By Mark O’Brien
A NEW GROUP is calling on General Election candidates to back their proposal to introduce People Initiated Referendums into the Irish Constitution.
The One Year Initiative are writing to every candidate asking them to back their plan to amend the Constitution to allow ordinary citizens to initiate legislation, propose constitutional amendments and veto or amend current legislation.
The system is already in place in countries such as Switzerland and New Zealand and Mark McAuley of the One Year Initiative believes that introducing a similar system in Ireland would give its citizens a greater say in the democratic process.
“Say the water charges, or the bank bailout, or the eviction laws, legislation had to be put in place before they could happen,” he said.
If the citizens had the power to veto, it would basically mean that you or I could collect X number of signatures in a petition, present that to the government or the government body and then say ‘hold on, you can’t go ahead with this legislation until there’s negotiation, until you allow the people to decide to contribute to the actual legislation itself’, and if that doesn’t work, it triggers a referendum and all the people decide if the legislation should go ahead or not.
The group have engaged with a number of experts and, following a number of revisions, have come up with a mechanism for introducing the required constitutional amendment.
They propose that within six months of the next government being elected, a People’s Assembly is formed to devise the mechanism for people-initiated referendums.
This assembly will be made up of ordinary citizens from all over the country, with experts also being brought in to assist in drawing up the required amendment to the Constitution.
One year after the People’s Assembly is formed, the People’s Referendum will be held, which will allow the Irish people to vote on whether or not they wish to put People Initiated Referendums in to the Irish Constitution.
People Initiated Referendums were actually provided for in Articles 47 and 48 of the 1922 Constitution and the idea was overwhelmingly supported at the recent Constitutional Convention.
“If you were to take, say for instance, the Same Sex Marriage referendum which obviously was very successful, seventy-nine per cent of the people at the Constitutional Convention voted in favour of the Same Sex Marriage referendum and that’s why the referendum took place,” said Mr McAuley. “But what we’re not hearing about is that eighty-three per cent of the same people voted in favour of what the One Year Initiative wants.”
The response from candidates has been positive so far.
“Currently the only parties that aren’t supporting it are Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour,” said Mr McAuley. “All the others have come out and said, ‘yes we support this initiative’.”
Those interested in finding out which candidates in their constituency have supported the idea and which haven’t can check on the 1YI website.
The One Year Initiative are also proposing to help canvass for candidates who back the initiative.
“We’ll go out and help canvass for them because these are the people we want to be elected,” said Mr McAuley.
Some may claim that introducing such a mechanism would slow down the legislative process but Mr McAuley believes that this would not be a bad thing.
It introduces a level of accountability because rather than having legislation being pushed through quickly, without anyone being able to participate, this actually makes people think about what they are going to put through, so I see no problem with that.
The group has already printed 30,000 leaflets and are planning to print a further 30,000 to distribute to people’s homes to raise awareness for their campaign.
The One Year Initiative will hold their public launch on 18 November in Buswells Hotel, with Clare Daly and Thomas Pringle chairing the panel.