Continued evolution of the state
Irish people have always placed the value of family, community, enterprise, social justice, diversity, openness and internationalism, equality before the law, and individual liberty at the core of our politics and our society. As we approach the centenary of our state’s foundation, we remain committed to those values, and so we must ensure that those values reflect how the state operates and interacts with citizens on a day-to-day basis.
Our ambition is that:
- we have a political system that is robust and protected from external interference and threat;
- we build a new, modern, and appropriate relationship between church and state;
- the citizen and consumer is at the centre of economic decision-making; and
- that our Constitution evolves to reflect the needs and aspirations of our ever-changing nation.
Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:
Establishing an Electoral Commission and regulating online political advertising
We will establish an Electoral Commission and reform our legislation covering online advertising. The Electoral Commission’s role will be to educate and inform the public about elections and referendums, to update and maintain the electoral register and to conduct elections. As part of this, we will regulate online political advertising and introduce a consistent regime relating to political advertising across all media. This will all help to ensure that citizens can retain high levels of confidence and trust in our electoral system, something which has been undermined in many other democracies.
100 years on from independence, a new and appropriate relationship between church and state
It is frequently overlooked, that when the Irish State was founded in 1922, it did not set up a Department of Health or a Department of Social Welfare until 1947. These are now our two largest and best funded government departments accounting for more than half of government spending between them today. Providing healthcare, education and welfare is now considered a core function of our state. That gap was left to the civil society, in particular the Catholic Church to fill.
Ireland is now a very different and more diverse place than it was in the past. One in six of us were not born here, and there are more and more people who adhere to other faiths, or who are comfortable in declaring that they subscribe to no organised religion. We believe that the time has come for us to build a new relationship between church and state in Ireland – a new covenant for the 21st century.
This new covenant is one where religion is no longer at the centre of our society, but in which it still has an important place. One with greater diversity and choice when it comes to the patronage of our schools – and where publicly-funded hospitals are imbued with a civic and scientific ethos.
Respecting people’s privacy in the online era
The protection of people’s personal information is increasingly important and relevant given the exponential increase in that data since the advent of the internet age. In order to protect that information and to ensure that such information can only be collected and used with the consent of the individual, Fine Gael in government brought forward the Data Protection Act earlier this year.
The Data Protection Act incorporated the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) into Irish law, enhancing data protection standards for everyone, modernising our data protection framework, and ensuring consistent rules across the EU. We greatly value the role of the independent Data Protection Commissioner who is responsible for upholding the legal rights of individuals under our Data Protection framework. Over the last few years, we have trebled the resources of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and the 2018 Act makes provision for the recruitment of additional Commissioners and the creation of the Data Protection Commission. We will continue to ensure the Data Protection Commissioner has appropriate resources and adequate powers to protect citizens’ rights.
Stronger consumer professions
Consumers are rarely put at the centre of public policy and decision making. Despite progress in recent years, it is still the case that powerful vested interests have much greater sway with regulators and within the public policy process than consumers. We have started to rebalance that relationship and will make it a central priority of government in the years to come.
We will bring forward a new Consumer Rights Bill which will update and strengthen Irish consumer law in-line with best international practice. This is a major piece of work and will involve a significant public consultation so that it is informed by the ordinary experiences of consumers. In advance of that, we will ensure that legislation to improve consumer protections in relation to gift vouchers and to end ticket-touting is enacted.
As part of our new Consumer Rights Bill, we will require that all reports by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission receive, within three months a reasoned response, from the line Minister on behalf of government.
Facilitating well-informed debates on constitution reforms proposals
Any amendment to our Constitution requires careful consideration by the people. Citizens must be given ample time to consider the issues and to take part in well-informed public debate. Therefore, we will layout a new timetable for referendums to be held over the next two years. This will allow all involved in campaigning on the issues to plan ahead and to facilitate public debate.
The value of this planning and process was demonstrated by the largely respectful debate surrounding the referendum on the Eighth Amendment in May 2018.
We will bring forward a series of referendums in the coming years to reform and modernise the constitution so that we have a 21st century constitution for a 21st century republic.
We will hold a referendum to remove Article 41.2.1 from the Constitution. The Article suggests that women belong in one sphere only – carrying out “their duties in the home”. The constitutional provisions relating to divorce cause unnecessary suffering to people who want to move on from broken relationships and build a new future for themselves. The four-year waiting period that a couple must spend separated before being eligible for divorce serves nobody’s interests and therefore we will bring forward a referendum to delete this provision. We will also bring forward a referendum to give Irish citizens who live outside of the state a right to vote in the Presidential election.
Improving the way we make laws
Fine Gael in government brought in the system of pre-legislative scrutiny which is shown to be the most effective way of involving parliamentarians in the design and nature of legislation. We will continue this practice and see how it can be better improved. We will work with all parties so that all legislation (both government and Private Members) undertakes pre-legislative scrutiny, with legislation only moving directly to Second Stage when it is of genuine urgency.
There are legitimate concerns about the pace of the drafting of legislation within government. We will undertake an independent review of the legislative drafting process which benchmarks the operational approach here to other comparable jurisdictions.