Amendments to the Constitution of Ireland
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Republic of Ireland
An amendment may be made to any part of the Constitution of Ireland but only by referendum. An amendment must first be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament), then submitted to a referendum, and finally signed into law by the President.
Aside from constitutional referendums, the constitution also provides for a referendum on an ordinary bill, known as the ordinary referendum, but there has not been one so far.
- 1 Procedure
- 2 List of amendments and referendums
- 3 Referendums following court decisions
- 4 Proposed changes
- 5 Amendments to previous constitutions
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
The procedure for amending the constitution is specified in Article 46. A proposed amendment must take the form of a bill to amend the constitution originating in Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Oireachtas). It must first be formally approved by both the Dáil and the Senate, though in practice the Senate has only the power to delay an amendment adopted by the Dáil.
Then the amendment must be endorsed by the electorate in a referendum. A simple majority is sufficient to carry an amendment and there is no minimum turnout required for a constitutional referendum to be considered valid. The vote occurs by secret ballot. A proposal to amend the constitution put to a referendum must not contain any other proposal. While United Kingdom citizens resident in the state may vote in a general election, only Irish citizens can participate in a referendum.
After being approved by referendum an amendment must be signed into law by the President. Provided that the correct procedure has been complied with, the President cannot veto an amendment. The dates given for the amendments listed in this article are, unless otherwise stated, the dates on which they were signed into law.
Transitional and Conditional Amendments
The Nineteenth Amendment, passed in May 1998, introduced a novel method of amendment. Its provisions allowed the later amendment to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in 1999. The Nineteenth Amendment did not itself amend those articles, but rather introduced a temporary special mechanism by which the Government could order their amendment once it was satisfied that certain commitments made by other parties to the Belfast Agreement had been complied with. The sections added to the text of the Constitution which provided for this later amendment to Articles no longer appear in the published official text of the Constitution, in line with their own provisions.
A similar method would have been used with the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002 to restrict abortion, which was rejected. The proposed Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2013 to abolish Seanad Éireann involved later amendments which would have taken effect after the next general election.
The Thirty-third Amendment that established the Court of Appeal had amendments which became part of the text only on the later establishment of the Court, and transitory provisions which would not appear in later printed official versions.
As a transitional measure, for the first three years after the election of the first President of Ireland a bill to amend the Constitution could be passed by the Oireachtas as an ordinary act. An amendment bill before the election of the first President (on 25 June 1938) would have required a referendum. To prevent the Oireachtas abusing this provision, the President had the power to refer such a bill to the people. The First and Second Amendments were adopted in this way; President Douglas Hyde chose to sign each into law without referendum. The three-year limit was entrenched to prevent it being extended without referendum. Since 25 June 1941, the third anniversary of President Hyde's election, every amendment has had to follow the pattern of passage through the Oireachtas followed by a referendum.
List of amendments and referendums
The following table lists all amendments to the Constitution, and all past referendums relating to the Constitution. In general it does not list proposed amendments which failed to be passed by the Oireachtas, for which see the separate list of failed amendments to the Constitution of Ireland. The exception is the 2001 Twenty-second Amendment Bill, listed below to explain the gap in the numbering of subsequent amendments.
|Proposal||Enactment date||Subject||Referendum date||Electorate||Total poll||(%)[fn 1]||For||(%)[fn 2]||Against||(%)[fn 2]||Spoilt||(%)[fn 3]||Ref|
|Draft Constitution||1 July 1937[fn 4]||Enactment of the Constitution||1 July 1937||1,775,055||1,346,207||75.8||685,105||56.5||526,945||43.5||134,157||10.0|||
|The draft Constitution was not technically a bill, but had been passed by the Oireachtas in the same manner as a bill.|
|1st Amendment||2 September 1939||Definition of war||[fn 5]N/A|||
|Extended the definition of "time of war" to include a war in which the state is not a participant. This was to allow the Government to exercise emergency powers during the Second World War, in which the state was neutral.|
|2nd Amendment||30 May 1941||Textual adjustments||[fn 5]N/A|||
|An omnibus bill with a variety of mostly minor textual amendments. Some changes were only to the Irish text, to correspond more closely to the sense of the English text.|
|3rd Amendment Bill||N/A||Elections: Dáil: voting system||17 July 1959||1,678,450||979,531||58.4||453,322||48.2||486,989||51.8||39,220||4.0|||
|Proposal to alter the voting system for elections to Dáil Éireann from the multi-member single transferable vote (STV) to the single-member First Past the Post (FPTP) system. It also proposed to establish an independent commission for boundary delimitation of Dáil constituencies.|
|3rd Amendment Bill||N/A||Elections: Dáil: constituency boundaries||16 October 1968||1,717,389||1,129,477||65.8||424,185||39.2||656,803||60.8||48,489||4.3|||
|Proposed to allow greater malapportionment in favour of rural areas in boundary delimitation of Dáil constituencies.|
|4th Amendment Bill||N/A||Elections: Dáil: voting system||16 October 1968||1,717,389||1,129,606||65.8||423,496||39.2||657,898||60.8||48,212||4.3|||
|Another proposal to alter the Dáil voting system from STV to FPTP.|
|3rd Amendment||8 June 1972||Treaty: Europe: Accession||10 May 1972||1,783,604||1,264,278||70.9||1,041,890||83.1||211,891||16.9||10,497||0.8|||
|Permitted the state to join the European Communities.|
|4th Amendment||5 January 1973||Elections: franchise: voting age||7 December 1972||1,783,604||903,439||50.7||724,836||84.6||131,514||15.4||47,089||5.2|||
|Reduced the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.|
|5th Amendment||5 January 1973||Recognition of religions||7 December 1972||1,783,604||903,659||50.7||721,003||84.4||133,430||15.6||49,326||5.5|||
|Removed reference to "special position" of the Roman Catholic Church and to other named denominations.|
|6th Amendment||3 August 1979||Adoption board||5 July 1979||2,179,466||623,476||28.6||601,694||99.0||6,265||1.0||15,517||2.5|||
|To reverse a 1977 finding that certain orders made by the adoption board were unconstitutional.|
|7th Amendment||3 August 1979||Seanad: university constituencies||5 July 1979||2,179,466||622,646||28.6||552,600||92.4||45,484||7.6||24,562||3.9|||
|Allowed the Seanad representation of the University of Dublin and the National University of Ireland to be extended to graduates of other third-level institutions. This provision has never been invoked.|
|8th Amendment||7 October 1983||Abortion: recognised the right to life of the unborn||7 September 1983||2,358,651||1,265,994||53.7||841,233||66.9||416,136||33.1||8,625||0.7|||
|Intended to entrench the statutory prohibition of abortion at a Constitutional level.|
|9th Amendment||2 August 1984||Elections: franchise: votes for non-citizens||14 June 1984||2,399,257||1,138,895||47.5||828,483||75.4||270,250||24.6||40,162||3.5|||
|Overturned a 1983 Supreme Court decision that prevented the right to vote in Dáil elections being extended to UK nationals.|
|10th Amendment Bill||N/A||Rights: Divorce||26 June 1986||2,436,836||1,482,644||60.8||538,279||36.5||935,843||63.5||8,522||0.6|||
|Proposed to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. The ban was eventually lifted by the Fifteenth Amendment in 1996.|
|10th Amendment||22 June 1987||Treaty: Europe: Single European Act||26 May 1987||2,461,790||1,085,304||44.1||755,423||69.9||324,977||30.1||4,904||0.5|||
|Permitted the state to ratify the Single European Act.|
|11th Amendment||16 July 1992||Treaty: Europe: Maastricht Treaty||18 June 1992||2,542,841||1,457,219||57.3||1,001,076||69.1||448,655||30.9||7,488||0.5|||
|Permitted the state to ratify the Maastricht Treaty.|
|12th Amendment Bill||N/A||Abortion: exclusion of suicide||25 November 1992||2,542,841||1,733,309||68.2||572,177||34.6||1,079,297||65.4||81,835||4.7|||
|Proposed to partially reverse the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the X Case, which allowed abortion where a pregnancy is life-threatening, by excluding risk of suicide as permissible grounds.|
|13th Amendment||23 December 1992||Abortion: right to travel||25 November 1992||2,542,841||1,733,821||68.2||1,035,308||62.4||624,059||37.6||74,454||4.3|||
|Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state.|
|14th Amendment||23 December 1992||Abortion: right to information||25 November 1992||2,542,841||1,732,433||68.1||992,833||59.9||665,106||40.1||74,494||4.3|||
|Specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries.|
|15th Amendment||17 June 1996||Rights: Divorce||24 November 1995||2,628,834||1,633,942||62.2||818,842||50.3||809,728||49.7||5,372||0.3|||
|Removed the constitutional prohibition of divorce, but retained certain restrictions on its occurrence.|
|16th Amendment||12 December 1996||Rights: bail restrictions||28 November 1996||2,659,895||777,586||29.2||579,740||74.8||194,968||25.2||2,878||0.4|||
|To reverse a 1965 Supreme Court ruling by allowed a court to refuse someone bail if it suspected a person would commit a serious criminal offence while at liberty.|
|17th Amendment||14 November 1997||Cabinet confidentiality||30 October 1997||2,688,316||1,268,043||47.2||632,777||52.6||569,175||47.4||66,091||5.2|||
|To reverse a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that meetings of the cabinet were absolutely confidential, and to permit the High Court to order the disclosure of cabinet discussions in certain circumstances.|
|18th Amendment||3 June 1998||Treaty: Europe: Amsterdam Treaty||22 May 1998||2,747,088||1,543,930||56.2||932,632||61.7||578,070||38.3||33,228||2.2|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Amsterdam Treaty.|
|19th Amendment||3 June 1998 / 2 December 1999 [fn 6]||Treaty: Good Friday Agreement||22 May 1998||2,747,088||1,545,395||56.3||1,442,583||94.4||85,728||5.6||17,064||1.1|||
|Allowed the state to be bound by the Good Friday Agreement and provided for the conditional amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which subsequently came into effect when the Good Friday Agreement did.|
|20th Amendment||23 June 1999||Elections: Local government||11 June 1999||2,791,415||1,425,881||51.1||1,024,850||77.8||291,965||22.2||109,066||7.6|||
|Provided that local government elections must occur every five years.|
|21st Amendment||27 March 2002||Rights: Death penalty||7 June 2001||2,867,960||997,885||34.8||610,455||62.1||372,950||37.9||14,480||1.5|||
|Entrenched the existing statutory prohibition of capital punishment.|
|22nd Amendment Bill||N/A||Courts: judges: discipline||N/A|||
|Proposed to establish a body for the investigation of judges and to amend the procedure for the removal of judges. It was introduced to the Oireachtas but lapsed after its second stage.|
|23rd Amendment||27 March 2002||Treaty: Rome Statute of the ICC||7 June 2001||2,867,960||997,565||34.8||629,234||64.2||350,512||35.8||17,819||1.8|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court.|
|24th Amendment Bill||N/A||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Nice||7 June 2001||2,867,960||997,826||34.8||453,461||46.1||529,478||53.9||14,887||1.5|||
|This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Nice. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-sixth Amendment in 2002.|
|25th Amendment Bill||N/A||Abortion: exclusion of suicide||6 March 2002||2,923,918||1,254,175||42.9||618,485||49.6||629,041||50.4||6,649||0.5|||
|This was a second attempt to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion and to prevent risk of suicide being invoked as grounds for an abortion.|
|26th Amendment||7 November 2002||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Nice||19 October 2002||2,923,918||1,446,588||49.5||906,317||62.9||534,887||37.1||5,384||0.4|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Nice Treaty.|
|27th Amendment||24 June 2004||Irish nationality||11 June 2004||3,041,688||1,823,434||59.9||1,427,520||79.2||375,695||20.8||20,219||1.1|||
|Abolished constitutional jus soli right to Irish nationality.|
|28th Amendment Bill||N/A||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Lisbon||12 June 2008||3,051,278||1,621,037||53.1||752,451||46.6||862,415||53.4||6,171||0.4|||
|This would have allowed the state to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon. Voters reversed this decision when they adopted the Twenty-eighth Amendment in 2009.|
|28th Amendment||15 October 2009||Treaty: Europe: Treaty of Lisbon||2 October 2009||3,078,032||1,816,098||58.0||1,214,268||67.1||594,606||32.9||7,224||0.4|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.|
|29th Amendment||17 November 2011||Courts: judges: remuneration||27 October 2011||3,191,157||1,785,707||55.9||1,393,877||79.7||354,134||20.3||37,696||2.1|||
|Relaxed the prohibition on the reduction of the salaries of Irish judges.|
|30th Amendment Bill||N/A||Oireachtas inquiries||27 October 2011||3,191,157||1,785,208||55.9||812,008||46.7||928,175||53.3||45,025||2.5|||
|Proposed to reverse a 2002 Supreme Court ruling which prevented Oireachtas inquiries from making findings critical of individuals.|
|30th Amendment||27 June 2012||Treaty: Europe: European Fiscal Compact||31 May 2012||3,144,828||1,591,385||50.6||955,091||60.3||629,088||39.7||45,025||2.8|||
|Allowed the state to ratify the European Fiscal Compact.|
|31st Amendment||28 April 2015||Rights: Children||10 November 2012||3,183,686||1,066,239||33.5||615,731||58.0||445,863||42.0||7,206||0.7|||
|A general statement of children's rights, and a provision intended to secure the power of the state to take children into care who are at risk of abuse or neglect from their parents.|
|32nd Amendment Bill||N/A||Seanad: abolition||4 October 2013||3,167,484||1,240,729||39.2||591,937||48.3||634,437||51.7||14,355||1.2|||
|Proposed to abolish Seanad Éireann.|
|33rd Amendment||1 November 2013||Courts: new Court of Appeal||4 October 2013||3,167,484||1,240,135||39.2||795,008||65.2||425,047||34.8||20,080||1.6|||
|Mandates a new Court of Appeal above the High Court and below the Supreme Court|
|34th Amendment||29 August 2015||Rights: Marriage equality||22 May 2015||3,221,681||1,949,725||60.5||1,201,607||62.1||734,300||37.9||13,818||0.7|| |
|Prohibits restriction on civil marriage based on sex. (Civil partnership had been established under a a 2010 statute.)|
|35th Amendment Bill||N/A||Presidency: reduce age of candidacy to 21.||22 May 2015||3,221,681||1,949,438||60.5||520,898||26.9||1,412,602||73.1||15,938||0.8|||
|Proposed to lower the minimum age for the presidency from 35 to 21.|
- Total poll as a percentage of the electorate
- As a percentage of the valid poll (total poll less spoilt votes)
- Spoilt votes as a percentage of the total poll.
- The Constitution was enacted by the plebiscite approving it. There was no formal signing into law. It came into force 180 days after the plebiscite, on 29 December 1937.
- The first two amendment acts were passed during the three-year transitional period when a referendum was not required.
- The first date is that of the Act making the initial amendment; the second is that of the government announcement triggering the subsequent amendment.
Referendums following court decisions
In O'Donovan v. the Attorney-General (1961), the Supreme Court held that the Electoral Amendment Act 1959 was unconstitutional and suggested that the ratio of representation to population across constituencies should differ by no more than 5%. The Third Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1968 would have allowed a variation of up to 16.7% across constituencies. It was rejected in a referendum by 61% to 39%.
In Re Article 26 and the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 1983 (1984), the Supreme Court held that the proposed bill to extend voting rights in Dáil elections to British citizens was unconstitutional. The Ninth Amendment was passed in June 1984, which allowed the franchise to be extended beyond Irish citizens.
The Third Amendment, passed in 1972, allowed Ireland to accede to the European Communities. In 1986, the government signed the Single European Act (SEA). However, Raymond Crotty sought an injunction against ratification by the state. In Crotty v. An Taoiseach (1987), the Supreme Court held that the further transfer of powers from the state to the European institutions within the SEA was not "necessitated by the obligations of membership of the Communities" as provided for by the Third Amendment. Consequently, the Constitution required further amendment, before the SEA could be ratified. This was done in a referendum later in 1987. On the same basis, further referendums on European Treaties were held on the Maastricht Treaty (in 1992), on the Amsterdam Treaty (in 1998), on the Nice Treaty (in 2001 and in 2002), and on the Lisbon Treaty (in 2008 and in 2009). Referendums were also held for the allow the state to be bound by the Belfast Agreement in 1998, and to ratify the International Criminal Court in 2001 and the Stability Treaty in 2012.
In McGee v. The Attorney General (1974), the Supreme Court found that provisions of Articles 40 and 41 guaranteed a right to marital privacy, and that contraception on prescription could not be prohibited to a married couple. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the United States Supreme Court come a similar result, before finding for a general right to abortion in the first trimester in Roe v. Wade (1973). The Eighth Amendment in 1983 gave constitutional protection to the life of the unborn, and therefore prohibiting abortion. This had been partly to guard against the Supreme Court finding the same right that their American counterparts had.
In March 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in Attorney General v. X, commonly known as the "X Case", that a teenage girl was entitled to an abortion as there was a risk to her life from suicide. Opponents of abortion feared that this ruling could only be enforced in a way that would lead to an expansive abortion regime of the kind found in many other countries. There were two failed amendments that would have excluded suicide as grounds for abortion, the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1992 and the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2002. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 made provisions for the finding of the court in the X Case, allowing abortion where the life of the woman was at risk, including a risk of suicide.
The Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1992, to guarantee a right to travel. This addressed the injunction which the High Court had granted in the X Case to order the return of the girl to the country. Though the injunction was lifted by the Supreme Court, a majority of the Court had found that were it not for the risk to life of the defendant, an injunction would have been maintained.
The Fourteenth Amendment was passed on the same day in 1992, to guarantee that the ban on abortion would not limit freedom to obtain or make available information relating to services lawfully available in another state. This was in response to two cases: Attorney General (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Ireland) Ltd.) v Open Door Counselling Ltd. and Dublin Wellwoman Centre Ltd. (1988), which granted an injunction restraining two counseling agencies from assisting women to travel abroad to obtain abortions or informing them of the methods of communications with such clinics, and Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Ireland) Ltd. v Grogan (1989), which placed an injunction restraining three students' unions from distributing information in relation to abortion available outside the state.
From 1997 to 2011, an All-Party Oireachtas Committee systematically reviewed the constitution, and in its first ten years published a series of ten progress reports and two pieces of commissioned research. In the 30th Dáil it published a further 5 reports (see Constitutional Reviews).
The government elected in March 2011 established a Constitutional Convention to consider a range of specific issues. Of the proposals from the convention, only two were put to a referendum: introduction of marriage equality, which passed, and lowering the age of eligibility to the presidency, which failed.
Amendments to previous constitutions
Ireland had two previous Constitutions, prior to the adoption of the Constitution of Ireland: the Dáil Constitution of the short-lived 1919–1922 Irish Republic, and the constitution of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State. Each used different formal procedures for amendment of the text.
The Dáil Constitution was enacted by Dáil Éireann (which was at that time a single chamber legislature) as an ordinary act of parliament. As a result it could be amended by simple vote of the legislature.
The Constitution of the Irish Free State was adopted in October 1922 and in force on 6 December 1922. It originally provided for a process of amendment by means of a referendum. However the constitution could initially be amended by the Oireachtas for eight years. The Oireachtas chose to extend that period, meaning that for the duration of its existence, the Free State constitution could be amended at will by parliament. In theory, it was argued that the constitution could not be amended in a way with conflicted with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 ratified by both the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. However the Statute of Westminster removed that restriction in the 1930s. It was amended 24 times between 1925 and 1936.
- Politics of the Republic of Ireland
- Abortion in the Republic of Ireland
- Constitutional amendment
- Referendum Commission
- Official website of the Referendum Returning Officer – Includes an archive of referendum statistics.
- The Unabridged Constitution of Ireland – This is an unofficial variorum edition with amendments alongside the original text. It is only accurate up until the Twentieth Amendment in 1999.
- Irish Legal Information Initiative
- Irish Statute Book online
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