the Irish for rights

Economic Rights in the Drafting of the Irish Free State Constitution

UCC logoAt the Irish Jurisprudence Society (IJS) Symposium, the fifth paper is being delivered by Thomas Patrick Murray (UCD) on The Politics of Property and Principle: Economic Rights in the Drafting of the Irish Free State Constitution. It is a fascinating use of archival material to underpin a theoretical discussion of the deliberations of the committee drafting the IFS constitution concerning the possibilities of constitutional engineering to create economic constraints and guarantees. In particular, he compares various drafts of various committee members on various issues, and locates their perspectives in their life experiences, religious convictions, and political beliefs. His conclusion is that an initial radical draft of socio-economic rights fell foul of external vested interests and the belief-systems of the majority of the committee.

Murray shows that it is clear from the archives and memoirs that, at the outset, the drafting committee paid significant attention to the economic foundations of the emerging Free State. Although economic freedom was to be secured in the first instance through formal democratic mechanisms, the framers also canvassed a number of binding economic provisions for inclusion. In particular, their focus was upon the principle of economic sovereignty, concerning land (especially farm land) and other natural resources (especially for energy generation) and the right to free elementary education.

Murray the demonstrates that the committee’s sphere of action was quite bounded and indeed subject to influence from outside interests. The main interest of the provisional government was in maintaining social and political order and avoiding controversy. Countervailing economic interests featured too, especially the opposition of the farming lobby to any re-distribution of land. Moreover, the Catholic Church was unhappy with the socio-economic rights proposals, especially the provisions relating to education. The committee therefore kept the constitutional text to the bare minimum to ensure its success; controversial provisions were carefully curtailed; and established interests were assuaged. Murray concluded on this point, then, that, faced with the need to establish the legitimacy of the state, any innovation that might threaten established property-holders or any moral principle that might deny a hierarchical role for the Church was deemed ‘controversial’ and accordingly postponed.

But Muarry goes further. He argues that the members were not only constrained by various social boundaries, they were also necessarily constrained by their own boundaries of thought. In other words, various features of the prevailing discourse facilitated the diminution of the committee’s initial economic provisions. Most members of the committee were in thrall to the assertive Catholic-Nationalist ethos of early twentieth-century Dublin, and this prevailing ‘Irish Ireland’ discourse imposed significant limitations on the possibilities of embedding socio-economic rights in the constitution. Although those few members of the committee from outside of this political culture appear to have been more open to the lived experience of poverty and were more amenable to the substantive promotion of economic rights, their views did not prevail against the established discourse. Murray concluded on this point, then, that the pursuit of ‘Irish Ireland’ amounted to something very like an official othodoxy. Conversely, egalitarian discourses, envisioning a society based on principles of rational-legal equality and interdependent citizenship, came to be suppressed. Consequently, the committee’s initial economic rights proposals greatly watered down; prevailing ‘Irish Ireland’ discuorse meant this was not seen as wrong.

One Response to “Economic Rights in the Drafting of the Irish Free State Constitution”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eoin O'Dell. Eoin O'Dell said: http://tinyurl.com/y55ggvl My new blogpost: Economic Rights in the Drafting of the Irish Free State Constitution […]

Leave a Reply



Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

Academic links


  • RSS Feed
  • RSS Feed
  • Subscribe via Email
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Archives by month

Categories by topic

My recent tweets

Blogroll (or, really, a non-blogroll)

What I'd like for here is a simple widget that takes the list of feeds from my existing RSS reader and displays it here as a blogroll. Nothing fancy. I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

I had built a blogroll here on my Google Reader RSS subscriptions. Google Reader produced a line of html for each RSS subscription category, each of which I pasted here. So I had a list of my subscriptions as my blogroll, organised by category, which updated whenever I edited Google Reader. Easy peasy. However, with the sad and unnecessary demise of that product, so also went this blogroll. Please take a moment to mourn Google Reader. If there's an RSS reader which provides a line of html for the list of subscriptions, or for each RSS subscription category as Google Reader did, I'd happily use that. So, as I've already begged, I'd love a recommendation, if you have one.

Meanwhile, please bear with me until I find a new RSS+Blogroll solution




Creative Commons License

This blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. I am happy for you to reuse and adapt my content, provided that you attribute it to me, and do not use it commercially. Thanks. Eoin

Credit where it’s due

The image in the banner above is a detail from a photograph of the front of Trinity College Dublin night taken by Melanie May.

Others whose technical advice and help have proven invaluable in keeping this show on the road include Dermot Frost, Karlin Lillington, Daithí Mac Síthigh, and Antoin Ó Lachtnáin.

Thanks to Blacknight for hosting.