making terms with us across a conference table would be to ensure that they would never sit across that table.
I would like at this point to ask those who reject my initiative to explain — as they have not yet attempted to explain — just what is their strategy to secure movement? They reject violence. They accept the principle that unity can come about only with the consent of a majority in the North. How do they plan to secure this consent sooner than it might be secured by following the route I have sought to trace? On what conceivable grounds do they put forward the thesis — implicit in their combination of an aspiration to unity and a determination to take no action to change anything here before the negotiating table is reached — that by virtue of our doing nothing, the day of unity will be brought forward? In logic, in commonsense, they must before this debate concludes, tell us what is their strategy to achieve the objective we all share. It is simply not good enough to reject a positive proposal — a proposal which they themselves and their past leaders advocated some years ago — and to put nothing in its place. This is not even verbal republicanism, it is silent republicanism — silent as the grave as to the means to be adopted to make progress towards our goal.
The reasoning put forward in opposing a reframing of Articles 2 and 3 is contorted to the point of total unintelligibility. First, we are told that, whereas it was a good thing to propose a change in Article 3 in 1967, before violence started, it is a bad thing to do so now, after 12 years during which 2,150 people have died in Northern Ireland — and many others here and in Britain, let us recall. But we are not told why what was good in 1967 is bad now. We are not told why changes in our Constitution advocated by past leaders of Fianna Fáil, are now anathema. And on Articles 2 and 3 we are told that they do not stake any claim to the territory of Northern Ireland, but represent only an aspiration to unity. This, as Senator Whitaker has just indicated, without using these words because he was more courteous, is palpable nonsense, because Article 3 refers explicitly to "the right of the Parliament and Government established by the Constitution to exercise jurisdiction over the whole" of the national territory — defined in Article 2 as "the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas". A claim on the territory of Northern Ireland could hardly be more explicitly stated — and the fact that this language is used in connection with a self-denying ordinance involving the non-exercise of this alleged right does not take away from this fact one jot or title.
It is this explicit claim of a right of this Twenty-six county Parliament and Government to exercise jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, that represents such a stumbling block to progress towards Irish unity — because it sticks in the throats of every Northern Unionist and gives power to their more extreme leaders to compete in demagogy as they rant against this claim.
The assertion that these Articles do not represent a claim to a right to exercise jurisdiction over Northern Ireland is not only nonsensical on the face of it — the words assert that claim — but is flatly contradicted by others who assert with equal insistence that this is a claim and that it is vital that we should not abandon it. This double line of contradictory argument serves only to convince even Protestants with goodwill towards us that we are hypocritical and dangerously ambiguous on this issue.
If the view on this issue — however contrary to the obvious meaning of the words it may be — were correct, and this is not intended as a claim on territory but only as a statement of an aspiration to unity, why in God's name can we not agree to rephrase it as an aspiration, more especially because, if we did so, we could at the same time take the opportunity to state explicitly that it is an aspiration that we wish to pursue only be peaceful means and, perhaps, to provide also for an upward delegation of functions to an all-Ireland authority, should agreement be reached on such a delegation at any point in the future?
The curious feature of Article 3 in its present form is that it seems almost to seek to deny the possibility of our moving towards an all-Ireland authority by virtue of the limitation it imposes on the application of the laws of Ireland. I have to say that Article 3 as at present drafted may not in fact constitutionally preclude such an upward delegation of authority in respect of certain functions, but it would surely be more sensible to see if we could make positive provision for such an eventuality. For one cannot rule out the possibility that, without prejudice to what might ultimately emerge in the long run, agreement might at some stage be reached on the two parts of Ireland doing certain things in common — such as establishing an all-Ireland court, which the Opposition in past debates, with reason, have advocated as a more effective method of dealing with cross-Border violence than the existing legal arrangements, which were the most we were able to secure at Sunningdale.
I would like to see us able to reach agreement on a new form of Articles 2 and 3, which would remove what Unionists find offensive and at the same time provide not an obstacle but a positive mechanism for moving towards all-Ireland activities if and when we can secure agreement from a majority in Northern Ireland for their establishment, even if at first on a limited and piecemeal basis.
Do the Opposition contend that such an objective as this is to be rejected out of hand, that it is wrong to raise such an issue for discussion? I can scarcely believe, especially against the background of commitment by successive Fianna Fáil leaders to an open approach to constitutional change, that such a negative stance to a constructive initiative, designed to open the road towards progress in the direction we all want to go, would at this late stage be taken up and maintained. I would beg the Opposition to reflect further on this.
With regard to the elements of our Constitution which appear to me to be sectarian or, if the word is preferred, "confessional", they represent a small but nonetheless significant part of the Constitution. Tackling them would still leave intact 95 per cent of the document — and 95 per cent of the case-law built up around it. I checked with Deputy John Kelly's book last night to arrive at the latter percentage. I am going on the number of pages he devotes to the relevant Articles as against the rest of the Constitution. I detect an unwillingness on the part of the Opposition speakers to reject out of hand an amendment in this area. Last night on television Deputy Lenihan went to endless lengths of prevarication to avoid rejecting a change in Article 41.3.2 dealing with the ban on the dissolution of marriage.
The directive principles of social policy in Article 45, which have no binding force and which reflect out of date pre-Vatican II thinking in the Catholic Church, can hardly be regarded as sacrosanct. They could be omitted without loss. Is there anyone who would contend to the contrary? Our Unionist visitors yesterday raised also the question of Article 42 dealing with education, as did Senator McGuinness, yesterday. While I recognise that the phrasing of this Article was, in Senator McGuinness's words, "coloured by Catholic thinking", I feel that it would be useful if some indication could be given by those who are concerned about this Article as to how they see it either as being responsible for clerical control of education, as the Unionists seem to argue, and argue in their document presented yesterday, or as otherwise threatening the rights of minorities, be they religious minorities or a minority who seek to establish an inter-denominational or non-denominational school.
I ask that question in all seriousness because when this point was raised with me yesterday by the Unionists, I read through the Article and I could not see exactly where the problem was. I could see where the wording of the Article came from, I could see the echoes, but I could not see exactly the problem it creates. There is a problem in education that antedates the Constitution, I think. If there are reasons for changing the wording of Article 42, which are not clear to me, I would be open to any serious views put forward on that subject.
I would like in connection with this question of sectarian or confessional elements in our laws to refer to several comments that have been made upon them by different groups or individuals in authority in their own areas. One such comment came from the Church of Ireland's Role of the Church Committee which, following a meeting with the All-Party Committee on Irish Affairs in January 1974 made a written submission to the committee. In that submission the Role of the Church Committee said that, while the Southern minority had always accepted the institutions born of the Treaty, a younger generation of Protestants then felt that they were entitled to exert pressure to have removed from our Constitution and legislation any features that exhibit symptoms of a denominational character. The Role of the Church Committee said:
The developments in the North have given a sharper relevance to the demands on the part of Southern Protestants, but we insist that changes should be made on their own merits and that they ought not to be used as counters in North/South negotiations.
Later in their submission the Role of the Church Committee said that in addressing Southern politicians they felt it important to stress the point that if those politicians wished to improve North/South relations they should endeavour as far as possible to see situations through Northern Protestant eyes. This is precisely what I have been trying to do for decades past and what I had in mind when I spoke on the RTE "This Week" programme on 27 September. Until we do that we will never resolve this problem.
More recently His Eminence, Cardinal O Fiaich, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in 1977, said that he was:
"... all for complete separation of Church and State.... It is good for the State and the Church .... There would be no thundering from Armagh. On moral questions the laws of the State would be made by the legislators, and churchmen should not in any way try to bring pressure to bear on them".
He went on to add very significantly:
Southern politicians should have been working for the past ten years on a constitution which would be acceptable to both Protestants and Catholics.
I accept the rebuke coming from that source. I feel the rest of us, in this House and in the other House, should do so also.
Bishop Cahal Daly, in his article on violence in Ireland, said:
With reference to a pluralist society, the New Ireland we hope to create for the 32 counties will be a pluralist society. It could not be too often stated that a pluralist society is quite distinct from a secular society. A Christian society can be and should be pluralist. A secular society cannot be, as such, a Christian society. What we should be seeking now as the blue-print of a new society are the Christian principles common to all our Christian traditions in which we can agree, rather than some colourless de-Christianised, aseptic formula which will offend no one because it will leave all completely uninspired, unchallenged and uninterested. There is no reason why we cannot shape an Irish Ireland large enough in mind and spirit to encompass all its diverse religious, cultural and political traditions in creative tension, rather than mutually destructive discord; an Ireland deeply Christian with a Christianity which remembers always that the greatest of all Christian things is love.
I endorse that vision, and share the viewpoint expressed a few minutes ago by Senator Whitaker on this matter.
Finally, to those who suggest that what I am proposing would represent in some way a betrayal of Northern Nationalists, I have to answer that they seem to know little of the attitude of the party that represents the vast majority of the Nationalist population. That party, the SDLP, at the 1977 conference called on the Irish Government to spell out the economic, social and political implications of the claim to unity which they said was interpreted by many Unionists as a form of threat. That is the voice of the Northern minority. I am not betraying them. I am seeking to implement what they have asked us to do. The SDLP on that occasion asked for a commitment from the then Government that would clearly demonstrate that they were prepared to accept the sacrifices involved in real unity, including the social changes which would demonstrate that Irish life is not dominated by any one section or tradition.
And, with reference to my own recent initiative, I quote the reaction of the party's chairman, Seán Farren, who welcomed my initiative, saying that his party had always "been in favour of politicians and opinion-leaders in the South conducting a public debate on the kind of Ireland which could form the basis of a united country."
He said: "These people had a clear responsibility to show what the Irish unity aspiration meant, particularly in terms of accommodating the different cultural and religious traditions in Ireland." Inevitably, he added, my contribution to the debate would meet with opposition "from predictable Unionist and reactionary nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland. The negative and destructive stands of these politicians only perpetuate division and contribute nothing to a solution to our tragic situation."
Why, I feel constrained to ask, have some speakers in this debate felt it necessary to associate themselves with what the SDLP Chairman has described as "predictable Unionist and reactionary nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland"? Why choose such strange bedfellows? Why go back on what Fianna Fáil leaders have said so frequently in the past? Why has the concept of "No Surrender" and "Not an Inch" now been imported into our politics in this State? Surely the Opposition do not want to become what they never were in the past, the mirror image of intransigent Unionists? Surely they do not want to impose a second veto on progress towards a united Ireland, based on our doing what is in our power in order to set in motion a process of change here, from which changes in Northern Ireland, and in British attitudes too, could flow?
If it were the case that the manner in which I launched this initiative has anything to do with this reaction, I would most sincerely regret it. I chose to raise this issue in a broadcast because I felt that I could convey the depth of my feelings on this subject, and the strength of my commitment, a passionate commitment as I said on that occasion, to the achievement of Irish unity, best in a direct communication to our people, rather than in a speech in one of the Houses of the Oireachtas or to some meeting or conference. I mean that in no way in contempt of either House but, inevitably, speaking here one is communicating indirectly with our people.