I’m going to stick my neck out and say I guess that a small proportion of households in Ireland have ever held copies of the Constitution enacted by plebiscite in July 1937 and which became law as from 29th December of that year, and that most citizens don’t know they can download it from their computer,and that a very small proportion of citizens have ever opened it.

It is a unique document in many respects. Firstly, it was enacted by the ordinary men and women in that part of Ireland unoccupied by enemy forces.* It was an entirely Irish document drafted without the dictation or constraint of any outside forces whereas the 1922 Constitution of Saorstat Eireann had the fingerprints of Winston Churchill. An article by Niall Meehan,(Head of the Journalism and Media Faculty, Griffith College, Dublin) in HISTORY IRELAND Vol 27 No.1 (Jan/Feb 2019) disposes of the canard that Article 44 (since amended) was dictated by the Vatican or by John Charles McQuaid, Roman CatholicArchbishop of Dublin. The Church of Ireland Archbishop ,John Allen Fitzgerald Gregg, had a decisive input into the wording of Article 44.

Each and every one of its amendments was enacted by the plain people of Ireland. It is older than the constitution of virtually all the states of Europe.

The   state has never been at war. The United States Constitution was not enacted by plebiscite and its meaning was not established by civil argument or judicial arbitration but a very bloody Civil War within seventy-two years of its adoption of the individual states.

So Bunreacht na hEireann is a venerable document.

Article  29 refers to International Relations.

“1 Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality.

2 Ireland affirms its adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.

  • Ireland accepts the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct in its relations with other states.

       4/2  For the purpose of the exercise of any executive function of the State in or in connection with its external relations, the Government may…….as determined by law, avail of or adopt any organ, instrument, or method of procedure used or adopted for the like purpose by the members of any group or league of nations with which the state is or becomes associated for the purpose of international co-operations in matters of common concern.”

The Free State had been a member of the League of Nations since 1923 and under the new Irish Constitution remained so. The quoted parts of Bunreacht na hEireann were compatible to the League’s Covenant and the State’s compliance with it, when the permanent members of Its Council of Ministers were flouting its provisions (Japan in China and Italy in Abyssinia) or reneging on their responsibilities – the United Kingdom and France.

Those who can remember the British Argentian war over the Malvinas/ Falklands in 1981 might recall that the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, condemned the seizure of the islands by Argentina, but refused to back Britain following the sinking of the cruiser “General Belgrano” when the ship was making its way back to Argentina and posed no threat to the British.

British jingoists and their Irish friends never forgave Haughey, who was adhering to his duties under our Constitution.

Article 28 Section 3 subsection 3 says

“Nothing in this Constitution is to invalidate any law enacted by the Oireachtas which is expressed to be for the purpose of securing for the public safety in time of war……………In this subsection “time of war” includes a time when there is taking place a conflict in which the State is not in conflict, but in respect of which each of the Houses of the Oireachtas shall have resolved that, arising out of such conflict, a national emergency exists affecting the vital interests of the State.

In accordance with that Constitutional Article, on Saturday 2 September 1939 the Houses of the Oireachtas declared an Emergency.

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