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Tomorrow the Dáil will have the opportunity to support what could be an epochal change in constitutional democracy.
The ‘Parliamentary Representation and Conscience Bill’, a Private Members Bill tabled by Deputy Peter Mathews is scheduled for its second reading. It makes compelling sense.
Ireland’s legacy system of political representation is not remotely fit-for-purpose. Political principles tend to be a ‘movable feast,’ shaped by narrow political agendas rather than public interest. But the effectiveness of parties and political structures rests on something deeper.
It rests on the relationship between elected representatives and the Constitution. This, by definition, has to engage with the public interest and with, in this regard, the role of conscience as something that empowers political representatives – one to be preferred above party interest, preferment or pressure.
The bill cuts to the chase. It provides for transposing Article 38(1) of the Basic Law – the German Constitution – into the Irish Constitution: ‘The members of each House of the Oireachtas shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience.’
Article 38(1) was included in the Basic Law to prevent, ever again, the subversion of representative democracy in Germany.
Transposing Article 38 (1) of the German Basic Law to the Irish Constitution would simply involve amending Article 15 by inserting a new Article 16. It works in Germany within a vigorous political party system.
Prof Ray Kinsella
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