The Constitutional Convention website is now up and running, and its inaugural meeting will be streamed live there starting at 2pm today (the schedule can be found here). The website allows one to make submissions on the various (very underwhelming) list of topics:
- reducing the Presidential term of office to five years and aligning it with the local and European elections;
- reducing the voting age to 17;
- review of the Dáil electoral system;
- giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies, or otherwise;
- provision for same-sex marriage;
- amending the clause on the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life;
- increasing the participation of women in politics;
- removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution; and
- following completion of the above reports, such other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by it;
I suppose, if one wants to grasp at straws, one could point to the final item "other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by it". But, if one is hoping for some change in the way this country is governed, then the list doesn't inspire much confidence.
Essentially, we borrowed the British system of government at the foundation of the state. They seem to be able to make that setup work reasonably ok across the water, perhaps by having learned the hard way over many centuries, slowly developing a certain tradition/political culture, and being able to self-regulate to a degree (e.g. parliamentary inquiries were horribly abused in the 19th century in politically partisan ways, so eventually they decided to self-regulate and hand over control of inquiries to independent figures in tribunals/independent inquiries when quasi-judicial matters were being investigated).
We adopted that system. OK, we do have a constitution, but that really only puts constraints on government in the areas of national sovereignty and fundamental rights. Otherwise our constitution puts remarkably few constraints on government (it can do almost everything it wants via legislation). And the Oireachtas does a remarkably poor job in acting as a constraint (the Seanad I guess could be allowed to act in this way to a modest degree if it was permitted, but voluntarily putting in place such checks-and-balances doesn't seem to be an Irish political thing).
If one looks back at previous constitutional referendums (see Amendments to the Constitution of Ireland - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ) it's remarkable how many are either concerned with national sovereignty (e.g. international treaty ratification) or social/religious/rights issues. Admittedly there were also a few doing some administrative tidying up (adoption board, bail, voting qualifications, cabinet confidentiality, university Seanad panels (unimplemented)). I suppose there was a referendum to insert an article on local government (but however had almost no practical effect, other than requiring that there be some form of local government and that elections be held every five years).
One genuine rare constitutional constraint on government is how it prescribes the form of electoral system. Another is how fundamental rights have turned out to constrain the Oireachtas' inquiry powers. FF unsuccessfully tried on a number of occasions to change this. And we know how the Oireachtas inquiries referendum turned out! Other than those two issues, there's very little that restricts government power in any way. There's absolutely no reason why governments would alter the constitution in any major way that would impact on governance. Any such amendment would almost inevitably impinge and constrain the power of the Taoiseach/cabinet in some way. Unsurprisingly, none of our past referendums have sought to alter in any way the underlying system we copied from the UK.
The agenda of the Constitutional Convention looks like more of the same (some tinkering with rights/social policy/the voting age again/some minor tweaking of a ceremonial office). I guess there's some promise in the promised review of the electoral system. That's perhaps an area where ordinary participants might be able to get up to some mischief. But it's likely any recommendations in this area would be ignored or long-fingered until after the next GE anyway.