Monday, October 24, 2011

"Trust Us..."

Worrying developments here in Ireland.  As the Presidential election is capturing most of our attention, voters in Ireland will also vote on two referendums which seek to give parliament/government more control over the Judiciary.  One seeks the citizens' permission to reduce judges' pay - thereby undermining the mechanism within the Constitution preventing a sitting government from holding the judiciary to ransom. 

The second referendum wants to give the parliament more powers to hold enquiries into matters of "public concern".  The politicians will decide what is of public concern, they will appoint an investigator with almost "super powers" to seize materials, the politicians will judge the case, and the politicians themselves will oversee whether or not they are working within the parameters of the new legislation.  Consoling, isn't it?

Well, today eight former Attorneys General have come out against these referendums describing them as going too far and seriously weakens the rights of citizens.  The minister in charge of the referendums has dismissed the criticisms calling them "nonsense" and then engaged in an "ad hominum" attack on the individual former Attorneys General.   That in itself reveals a great deal. 

The main arguments the government is making in support of the changes are, first, they will reduce the cost of lengthy enquiries and tribunals; they will be able to get offenders who have so far escaped justice, ie bankers; the legislation will not be abused.  So they are asking us to trust them - they will not misuse the powers that have been given them. 

The Irish Constitution, while not perfect, is a finely balanced document written in the 1930's as tyranny and fascism was growing in Europe.  Hitler has siezed power in Germany and was on his way to creating an empire.   Communism was controlling every aspect of people's lives in Russia, and there were many other threats to democracy.  Eamon de Valera who wrote the Constitution did not want the same to happen in Ireland, and so he divided power, and ensured that the judiciary could not be controlled by the government.  This was a wise move on his part, and it is for this reason our Constitution is much admired among democrats - indeed India adopted our Consttitution, with some minor changes, as their own following independence.  

What these two referendums are doing is diluting those safeguards which prevent anyone from taking total control of the Republic.  Of course politicians tend not to like such finely balanced safeguards and I believe that even de Valera would later find the restrictions he had put into the Constitution troublesome.  

I think we Irish need to think very carefully about how we vote on this one.  While times are financially hard, we must be careful not to sign away our freedom in order to save money - see what happened Esau when he was hungry - he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup.   According to the polls it seems these referendums will be passed - is it possible that this generation will take the soup and with the stroke of pen wipe away the liberty our fathers and mothers fought hard to win for us? 

PS:  Lest anyone accuse me, a priest, of interferring in State matters, I draw their attention to the present criticisms of the Catholic Church which, it is said, remained silent in Germany as the Nazis diluted the rights of its citizens and the Jews.  Should this be one of the first steps towards a tyranny in Ireland, well then let history record that some in the Church were not silent when human rights were being threatened. 

1 comment:

  1. In his wonderful, must-read book Judging Dev, Ferriter reproduces an amusing note of DeValera's expressing admiration for De Gaulle's constitutional system and contrasting with the weak Irish government. "Very efficient!" were the words used, IIRC.