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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 28 January, 2020
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The Government has a LOT of referendums to get through over the next few years

Anyone excited for the Unified Patent Court vote?

Image: Shutterstock/Amy Walters

BUNREACHT NA HÉIREANN has been poked, prodded, and altered 33 times since it was approved in 1937.

The last time the Irish public went to the polls to vote on alterations was in October 2013, when the Government took a ‘wallop’ by losing a vote to abolish the Seanad, but the public did approve the creation of a Court of Appeal.

We’ll be going to the polls again in May to vote on two further amendments, but the Coalition is at odds over how many we will have before the next general election.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is adamant:

We will hold two referendums this year and I have confirmed that that will be it.

This relates to concerns over voter fatigue.

However, that isn’t quite what Labour’s Alex White thinks.

The Irish Times reported yesterday that the Minister believes more votes are possible in autumn, and would focus on what was set out in the Constitutional Convention.

So what exactly is in the pipeline?

The ones we’re having

In just under four months time, the public will head to the polls to vote on two issues.

One of these will look at reducing the age requirement for presidential candidates from 35 to just 21. In many countries across the world, a higher age-limit is required than for local or general election candidates – for example, it is also 35 in the United States. It’s a mixed bag across Europe. Some set the same limit of between 18 and 21 for all elections, while in other countries like Italy the candidate must be more than 50.

The other, and far more divisive, vote will be on whether or not to allow same-sex marriage. The Marriage Equality referendum will insert the following words into the referendum:

Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.

Last week’s first instalment of RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live demonstrated just how heated this debate will be.

Source: RTÉ - Ireland's National Television and Radio Broadcaster/YouTube

But let’s not get into all that right now.

The ones we might have soon

Following an EU report last year, the Government is working towards a referendum that would extend voting rights in presidential elections to Irish living abroad. Ireland was accused of ‘disenfranchising’ the diaspora.

However, the Minister with responsibly for the Irish abroad, Jimmy Deenihan, recently told The Irish Times that it is ‘unlikely’ it will be held this year. It’s on the long finger, but not forgotten.

Plans to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution have been mooted for more than five years. This came to fore in recent weeks following the Charle Hebdo attacks in Paris. A Muslim scholar said he would seek legal advice if any news organisations – or journalists themselves – published images of the Prophet Muhammed.

However, this is another vote that has been pushed until after the next General Election (… maybe).

And will the voting age be reduced from 18 to 16? Fine Gael and Labour had committed to holding a referendum on foot of a recommendation from the Constitutional Convention, but this is another to be left until 2016 at the earliest.

Voting_ages Source: Wikimedia

One we have to hold soon

We have to vote on the introduction of the unified patent court. Your excitement is palpable.

The UPC will allow for a system whereby certain EU Member States can recognise each others’ patents. Junior minister Seán Sherlock confirmed that plans to harmonise the registration and recognition of patents throughout the EU will need the creation of a single court to rule on disputes. That was back in 2013.

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation confirmed last night that “the Government has decided to hold a referendum on this issue but has not yet decided on the timing of that referendum”.

The ones we’re not quite sure of yet

The Constitutional Convention recommended in 2013 that the so-called ‘women in the home’ article of the constitution be made gender neutral. It was also recommended that the State should provide ‘a reasonable level of support’ to carers. Former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said ‘extensive consultations’ would need to take place before any action was taken.

We’re currently awaiting comment from the Department of Justice on the progress made. A report on the matter was due in October 2014.

The Convention recommended a review of the Dáil electral system, but this was responded to by an Oireachtas committee.

A decision on making the Constitution more gender-neutral is also expected in the near future, and same for a recommendation to strengthen economic, social, and cultural rights.

Two we’re not going to have

There are literally thousands of potential referendums that could be held, but two have gained traction in recent months.

One of these is a referendum on privatisation of Irish Water. Despite fears from the man who helped set up the utility, former Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd, that there are ‘forces at work’ to privatise the company, the Taoiseach ruled out a referendum, but said existing safeguards will be strengthened.

Another frequently demanded vote is on repealing the 8th amendment. This was passed by a referendum in September 1983, and imposed a constitutional ban on abortion.

With the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act being passed, there is the possibility of women being allowed to have an abortion, but under very strict circumstances and having been seen by a panel of experts.

Originally published 7.15am

Explainer: What is the 8th Amendment? >

Read: Let’s figure this out – what’s the real plural of referendum? >

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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