The constitution is no place for trust. The constitution, exists, among other reasons, to safeguard against misgovernment and while nobody seriously believes that anyone currently in government is any sort of fascist, it would be naive to assume that our country will never have an oppressive administration.
That sort of complacency has led greater countries than Ireland to disaster. We must be careful.
Some people, with no basis for the assertion, claimed that the proposed amendment was about catching crooked bankers, and perhaps that was the motivation for bringing it forward, but long after the bankers had all been grilled, we would still have this provision in the constitution, giving governments carte blanche to judge people without benefit of a jury.
You might point out that it takes a resolution by one of the houses of the Oireachtas to set up an inquiry, but Ireland’s parliament, unlike, for instance, Germany’s, is controlled by the government and therefore by the prime minister. A Taoiseach would not have to do the sort of pleading that Angela Merkel had to do in recent weeks in the Bundestag, and if that Taoiseach had control of his party, the constitutional requirement for an Oireachtas vote would be no more than a sham.
Accordingly, this amendment had the potential to place an oppressive power in the hands of a single individual even if that was not the intention behind it. The people rejected it because quite rightly, they don’t trust politicians. And while it’s true that the courts are clumsy and that tribunals are ridiculously expensive, the answer is not to confer powers of judge and jury on politicians, but to fix the existing problems.
The draft legislation accompanying the proposal was irrelevant because it did not form part of the amendment. Any government would have been free to rewrite that law any way it chose once the amendment passed.
If Alan Shatter thinks the people made a mistake in voting this thing down, he had better think again, because next time he tries to run this one by us, there will be an even bigger backlash, now that everyone knows what he tried to enshrine in our fundamental law. Next time around, he’ll need to get the wording right so that we can have effective parliamentary inquiries without the possibility of an unscrupulous party leader using them to silence critics.
I don’t want to hear any smug assurances about the real intentions of this amendment, from people who don’t have access to such information. I won’t be accused of hysteria for holding a considered position on an important matter. I’m saying what this proposal was capable of, when examined objectively and I’m saying that it was either misconceived or mischievous. I don’t know which.