Leading legal and historical scholars of Bunreacht na hÉireann have rejected claims by an independent TD that the Irish Constitution was written by a priest.
Speaking in the Dáil, Dublin South-Central TD Joan Collins said: “The Constitution is not fit for purpose and needs replacement. It was written by a Catholic priest in the 1930s and reflects the ethos and values of a society dominated by the Catholic Church and conservative thinking of the time.”
Deputy Collins later told The Irish Catholic that she was referring to Fr Edward Cahill SJ, who she believed was part of a three-man committee commissioned to draw up changes to Ireland’s 1922 constitution.
UCC constitutional law lecturer Dr Seán Ó Conaill, however, dismissed this as “Absolute nonsense,” adding, “Dev would have consulted with a whole series of religious orders and groups, and obviously the Catholic Church would have had more influence than others, given its position in Ireland at the time, but the Constitution was definitely not written by a Catholic priest.
“There’s no basis whatsoever for that,” he told The Irish Catholic, describing this notion as “madness”.
Adding “For it to be considered some kind of purely Catholic dogmatic document is wrong,” he contrasted it with the British and French constitutions, saying, “In terms of how institutions function, how rights function, it is absolutely in the liberal tradition”.
Prof. Dermot Keogh, Professor Emeritus of History at UCC, explained that while Fr Cahill was someone from whom Eamon de Valera received submissions when Bunreacht na hÉireann was being drawn up, he was certainly not its author.
“The Irish Constitution was drafted by a very powerful group of senior civil servants which received submissions from many sources, including Fr John Charles McQuaid and Fr Edward Cahill and his Jesuit confreres. There were other letters and or submissions from other members of the clergy,” he said, adding that De Valera sought the opinions of the leaders of all Ireland’s major Churches at the time, as well as the then Chief Rabbi, Chaim Herzog.
Dr Laura Cahillane of the University of Limerick agreed that the Constitution was not written by a priest, although De Valera certainly sought the advice of Fr McQuaid – the future Archbishop of Dublin was a family friend.
“So McQuaid certainly had an influence (although not as much as people previously believed) and there is no denying the Catholic influence on the Constitution – the principal drafter, John Hearne, was a devout Catholic and had even spent some years training as a priest and he shared many of De Valera’s religious ideals,” she said, adding that De Valera resisted efforts to include a provision in the Constitution recognising the Catholic Church as the one true Church.
While describing the Constitution as a product of its time, Dr Cahillane added that it “is also a fluid document and the courts are required to give an up-to-date reading of the Constitution, as far as possible, which prevents certain parts from becoming out of date”.