Dáil Éireann - Volume 432 - 15 June, 1993

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Constitutional Reform.

4. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the proposals, if any, for constitutional reform which will be put to the people on the day of the European elections.

The Taoiseach: There are no current plans for a referendum to coincide with the European elections.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for a Partnership Government contains a major programme of family law reform, including a referendum on divorce in 1994. No date has yet been decided upon for the holding of this referendum.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Would the Taoiseach not accept that the people are entitled to ample notice of any question of a constitutional change so that there can be rational and reasoned debate well in advance of same? Would the Taoiseach not accept that it would be good and [607] proper planning for the Government to indicate clearly now what constitutional changes might be proposed on the same day as the European election?

The Taoiseach: I would certainly agree with the first part of the Deputy's question. As has already been stated clearly in this House by the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, the necessary preparatory legislation and other measures should be in place before the holding of the referendum. These are the Family Law (No. 1) Bill, the Family Home Bill and the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Bill. It is not possible for me at this stage to anticipate exactly when the House will be finished deliberating on these matters but it is our intention to have a referendum as early as possible in 1994, possibly on the same day as the European election. Until the House has disposed of these three measures, I cannot be any more definitive than that.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I gather from the Taoiseach's reply that it is the general intention to have a referendum on divorce on the same day as the European election, if it is possible to have the legislation in place on time. Will the Taoiseach not accept that from the point of view of cost it makes sense to have the constitutional referendum on the same day as a European election rather than a general election in that there is not the same degree of heat and political passion associated with the European elections? Would the Taoiseach not agree that it would be wise to look at other aspects that might give rise to constitutional changes, for example, the law of bail in the context of which there is a considerable body of opinion in favour of constitutional amendment? Does the Taoiseach think it wise to consider now the possibility of such constitutional changes and, if so, the steps that would be necessary to put them in place by June of next year?

The Taoiseach: Of course it would be desirable, from the point of view of cost, [608] to hold a referendum on a constitutional amendment on divorce on the same day as the European election. That is the objective if we can have the appropriate legislation passed by the House by that time. I am sure that will be possible with co-operation. We have no other plans for an additional referendum question on the same day.

Proinsias De Rossa: In view of the wide range of issues that need to be addressed in regard to our Constitution, for example, the issue of Articles 1, 2 and 3, the divorce issue, the rights of women and the manner in which they are restricted by our Constitution and the issue of property rights, would the Taoiseach agree it is time this House established a review group to consider bringing forward a new Constitution for the year 2000?

The Taoiseach: It has been stated repeatedly in this House that the Government does not propose any unilateral change in relation to the Articles of the Constitution referred to by Deputy De Rossa. We do not have any other plans for the inclusion of other questions on the same day.

Mr. M. McDowell: Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Tánaiste's remarks about making the death penalty irreversibly illegal in Ireland would not involve a change to the Constitution? Will the Taoiseach indicate if the Tánaiste was speaking on behalf of the Government when he advanced the proposal in Vienna that there should be such change in the Constitution? Will the Taoiseach comment on it in this House given that we are entitled to know about this as well as the people of Vienna?

The Taoiseach: I am sure the Tánaiste will take the first available opportunity to make such comments in the House.

Mr. M. McDowell: I am entitled to know whether the Government supports the position of the Tánaiste which is that [609] there should be an amendment to the Constitution to outlaw the death penalty.

The Taoiseach: The Deputy can be assured, in case he has any fears to the contrary, that the Tánaiste was speaking on behalf of the Government.

Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach indicate when the referendum to give effect to the Tánaiste's promise will take place? Would the Taoiseach be willing to consider the recommendation of the Opsahl Commission to the effect that we should incorporate into our laws, and presumably into our Constitution, the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights?

The Taoiseach: That is a separate matter and a separate question. The Opsahl Commission's recommendations were made last week and the Government will be considering them.

Mr. J. Bruton: Given that the Taoiseach has confirmed that the Tánaiste's statement about making the abolition of the death penalty irreversible represents Government policy and involves a constitutional change, will the Taoiseach indicate when this constitutional change is likely to be brought before the people?

The Taoiseach: In due course.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: The Taoiseach is aware that there has been some pressure for a further referendum on the abortion issue, and will he confirm, as appears to be the case, that there is no intention on the part of the Government to hold a further referendum on that issue?

The Taoiseach: This is a separate matter and the Deputy should table a separate question.

An Ceann Comhairle: We must proceed to questions nominated for priority.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: On a point of order, the question is on constitutional reform. [610] Is the Taoiseach not prepared to answer the question?

The Taoiseach: If the Deputy tabled a straight question he would get a straight answer.

Mr. Deasy: I tabled a question to the Taoiseach last week, which should have been answered today asking if, on behalf of the Government, he would invite the Queen of England on an official visit to this State. This question is not on the Order Paper today and I would like to know why.

An Ceann Comhairle: The question does not appear on the Order Paper. We will move now to questions nominated for priority.

Mr. Deasy: Was the spirit of Warrington only a seven day wonder?

An Ceann Comhairle: Under Standing Orders 20 minutes have been provided for these questions. Let us try to dispose of these five questions within the time limit imposed upon us.