Monday, 13 March 2017

Project/RSR Ideas: Bunreacht na hÉireann

Stuck for a project idea? Every time I come across something interesting I'm going to post it here to help people in need of something good to research.

Picture from historyhub.ie
If you've looked at Ireland Topic 3: The Pursuit of Sovereignty and the Impact of Partition, then you will have learned about Éamon de Valera's efforts to dismantle the Anglo-Irish Treaty during the 1930s, culminating in his government replacing the old Irish Free State constitution with the new Bunreacht na hÉireann, which is still in place as our constitution today. One of the most interesting things about our constitution is that it can be changed through holding a referendum. The last time this happened was in 2015, when the people of Ireland voted to amend the constitution to ensure that same-sex couples have the same right to marriage as opposite sex couples. Last Sunday, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced that we would have a new referendum this year, this time to decide whether Irish people living abroad should have the right to vote in presidential elections.

The drafting of Bunreacht na hÉireann was supervised by de Valera himself. The document was a clean slate - the old Free State constitution had been changed so much by de Valera that a new version was needed anyway, but he also wished to give the institutions of Irish democracy a more Gaelic Irish feel - so the President of the Executive Council became the Taoiseach, for example.

Throughout the drafting process, de Valera consulted with Fr. John Charles McQuaid (the future Archbishop of Dublin), ensuring a Catholic influence on the document. However, de Valera stopped short of making the Catholic Church the official state religion.

Bunreacht na hÉireann was put to a plebiscite (a special kind of referendum) and was approved by the people of Ireland in June 1937. It was enacted six months later and has been in place since.

If you are interested in writing your project on the drafting of Bunreacht na hÉireann, UCC historians Dermot Keogh and Andrew McCarthy have a weighty book on the subject entitled The Making of the Irish Constitution. However, books concerning de Valera, McQuaid and Irish society and history in general in the early 20th century will also be of great use.

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