The economic war had begun in 1932. Eamon De Valera had become Taoiseach on the 9th of March 1922 and from the outset he was determined to pursue a republican policy. He vowed to remove the Oath of Allegiance from the Irish Constitution and introduced the relevant legislation to the Dail on the 20th of April. Although the Dail passed the Bill, the Senate delayed it from coming into operation until May 1933. De Valera was also determined to retain the land annuities for the Irish treasury.
Dating from the Land Acts, these annuities were repayments on loans given to the Irish farmers to buy out landlords;and annual installments were sent to the British exchequer. The Free State Government announced on the 1st of July 1932 that it was withholding theses annuities. The British Government reacted by instituting a customs duty on Irish cattle imported into Britain. In response the Free State imposed duties on British goods sold in Ireland. This was the beginning of the six year economic war between the two countries.
The new governments withholding of land annuities to the UK resulted in the imposition of 40% duty on cattle and 30% on other Irish agricultural imports to the UK. This was a devastating blow to the State as it was so dependent on agricultural exports. Subsidies, payable by the Department of Agriculture, were introduced for exported livestock, on foot of certified Customs’ documents. An ‘Emergency Imposition of Duties Order’, hurried through the Oireachtas, imposed duties on most UK, NI and Commonwealth goods.
Smuggling, confined to mainly sugar in the earlier years, became an attractive each way bet. There was particular concern about livestock declared for export, availing of State subsidies, later smuggled into Northern Ireland and later again smuggled back into the State. The ethical and moral values on which the constitution is based, enacted and amended as it is by the People, will naturally reflect the broad values of Irish society. These values naturally change from time to time and prompted changes in the Constitution.
The Preamble acknowledges the Christian God and seeks to promote the common good with due observation of prudence, justice and charity. Kenny J in Ryan v. Attorney General 20 spoke of the ‘ Christian and democratic nature of the State’. In 1937 the influence of the Church was very strong in Irish society and this is reflected throughout the Constitution. An examination of the status, role and treatment of women in Irish society since we took over control of our own affairs, would tell us a lot about our maturity as a people. We didn’t start out too badly.
The 1922 Free State Constitution extended the franchise to women. Article 14 said all citizens, “without distinctions of sex”, shall have the right to vote. Indeed, back in 1919, when the first Di?? il met in the Mansion House in Dublin, a piece of feminist history was made when Countess Constance Markievicz became the first woman to hold a Cabinet post as Minister for Labour. By the time of the 1937 Constitution, however, there was considerable frustration among women over their treatment and their perception of themselves as second-class citizens.
This manifested itself in the hostility displayed by many women’s groups to Eamon De Valera’s Constitution, with – as they saw it – its demeaning and limiting role of domesticity and home-making for women. It is clearly evidenced from Articles 41. 2. 1 and 41. 2. 2 that in the early decades of the new Irish State, Catholic ideology and statutory developments combined, to create a range of formal and informal barriers to the participation of women in the workplace. The role of motherhood was socially and legally sanctioned as the ‘natural’ role for Irish women.
Even the interchange of the words ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ in the aforementioned articles indicates the strength of the ideology of motherhood in Irish society. The Constitution alone however did not buttress this way of thinking in regards to women as this was firmly in place before the Constitution was even drafted. Legislative measures employed by the new State copper fastened women’s status of guardians of the home. Article 41. 2. 1 states that with regards to the family the State recognises in particular “… that by her life within the home, woman gives to the States a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
” Article 41. 2. 2 goes on the say that: “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home. ” Article 41. 2. 2 assigns to women, a domestic role as wives and mothers, but has failed to be of any particular assistance to women working exclusively in the home. In the case of L v. L the Supreme Court rejected a claim by a married woman, who was a mother and had worked exclusively in her home to be entitled to a 50% interest in the family home.
At Common Law however it has been held that a married woman who makes a financial contribution, directly or indirectly, to the acquisition of a family home is entitled to a proportional interest in it. It is clear that this principle is no help to the significant number of women who have no separate income from which they can make financial contributions to a family home. The Supreme Court felt however that Article 41. 2. 2 did not confer jurisdiction on the courts to transfer any property rights within a family. 21
It is obvious that Ireland is no longer the State that De Valera envisaged when the Constitution came into being in 1937. Articles 42. 2. 1 and 42. 2. 2 made a mockery of the role once played by women in Irish society and the role in which they now play. The Constitution Review Group in 1996 recommended deleting the Articles in favour of a revised provision in gender neutral form which might provide: “The State recognises that home and family life give society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
The State shall endeavour to support persons caring for others within the home”. This revised article should be implemented as it ensures the Constitution reflects Irish society as it is today and no longer relegates women to the status it did over half a century ago. 22 The views of Irish women were reflected in the outcome of the referendum in relation to the acceptance of the 1937 Constitution as it was passed by a small majority23. Women would have felt rejected by the wording of the above articles and would have felt like second class citizens.
Eamon De Valera stated that the Constitution was “enacted by the people”24. This statement seems to indicate that the whole population of the 26 counties were to be represented in the new constitution but in reality it was not so, well not fairly anyway. The women of Ireland although represented in the constitution were not presented with an equitable standing in society. This has changed during the years and changes have occurred with many women entering the predominantly male run associations of society such as the government, the legal profession, medicine etc.
De Valera portrayed the woman as the mother, house-keeper and person in the background. As Ireland evolved through the ages so did its women, the original articles of the constitution had no reference to these changes being administered and adopted into Irish society. In this instance it highlights that the constitution was not perfect and did not respond to the changing needs of Irish society in relation to the female population. One way the constitution did respond to the changing needs of Irish society is in relation to the topic of sovereignty.
In the first place, as De Valera would argue, the whole purpose of the independence movement, the central issue of the civil war and the unilateral, piecemeal undoing of the Treaty’s shackles in the 1920s and 1930s all related to the fundamental question : was Ireland (or the movement that part of it under Irish control) to be autonomous, sovereign, mistress of her own destinies, independent of foreign, that is to say British, interference? Bunreacht na hEireann, De Valera would maintain, unequivocally affirmed that sovereignty, a sovereignty which would soon successfully pass its greatest test, neutrality in a world war.
After all, foreign affairs is sovereignty, in Pandit Nehru’s phrase25. The dimension of sovereignty in the constitution meant the supreme authority of the people (Article 6. 1), not the dominance of the State over its citizens. 26 The point has been made that in a unicameral parliament a powerful De Valera could have enacted his constitution legislatiely, without recourse to popular endorsement27. Given the fancistic and dictatorial climate of so much of contemporary Europe, he could have carved out an authoritarian power base for himself, had he been so inclined.
And those opponents who had long distrusted and demonised him were vociferously suspicious of his sinister intentions, alleging that the constitution (particularly the new and strange office of the Presidency) would be in the last analysis, simply a front for personal aggrandisement. 28 Yet the truth is that this new basic document, however much it might reflect the values of contemporary Catholic sociology, bore witness to Eamon De Valera’s commitment to liberal democratic principles and to the British parliamentary heritage.
These principles are exemplified both in the Articles (15-28) dealing with the organs of government and parliament, and in that proclaiming “personal rights” (Article 40). De Valera ringingly affirmed that the constitution clearly upheld the sovereignty of the people. ” If there is one thing more than another that is clear and shining through this whole constitution,it is the fact that the people are the masters. 29
In other respects, especially where the 1937 Constitution reflected the particular political preoccupations of the day and the values of a then dominant ethos, it could be argued that the document has not served us that well in the vastly changing circumstances of the last thirty years. In 1996 the Whitaker report on the constitution suggested some possible changes to the constitution such as “the evolution of socio- political thinking, the desire for greater inclusiveness, the implications of membership of the European Union”30.
The constitution has been or needs to be altered to reflect popular thinking on Church- State relations31, the changing position of marriage and the family ; denominational ethos and public morality ; the debate over abortion; and womens rights. In the latter connection, the Constitution Review Group recommended that the gender inclusiveness principle should be observed in the wording of the constitution a recommendation itself reflecting a profound change in attitudes to women since 193732
Some of these change shave occurred through various referenda but changes are still required. Some decisions which are highlighted where the constitution has been amended as society has changed since its introduction in 1937 are in relation to bail, adoptions, abortion and divorce to name but a few. These decisions demonstrated the capacity of the political system, through the referendum process, to react adequately to a significant shift in public attitudes concerning the balance of personal rights between different groups.