To Ourselves, Article Fifteen

1.    1° The National Parliament shall be called and known, and is in this Constitution generally referred to, as the Oireachtas.

2° The Oireachtas shall consist of the President and two Houses, viz.: a House of Representatives to be called Dáil Éireann and a Senate to be called Seanad Éireann.

3° The Houses of the Oireachtas shall sit in or near the City of Dublin or in such other place as they may from time to time determine.

2.    1° The sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is hereby vested in the Oireachtas: no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State.

2° Provision may however be made by law for the creation or recognition of subordinate legislatures and for the powers and functions of these legislatures.

3.    1° The Oireachtas may provide for the establishment or recognition of functional or vocational councils representing branches of the social and economic life of the people.

2° A law establishing or recognising any such council shall determine its rights, powers and duties, and its relation to the Oireachtas and to the Government.

4.    1° The Oireachtas shall not enact any law which is in any respect repugnant to this Constitution or any provision thereof.

2° Every law enacted by the Oireachtas which is in any respect repugnant to this Constitution or to any provision thereof, shall, but to the extent only of such repugnancy, be invalid.

5.    1° The Oireachtas shall not declare acts to be infringements of the law which were not so at the date of their commission.

2° The Oireachtas shall not enact any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty.

6.    1° The right to raise and maintain military or armed forces is vested exclusively in the Oireachtas.

2° No military or armed force, other than a military or armed force raised and maintained by the Oireachtas, shall be raised or maintained for any purpose whatsoever.

7.    The Oireachtas shall hold at least one session every year.

8.    1° Sittings of each House of the Oireachtas shall be public.

2° In cases of special emergency, however, either House may hold a private sitting with the assent of two-thirds of the members present.

9.    1° Each House of the Oireachtas shall elect from its members its own Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and shall prescribe their powers and duties.

2° The remuneration of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of each House shall be determined by law.

10.                       Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement, and shall have power to ensure freedom of debate, to protect its official documents and the private papers of its members, and to protect itself and its members against any person or persons interfering with, molesting or attempting to corrupt its members in the exercise of their duties.

1° All questions in each House shall, save as otherwise provided by this Constitution, be determined by a majority of the votes of the members present and voting other than the Chairman or presiding member.

2° The Chairman or presiding member shall have and exercise a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes.

3° The number of members necessary to constitute a meeting of either House for the exercise of its powers shall be determined by its standing orders.

12.                       All official reports and publications of the Oireachtas or of either House thereof and utterances made in either House wherever published shall be privileged.

13.                       The members of each House of the Oireachtas shall, except in case of treason as defined in this Constitution, felony or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest in going to and returning from, and while within the precincts of, either House, and shall not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself.

14.                       No person may be at the same time a member of both Houses of the Oireachtas, and, if any person who is already a member of either House becomes a member of the other House, he shall forthwith be deemed to have vacated his first seat.

15.                       The Oireachtas may make provision by law for the payment of allowances to the members of each House thereof in respect of their duties as public representatives and for the grant to them of free travelling and such other facilities (if any) in connection with those duties as the Oireachtas may determine.

This is really all just housekeeping and set-up for the later articles.

We first outline the name (Oireachtas, from ‘MacOireachtaigh’ the common name of advisors to the old High Kings).  Then the composition, that being the Executive, the Seanad and the Dail. Then the location, Dublin, an obvious choice as the biggest city and previous seat of power. In the event of an emergency another location is possible, though I doubt anything has been outlined in writing.

The Oireachtas is defined as the only institution that can create laws, but provision is made for the creation of others that can do so. This seems a tad confusing, as it’s hard to imagine any body, if it isn’t elected, being allowed to create laws. I know that the idea of Oireachtas Committees being able to make legislation has been mooted before, but it’s never going to be a popular idea.

The Oireachtas can create councils to further represent the people. FAS can be viewed as a vocational example. The purpose of these sections are to show how the Oireachtas can create these councils and outline their powers without subsequent legislation.

The Oireachtas can’t pass a law that breaks a facet of the constitution. The problem here is that it makes it sound very obvious what will look “repugnant” to the constitution. Everything is open to interpretation. We have the courts and the President to be arbiters of such interpretation but that doesn’t stop TDs and Senators from screaming the word “unconstitutional” at anything they don’t like.

Part five insures that the Oireachtas can’t screw people over for stuff they did in the past by making sure no laws apply retro-actively. It also bans the death penalty, per a referendum. This insures that the question of capital punishment must be answered nationally, a good thing for a matter of, well, life and death.

While the President is the commander-in-chief it is the Oireachtas that has to sole right to raise a military force on the island. This makes sure that military power remains vested in the wider civilian legislature. We also get a firm rejection of any other military forces being set up by a non-Oireachtas entity, something that we’ll get into a bit later when we cover treason. It’s also a clear reference to the IRA.

This article requires the Oireachtas to meet at least once a year in public session. This is your standard “no dictatorships please!” clause. But we have a provision for private meetings in the case of an emergency. I can only speculate that this would be as a result of a military crisis, where the Dail wouldn’t want matters of strategy to be public knowledge.

Each house, the Dail and the Seanad, gets to elect its own chairperson (as opposed to the position being a national vote). The positions of Ceann Comhairle and Ceathairleach have their importance. They are the casting vote in the event of a tie. But, a national vote on the positions isn’t really necessary as most of their function requires ringing a bell.

Moreover, each house can set its own rules regarding standing orders and debate procedure. If you’ve ever watched the Dail, you know how this provision gets mangled everyday. It isn’t the most respectful of legislatures. But this article basically allows the Chairperson to throw someone out if he/she is causing a ruckus which is frequently required.

Matters of debate to be discussed are to be decided by a majority vote to ensure that the Oireachtas doesn’t get backlogged dealing with inane maters brought by every representative. The Chairmen gets the casting vote, giving that position its one real power. Quorum for Dail Debates, as anyone will have seen, fluctuates widely, with anywhere between two people to a full house being present for discussion. As a result, the constitution allows provision for this fluctuation.

Words spoken in the Oireachtas have a degree of legal privilege. This means a TD or Senator can’t be sued for something they say or do in their role as a legislator. It’s a standard protection, allowing legislators the ability to air their minds freely.

Part Thirteen is interesting. Representatives can’t be arrested going, coming or in the Dail. This certainly brings images of a crazed Bran Cowen making a trigger happy last stand in the Dail chamber, free from arrest as long as he doesn’t leave.

This is really just to maintain the integrity of the Oireachtas and whatever building it is meeting in. Looks quite bad if Garda barge in to arrest someone.

And this doesn’t make anyone immune from arrest, just insures they don’t get arrested on government property. Treason is the exception, but we’ll get into that later.

You can’t be a Senator and a TD of course. If you choose to run for election to a different position and win, you automatically resign the previous position. Just keeping the chambers separate.

The last part, related to the expenses of representatives, is all up in the news recently. It’s for travel and communication expenses really, and that certainly is something TDs and Senators do a lot. But its abuse, more and more so, has become a major embarrassment for recent governments. If amended, it should outline a set number that TDs can’t go over, as well as outlining the systems and regulations that have to be put in place to monitor just what legislators are claiming.

Next time we’re starting into the primary legislative body of the state, Dail Eireann.

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