Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill 2014: First Stage

Tairgim:

Go gceadófar go dtabharfar isteach Bille dá ngairtear Acht chun an Bunreacht a leasú.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to seek leave to introduce the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill 2014. The Bill would enshrine the dual mandate of Members of the Oireachtas - of representation and responsibility to conscience - in the Constitution. It is clear and simple. It reads: "The Members of each House of the Oireachtas shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience". This is identical to the second sentence of Article 38.1 in the basic law of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Constitution of Germany.

The explanatory note on the Bill clearly and simply sets out its purpose, objectives and how it would work. The purpose of the Bill is to effect an amendment to Article 15 of the Constitution by inserting a new section 15.16 after section 15.15. The proposed new section would provide that all Members of the Dáil and the Seanad "shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience". The background is Article 38.1 of the basic law of the Federal Republic of Germany which states:

Members of the German Bundestag shall be elected in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections. They shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions and responsible only to their conscience.

Accordingly, this is an independent mandate. Therefore, any coercion to influence a Member's vote, be it legally, physically or psychologically binding, including an obligation to vote in line with a political party's policies, would violate that basic law. Party discipline among the members of parliamentary groups can, therefore, only be based on the Member's free decision. The principle of Members of the German Bundestag being responsible only to their conscience was enshrined in the basic law of the Federal Republic of Germany in the re-establishment of the Bundestag following the Second World War. This has the effect that fundamental democratic principles cannot be undermined by incremental, non-transparent power grabbing by individuals, parties, organisations or groups. This fundamental principle of Members being responsible only to their conscience also applies in the subsidiary regional parliaments of the Federal Republic of Germany. Under the basic law of the Federal Republic of Germany, Members of Parliament are responsible only to their conscience and party discipline is based on this freedom. Generally, parties adopt a joint or party position on issues and members who opt to deviate from the joint position must announce this deviation ahead of any vote. The rules of procedure grant them the right to explain their vote, orally or in writing, after the conclusion of the vote. Explanations of votes are commonly made in the Bundestag. At other times the parties will not adopt joint positions. This usually happens in the case of matters of conscience or ethical matters. The principle of individual responsibility only to conscience has worked well in Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War through coalition governments and governments which have had a very slim majority.

The proposed new provision sets out to replicate in an Irish constitutional context the elements of this basic law and express the fundamental principle that the individual Member's responsibility is only to his or her conscience. I remind Members that this proposal is an exact lifting of the official translation. I also remind them that Edmund Burke, one of the greatest thinkers of his or any other time, established the same principle. In this regard, I invite them during the course of the debate to read the book by Jesse Norman, MP - perhaps the best regarded backbench MP in the United Kingdom - Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet.

There are other jurisdictions in which the same principle is established. In New Zealand 5% of all legislation has been introduced on this basis. This is true in the United Kingdom also. There are areas such as neutrality, the declaration of war, the defence of human rights, biological and scientific research and human embryo research where there is or ought to be an enshrined dual mandate - representatives of the whole people and responsible only to conscience.

The Deputy will not be the Whip for the Reform Alliance.

Is the Bill opposed?

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Tairgim:

"Go dtógfar an Bille in am Comhaltaí Príobháideacha."

I move:

"That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.