A preamble to the Constitution is regarded as a general statement about national identity and the aspirations of the nation. As a part of the Constitution, the preamble may be invoked in legal cases.
The most famous such preamble comes from the US Constitution (given here for the sake of comparison):
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The current preamble to the Irish Constitution is:
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial, Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation, And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations, Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.
Constitution Review Group
The report of the Constitution Review Group, 1996, asks if this should be amended. The committee presents four options: 1) leave it as it is; 2) insert an explicit Provision that the preamble reflects the views of people in 1937 and not those of modern Ireland; 3) leave it to be amended in the future; 4) establish a committee to revise the preamble.
The committee rejected option 1 as it felt the preamble is not consonant with contemporary Irish values, being overly nationalistic, Roman Catholic, and patriarchal in tone. It rejected option 2 as simply enshrining a preamble already declared unsuitable in the arguments against option 1. It rejected option 3 as it was felt a revision was preferable sooner rather than later. Option 4 was recommended, with some specific guidelines for how a new preamble could be written.
For a full discussion, see pages 1-4 of the Report of the Constitution Review Group, available here at http://www.constitution.ie/publications/default.asp?UserLang=EN.
Dr. Elaine Byrne proposes a new preamble in order to define the principles of the Irish Republic. In her view, the current preamble is anti-republican because it declares power comes from a divine source rather than the people, and because it distinguishes between the genders of its citizens. A new preamble can help bring about reform because “a coherent vision of what a reformed Ireland wishes to be should be reflected in the preamble of the Constitution.”
The full text of Dr. Byrne’s proposal, published in the Irish Times but also available from her website, can be seen here: http://elaine.ie/?p=608
In a discussion about the proposal online at http://politicalreform.ie/2010/11/22/my-ten-proposals-for-political-reform/, Dr. Fiona de Londras argued that changing the preamble would be pointless and potentially lead to many lengthy and expensive court cases due to the Constitution’s pre-eminent position in the Irish jusicial system. Dr. Byrne argued in response that words do matter and the preamble can be a positive statement of intent and a belief in possibility (an example may be President Barack Obama’s use of the phrase “a more perfect union” in his famous speech on race during the 2008 Democratic primaries).
Questions for the Citizens’ Assembly
- Should the preamble be revised?
- What would a new preamble say?