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 Irish Law - Irish Constitution

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Bunreacht na hÉireann Irish Constitution, Attorney General's office version
Referendum Commission
Referendum Results 1937 to date

Irish Constitutional Law page

For historical reference:
1922 Constitution (UCC)

Extract from Guide to Irish Law:

Development of the Irish Legal System

Brehon Law was one of the earliest forms of law in Ireland and there have recently been attempts by the Brehon Law Project (see www.irishlaw.org/siteinfo/brehonlink.shtml) to revive interest in the subject. From the late twelfth century, Ireland was increasingly governed by English common law and by 1800 Ireland was fully integrated into the United Kingdom by the Act of Union passed in that year. A new Constitution in 1922 meant that twenty six counties became the independent ‘Irish Free State.’ Six other counties in Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, and this has, of course, been the subject of great controversy since then. (See Sarah Carter and Hester Swift’s Guide to the UK Legal System for information on Northern Irish law.)

Article 73 of the 1922 Constitution carried all previous UK law forward into Irish law, which explains why some pre-1922 UK statutes are still in force in Ireland. A similar provision is found in Article 50 of the 1937 Constitution.

The Irish Constitution of 1937

The full text of the Constitution of 1937 is available at various sites, for example the office of the Attorney General.

This Constitution, which remains in force today, renamed the State Ireland (Article 4) and established four main institutions – the President, the Oireachtas (Parliament), the Government and the Courts.

The President is the directly-elected Head of State but his/her powers are largely ceremonial. The President normally acts on the advice (instructions) of the Government. The Oireachtas (Parliament) consists of two Houses – the directly-elected Dáil and indirectly-elected Seanad. The Government is the Executive and consists of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Ministers. The most significant courts are the High Court and the Supreme Court. Descriptions of the powers of each of the institutions are available at the following sites:

The Constitution also contains a strong set of fundamental rights at Articles 40-44, e.g. rights to equality before the law, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, education, etc. The courts may issue binding decisions that legislation is unconstitutional if it breaches these fundamental rights.

The Constitution has been amended on numerous occasions, and each amendment requires a referendum. In 1972 the Constitution was amended to recognise Ireland’s membership of the EEC (now the EU) and there have been similar amendments to recognise major new European Treaties such as the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. The Belfast Agreement led to major amendments in 1998. Divorce was introduced by constitutional amendment in 1995, and abortion has been the subject of controversial amendments in 1983 and 1992.

Ireland is also a member of the Council of Europe and has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The provisions of the ECHR may be relied upon in domestic courts as a result of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.

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