I have written in that past, about my becoming increasingly uninterested in the upcoming Presidential Election. My ire however, was so raised by the entry of Martin McGuinness into the contest, that I moved, to again engage. Fortunately, it would seem that Mister McGuinness’s efforts to subvert history will come to naught and while I will occasionally retweet links to articles that highlight his criminal past, I am no longer concerned with who our next President will be. I am though, concerned with trying to decide who I will vote for. I am so underwhelmed by the remaining candidates that it is proving more than a little difficult to arrive at an order of preference.
There is an argument to be made, that in this instance, the logical thing to do is simply not vote. I really wish I could embrace that view. My problem is that I love voting. Every time I step into a polling booth I experience a thrill of nascent power, of relevancy and of privilege. The problem with being an untutored reader of history is that I see the stories, not the themes. I see the grand sweep of time and I see the tiny blip of history where people get to decide their own leaders. That I live in that infinitesimal oasis, fills me with joy and causes that spark of excitement in the pit of my stomach, when I am afforded the opportunity to have my say. Thus I must vote. Thus I must attach an order of least bad, to these people seeking to be my President.
I am then, embarrassed to admit that I had singularly failed to take note of the two Constitutional Amendments which are being subjected to referenda (or referendums) on the same day as the Presidential Election. I was rescued from my insensibility by the many worthies of the twitterverse, who have recently begun a campaign of awareness raising. To them I say thanks. I fear I may have continued to self-indulgently obsess about who I should vote for, right up to casting my votes, in these referenda, in blithe ignorance.
It is particularly galling to me, to have required someone else to remind me about the referenda. Constitutional amendments are several orders of importance, above mere elections. As for a Presidential Election? No comparison. A Constitution is that document that legally defines what we are, how we govern ourselves and it is that precious thing which protects us from witless populism and self-serving politicians. It is so important that we do not allow politicians to even interpret it, never mind amend it. That is not to say, our Constitution is perfect. This atheist would like to see all references to divine beings deleted. The very fact that we are voting on the twenty-ninth and thirtieth amendments also indicate that our Constitution has required certain improvements (or, according to how one has voted, it has been damaged) over the years.
The process of changing our Constitution is relatively simple. The politicians propose a change, we vote yes or no to that change and if yes, the judiciary interpret that change. I’m one of those who think the voting part to be the most important element in that process. So here is my attempt to decide how I should vote in the impending referenda.
Amendment 29 – the proposed change to Article 35, Section 5.
The remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office.
5.1 The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.
5.2 The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.
5.3 Where, before or after the enactment of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.
Without even looking at the text, I was going to vote yes to this. We are in a recession, so everyone should suffer a little, especially those who are paid so well from the public purse. Section three did appear to exercise some commentators so I have reread it and reread it, ad nauseum. I can only conclude that one would have to be somewhat cynical to find a problem here. Judges will be linked to a civil service grade and will enjoy or endure the salary vicissitudes of that grade.
Annoyingly however, I am a cynic. There needs to be mechanism for imposing the harshness of our economic woes on our judiciary, but I am uncomfortable, in the extreme, with the prospect of politicians doing that imposing. Any prospect of politicians having recourse to bringing pressure to bear on judges, fills me with extreme disquiet. I will not pretend to have a better or safer way to reduce the salaries of our judges, but I must believe that a better way can be found. I think that at least one layer of independent adjudication (on remuneration) must exist, as a buffer between the politicians and the judges. Yes, I know, I appear to be advocating for the creation of yet another quango. I make no apologies for that. This amendment clearly makes it too easy for politicians to alter the pay of judges.
The independence of the judiciary, is a cornerstone of liberal democracy and while it is unlikely, in the foreseeable future, that politicians would attempt to undermine this, the principal should still be maintained, jealously guarded and zealously enforced, in case of the unforeseen. So I will be voting no.
Amendment 30 – the proposed change to Article 15, Section 10.
(1) 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.
Proposed inserted text:
2 Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an inquiry with the other House, in a manner provided for by law, into any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance.
3 In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person (whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated and the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry relates.
4 It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2 applies.
Again I’d have voted yes to this, without even reading it. Who hasn’t been dismayed by the exorbitantly expensive, too long delayed and ultimately toothless Tribunals of Enquiry that we have had to endure these last few decades? I was taken by the image of Bertie Ahern being hounded by a pack of poll aware politicians. It is an image that fills me with glee. To see that man stripped bare of his delusions and arrogance is a spectacle I would pay good money to enjoy. The innumerable bankers, developers and sundry others who destroyed our country would provide ample appetisers, but it is seeing Bertie destroyed, that I want most.
Yet the price demanded, to indulge our sense of vengeful outrage is shockingly high. The inserted text grants unprecedented powers to our politicians. This amendment will allow a government to pick their target, decide the grounds on which to attack their target and to prosecute that target in almost any way they wish. A government will be able to ride roughshod over the opposition, be inculcated from Judicial intervention and be free to destroy whoever they deem fit to destroy. It’s a McCarthyite Charter, pure and simple.
If I want Bertie subjected to this form of ‘stocks‘ am I in danger of suffering a similar fate? I can’t escape the conclusion that this amendment has the potential to be the most dangerous and the most pernicious assault on our freedom, by our politicians, since the foundation of the State. That our elected representatives should have some powers of investigation is obvious. That our elected representatives should be allowed to decide for themselves what those powers should be, is frankly terrifying. The public annihilation of Bertie Ahern and his coterie of self-serving sycophants, handlers and ‘digger-outers‘ is not worth the risk that power happy or vengeful politicians could sit in judgement of me.
Imagine the idea of being cross examined by a self-righteous politician. No thank you. I will be voting no.