PAULA REDMOND recalls the introduction of Bunracht Na hÉireann, which came into effect on December 29, 1937.
The Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht Na hÉireann – meaning ‘basic law of Ireland’) came into effect on the 29th of December 1937 and replaced the earlier Free State Constitution of 1922. It was approved by the Dáil on June 14th, and passed by a narrow majority of Irish voters on July 1st 1937 (685,105 for, 526,945 against).
A general election was held on the same day to decide the members of the 9th Dáil.
The constitution sets out the fundamental laws in relation to how Ireland should be governed, the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens and the main State institutions. It protects personal rights and views its citizens equally, stating in article 40 that “All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law.”
Throughout the 1920s Eamon de Valera and anti-treatyites objected to many clauses contained within the 1922 constitution. De Valera disliked aspects of it that were influenced by Britain and linked to the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
It contained provisions, such as an Oath of Faithfulness to the British monarch (to be taken by members of the Oireachtas), inserted at the insistence of the British government. De Valera believed that the core laws of Ireland should be formulated without any outside influence.
In addition, he wanted a Constitution that would not require so many amendments – the 1922 Constitution had been amended twenty-seven times by 1937.
Article 50 in the 1922 document allowed for amendments to the Constitution by the Oireachtas without needing a public vote. De Valera initially thought the 1922 document could be reformed by removing Article 50 and certain other clauses.
In 1934 he established a group of civil servants, called the Constitution Committee, to examine it and draft a report for him on the matter. The committee included John Hearne, Philip O’Donoghue, Michael McDunphy and Stephen Roche. Hearne had previous experience in similar matters, having drafted amendments to the 1922 constitution.
The committee presented its draft report to de Valera in Spring 1935. Following de Valera’s review he instructed Hearne to draft heads for a new constitution. Later Hearne and O’Donoghue were put in charge of managing the entire project, overseen by another civil servant, Maurice Moynihan.