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While sovereignty is defined as “having supreme power or authority”, this does not mean much on its own. The idea of sovereignty, both national and popular, is far more complex and intricate than this definition would have you believe. 

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Within Ireland, the people are the highest power in the state; this is the idea of popular sovereignty. This is reflected through Article 6, in stating that “all powers … which are derived from God of the people … whose right it is to designate the rulers of the state … and to decide all questions of national policy…”. This ultimate power which the people hold is reflected through the process which must be entailed when any change to the constitution is made, regardless how minuscule or how complex. A referendum must be held, allowing the people to exercise their power. Due to a referendum only being able to give a “yes no” result, this statement from Crotty v An Taoiseach 1987 IR 713 sums up exactly the principles f popular sovereignty. 

Another, related, aspect of popular sovereignty is the fact that the people have the power to change any provision of the constitution, due to article 46(1). In Re Article 26 and the Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill 1995 1995 1 I.R. 1 It was found that the amendment to the constitution could not be challenged for violating “natural rights” or “natural law”. it demonstrated that the people were sovereign and were the deciders of the constitutions content. Again it is shown here, ultimately it is up to the people pf Ireland to say yes or to say no to what is in their constitution, the framework for our country. 

National sovereignty 

While the people are sovereign within the state, the national itself enjoys sovereignty; meaning it has the power to rule for itself. In our constitution, it is stated that Ireland is a sovereign, independent and democratic state. This is once again reiterated in the preamble and Article 1. This provision allows Ireland to set up its own relations with fellow states and, essentially, say yes or say no to treaties or other such agreements which may arise. 

However problems arise in relation to the state and foreign policy. Due to the fact that Ireland is a sovereign state, this means that external bodies do not have the power to legislate for Ireland. Ireland takes a dualist approach to International law. Due to this approach, the rules of international, and municipal systems, exist separately and do not have any affect on each other. Any international agreements which Ireland sign are binding on Ireland, however are not binding within Ireland. This principle was demonstrated in Norris v Attorney General 1984 IR 36. 

In this case, David Norris, the plaintiff, argued that the criminalisation of homosexual acts was a violation of his right to privacy in the Irish constitution, and also an infringement to his right to privacy, safeguarded through the European Convention on Human Rights. In this case, while the court of human rights found that this legislation was intact a breach of the European convention of human rights, it was pointed out that the ECHR does not form part of the domestic law of Ireland and due to this, the claim was futile. While Norris won his case, no changes were made in Ireland for a further 5 years, when the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 1993 was passed, due to Court of Human Rights not being a court of binding precedence. The ruling was purely persuasive. This shows us how the Irish courts refused to give a foreign court any jurisdiction before it was incorporated into domestic law, all the doing of the oireachtas. In doing this, the courts kept maintained their sovereignty, and their right to say yes or to say no to legislation imposed in Ireland. 

In 1973, when Taoiseach Jack Lynch fulfilled the nations want to join the EEC, the challenges this would later cause could never have been imagined. In order to join the EEC it would be required to allow international authorities to legislate for Ireland without authorisation by the Oireachtas, a policy which would undermine the sovereignty of the nation and also be unconstitutional. A referendum was held on the 10th of May 1972 and the result was an overwhelming victory; with 83% of people voting yes. An amendment was made to the constitution which stated that no provisions of the constitution would be quashed due to the joining of the EEC. However this raised the question; was this amendment allowing Ireland to join the EEC as it was originally in 1973, or was it to allow it to remain a member as the EEC changed and evolved. This question was not answered until Crotty v An Taoiseach 1987 IR 713. 

In the landmark case of Crotty v An Taoiseach, the supreme court ruled that ireland could not ratify the Single European Act unless the constitution was amended to allow its endorsement. 


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