To Ourselves, Article Twelve

We now move on to the three articles that deal with the position of President of Ireland. Article Twelve concerns itself with the election process, impeachment rules and other basic tenants of the first citizen. It’s the longest article yet, so I’ll take it in stages rather than just putting all up at the top.

  1. There shall be a President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann), hereinafter called the President, who shall take precedence over all other persons in the State and who shall exercise and perform the powers and functions conferred on the President by this Constitution and by law.

Ireland is a democracy and in so being, all of its citizens are equal. That is, everyone except the President.

I won’t get into a larger debate about the usefulness of the position itself, whether Ireland really needs a head of state like the Presidency. But I understand why the above section can make people a tad uncomfortable. I’m not sure I like the idea of President McAleese having “precedence” over me. Then again, at least we get to elect our head of state unlike a lot of other countries (i.e those with hereditary monarchies).

2.    1° The President shall be elected by direct vote of the people.

2° Every citizen who has the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann shall have the right to vote at an election for President.

3° The voting shall be by secret ballot and on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.

The election process of the President is outlined. The position carries the same process as that of General Elections just on a larger, national scale.

3.    1° The President shall hold office for seven years from the date upon which he enters upon his office, unless before the expiration of that period he dies, or resigns, or is removed from office, or becomes permanently incapacitated, such incapacity being established to the satisfaction of the Supreme Court consisting of not less than five judges.

2° A person who holds, or who has held, office as President, shall be eligible for re-election to that office once, but only once.

3° An election for the office of President shall be held not later than, and not earlier than the sixtieth day before, the date of the expiration of the term of office of every President, but in the event of the removal from office of the President or of his death, resignation, or permanent incapacity established as aforesaid (whether occurring before or after he enters upon his office), an election for the office of President shall be held within sixty days after such event.

Our head of state does have quite a long period of office for reasons that are not clear. With just one re-election, a person can be President for nearly one and a half decades. It may not be the best policy really. The positions lack of real power covers over this, but I can see why Fine Gael want to reduce the term to five years. No-one should be in an elected position that long without challenge.

As is standard with such positions, you get to go for re-election just once. This allows the people the opportunity to reward a good Presidency with a second term, while making sure one person dosen’t hold it for life. No sitting President has ever lost a re-election fight.

Finally, the constitution establishes that we can go little less than two months without a President. Further articles deal with the issue of Presidential succession, and I’ll go into more detail on the process then.

4.    1° Every citizen who has reached his thirty-fifth year of age is eligible for election to the office of President.

This is to insure that candidates have gained the requisite experience necessary to be the head of state and is the same for most similar positions worldwide.

2° Every candidate for election, not a former or retiring President, must be nominated either by:

                          i.            not less than twenty persons, each of whom is at the time a member of one of the Houses of the Oireachtas, or

                           ii.            by the Councils of not less than four administrative Counties (including County Boroughs) as defined by law.

3° No person and no such Council shall be entitled to subscribe to the nomination of more than one candidate in respect of the same election.

4° Former or retiring Presidents may become candidates on their own nomination.

5° Where only one candidate is nominated for the office of President it shall not be necessary to proceed to a ballot for his election.

This section outlines the serious stumbling block when it comes to Presidential nominations. The nomination process is difficult and ensures that, really, only party members can get a shot at the prize. It’s next to impossible for independents to get nominated. This is quite bad for people like David Norris, immensely popular throughout Ireland, who might very well take the Presidency, but can’t get the nomination. Definitely something I would change. The President is supposed to be party neutral anyway, so setting the system up against non-party TDs and Senators is undemocratic.

Part Four is often overlooked. Speaking real world, it means Mary Robinson can, at any election, nominate herself automatically. Crazy if that happened huh?

And Part Five ensures that we have no ridiculous plebiscites when only one candidate runs. McAleese invoked this section in 2004 when no opposition could be found. It’s just the way it works. If you can’t get a candidate to oppose her, don’t complain when we don’t force the electorate to pick between her and “An Other”.

5.    Subject to the provisions of this Article, elections for the office of President shall be regulated by law.

6.    1° The President shall not be a member of either House of the Oireachtas.

2° If a member of either House of the Oireachtas be elected President, he shall be deemed to have vacated his seat in that House.

3° The President shall not hold any other office or position of emolument.

This ensures that the President holds no other position, preventing any kind of conflict of interest, or party dominated executive.

7.    The first President shall enter upon his office as soon as may be after his election, and every subsequent President shall enter upon his office on the day following the expiration of the term of office of his predecessor or as soon as may be thereafter or, in the event of his predecessor’s removal from office, death, resignation, or permanent incapacity established as provided by section 3 hereof, as soon as may be after the election.

Here, we simply ensure a quick continuity between office holders, outlined in more detail in a few articles. As powerless as the office is, it dosen’t do to leave it vacant for too long.

8.    The President shall enter upon his office by taking and subscribing publicly, in the presence of members of both Houses of the Oireachtas, of Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Court, and other public personages, the following declaration:

“In the presence of Almighty God I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me.”

 The oath is wrapped up again in the religious language of the constitution. While the President’s first duty is to the constitution and the people, he/she is also looking for divine guidance in his/her work. Certainly, the first six words and last line could do with the chop. The President is party neutral, and as we have seen over the last 13 years, should be religion neutral in carrying out his/her office.

9.    The President shall not leave the State during his term of office save with the consent of the Government.

This is the first in a serious of sections that outline how neutered the position of President is. I’ll outline what I think in more detail a little later, but this kind of thing, in my opinion, disrespects what is being touted as the office of the first citizen. Even if these kind of regulations aren’t strictly inforced.

10. 1° The President may be impeached for stated misbehaviour.

2° The charge shall be preferred by either of the Houses of the Oireachtas, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this section.

3° A proposal to either House of the Oireachtas to prefer a charge against the President under this section shall not be entertained unless upon a notice of motion in writing signed by not less than thirty members of that House.

4° No such proposal shall be adopted by either of the Houses of the Oireachtas save upon a resolution of that House supported by not less than two-thirds of the total membership thereof.

5° When a charge has been preferred by either House of the Oireachtas, the other House shall investigate the charge, or cause the charge to be investigated.

6° The President shall have the right to appear and to be represented at the investigation of the charge.

7° If, as a result of the investigation, a resolution be passed supported by not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the House of the Oireachtas by which the charge was investigated, or caused to be investigated, declaring that the charge preferred against the President has been sustained and that the misbehaviour, the subject of the charge, was such as to render him unfit to continue in office, such resolution shall operate to remove the President from his office.

The never used operation of impeachment is outlined. It is hard to imagine a scenario, barring some massive public gaffe or gross misuse of designated power, that would result in such articles being invoked. As it is, the measures are designed to insure that no single power bloc within the Oireachtas can single the President out for persecution, and in fact, any charge brought against the President by the Dail would have to be investigated by the Seanad (and vice versa). It is a system designed to stop the process as much as possible, offering every possible roadblock to a conviction.

11. 1° The President shall have an official residence in or near the City of Dublin.

2° The President shall receive such emoluments and allowances as may be determined by law.

3° The emoluments and allowances of the President shall not be diminished during his term of office.

As the first citizen it is only natural that the President reside in the capital city, though the article dosen’t actually mention Aras an Uacterain. The final part insures that a President’s pay cannot be cut but this can be counteracted by the President him/herself as Mary McAeese did relatively recently.

We’ll get into the functions of the President next time.

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