Next year will see the 75th anniversary of the Constitution of Ireland. The Royal Irish Academy is marking the occasion by publishing what looks like a terrific historical resource: The Origins of the Irish Constitution, 1928-41. The book is an extensive selection of key documents relating to the development and drafting of the Constitution. The documents include correspondence among the drafters, minutes of committee meetings, significant judgments on the Free State constitution, and earlier drafts of the Constitution. These documents come mainly from the National Archives and the de Valera Papers (held at UCD). The book also includes commentary to explain the contents of the 300+ documents. As you might have gleaned from the title, the coverage isn’t limited to 1936 and 1937: rather, it puts the Constitution in a wider context, stretching from 1928 to the Second Amendment of the Constitution in 1941. The project was directed by (now-judge) Gerard Hogan; Research Assistant Eoin Kinsella did much of the hard work; Professor Ronan Fanning edited the materials down to size.
The book should be extremely useful for anyone seriously interested in the Irish Constitution. That’s obviously so for historians and academics, but it will also be helpful for practising lawyers. One need not be a strict originalist to think that context matters when courts interpret constitutions. And the judges certainly give original intent and context some weight when interpreting Bunreacht na hÉireann. For example, just last week, O’Donnell J’s judgment in Nottinghamshire County Council v. B examined “the intention of the drafters and … the people who adopted the Constitution” and “the historical context in which the Constitution was introduced”. ( IESC 48 ). For that reason, even lawyers who care only about winning cases would profit from perusing The Origins of the Irish Constitution.
The book will be available early next year. But it’s almost Christmas; the RIA is offering significant enticements for those who order now: see here.