Review the Constitution and make civics a pillar of our education

On April Fool’s Day, 1986, a survey of 404 Irish students was published in a national newspaper.

Review the Constitution and make civics a pillar of our education

Only 10% of them had a copy of the Constitution; nearly half said they knew nothing of the functions of the President and Dail and how the country was governed, and 95% of them wanted to know of it.

Has anything changed?

Another students’ survey, this week, doesn’t even mention the Constitution. There’s little consciousness of it, despite it being the basis of our rights, duties and law. We ought to ensure that citizens ‘buy into’ their Constitution, and make it theirs like a catechism, in the way the Americans and French do.

Here, little if no time is given to teaching civics, while 1,200 hours is given to religious instruction. Schools and training colleges should be more influenced by fathers and mothers, by communities, and by civic society, than by the ‘fathers and mothers’ of the Catholic Church.

The concept of citizens’ rights and duties should be instilled.

David Farrell, politics scientist at UCD and adviser to the Government’s novel Constitutional Convention of 100 citizens, bemoaned the fact that the recommendations of this think-tank lie in abeyance.

Nothing new there.

The great report of the TK Whitaker-chaired Constitutional Review Group (1996) was also abandoned, and essentially was a slap in the face to the participants who gave so much time to it.

Meanwhile, the Constitution, of July, 1937, is taking the shape of a Cuban’s car: all patches.

During its first few years, many changes were made without reference to voters. Then, 50 years of a calm mid-life followed, with a referendum every four years.

Then, 25 years of almost frenetic patches, as the document aged, amounting to one referendum-remedy a year.

The Government’s penchant for centralised control is bad.

The processing of the Constitutional Conventions, and Whitaker’s review group’s recommendations, truly suit an all-party, non-partisan committee of the Oireachtas.

If we hadn’t gotten rid of the infernal voting machines, they could have been put to good use in sample-testing parts of an overhauled constitutional jigsaw, before being combined all into an omnibus reform package — a suitable present for Irish citizens a century after 1916-22.

John Colgan, PC

Toll House,

Dublin Road,

Leixlip

Co Kildare

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