Call for Papers: “Sovereignty, Populism and Constitutional Politics”

School of Law, UCC and Constitution Project @ UCC

in association with

The British and Irish Chapter of the International Society of Public Law (ICON-S)

30-31 August 2019

Keynote Speaker: Professor Gráinne de Burca, New York University

The Irish Constitution has always had a unique reverence for popular sovereignty, as evidenced by the fact that it requires that every single proposed amendment of the Constitution be approved by the people in popular referendum. This feature of Irish constitutionalism has many corollaries:

  • it gives the Irish people a practical ownership over their constitution;
  • it puts a great deal of pressure on the referendum process;
  • it emphasises popular democracy, perhaps occasionally at the expense of a sharper focus on representative democracy and the role of parliament;
  • it adds an extra dimension to citizenship;
  • it impacts on Ireland’s engagement in international relations, due to the necessity to authorise the ratification of certain treaties by way of referendum; and
  • it calls upon the courts to supervise the referendum process and give effect to the intention of the electorate.

The amendment process has been invoked relatively frequently. 40 proposed amendments have been put to referendum since 1937, of which 28 were approved. This frequency has noticeably increased, with 12 referendums in the last 10 years (compared with just 8 in the first 40 years of the Constitution’s existence). A substantial proportion of the Constitution has been amended, with some provisions amended repeatedly or even radically. As a result, the Constitution is perhaps less a foundational covenant which endures through time than a conditional contract that can be and is revised and re-negotiated at regular intervals.

All of this means that popular sovereignty is built in to the Irish constitutional experience in a way that is very rare from a comparative perspective. This popular involvement in constitutional change is comparatively unusual and may have helped to protect the Irish constitutional order from populist critiques of elite politics. Its unique advantages and pitfalls are worth considering and showcasing through this conference and proposed edited collection.

The conference organisers invite you to submit a paper or panel that relates to one of the themes below and considers the Irish Constitution in its broadest sense, whether from doctrinal, theoretical, comparative, European, international or interdisciplinary perspectives:

Foundational constitutionalism, including: the constitution as foundational agreement; benefits and risks of frequent amendment; comparative perspectives on such benefits and risks.

The referendum process, including: regulation of campaigns (funding, broadcasting, etc); the Referendum Commission; illegality during campaigns; judicial review of referenda results; case studies on specific referenda.

Popular sovereignty, including: theory of popular sovereignty; primacy of popular sovereignty in Irish constitutionalism; comparative perspectives on the Irish amendment process; link between popular sovereignty and state sovereignty through the referenda on international/EU treaties.

Parliamentary democracy, including: the principle of representation; government control of parliament; the ‘principles and policies’ test.

History of popular sovereignty, including: centenary of 1919 Declaration of Independence; popular sovereignty in 1922 and 1937 Constitutions; state sovereignty as popular sovereignty in 1922 and 1937 Constitutions.

Constitutional dialogue, including: judicial populism; judicial deference to parliament; parliamentary silence; parliamentary engagement with the Constitution; active citizenship and hard cases; the ‘private Attorney General’.

Constitutional reform, including: the work of the Constitutional Convention and Citizens’ Assembly; the work of Oireachtas Committees; visions for future constitutional reform.

Populism, including: the challenge of populism for the Irish constitutional order; the extent to which the constitutional order does or should facilitate popular participation in governance.

Abstracts of 300 words (max.) should be submitted by 26 April 2019 to Participation decisions will be made by mid-late May.

Selected papers will be invited for publication in an edited collection (subject to peer review). We are close to securing a publishing arrangement and details will be confirmed in due course. Participants wishing to be considered for inclusion in this collection should submit a draft version of their paper by 23 August 2019. Once the selection has been made, the deadline for submission of final drafts will be 1 November 2019. Where this deadline is not met, the slot in the collection will be offered to a reserve paper.

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