FABER AND FABER 227 pages €15

Fintan O’Toole is joined by seven of Ireland’s leading academics writers and journalists in this collection of essays which explores where Ireland stands as a republic and how the state of the nation could be improved as the centenary of 1916 approaches. The contributions are informative, provocative and never dull.

After the tragic happening in Galway last week, Dearbhail McDonald’s piece on the relationship as it has evolved between the “Law and the Republic” is of particular topical interest. She traces the role of the Irish judiciary in developing and articulating personal rights not expressly mentioned in the 1937 constitution but implicitly guaranteed by it, citing as an example the 1973 McGee case, which overturned the ban on contraceptives.

She then deals with the abortion debate in Ireland , giving a concise and accurate account of the background to the 1983 amendment, the X case, and the 1992 Supreme Court judgement, noting that, two decades on, there is still “no legal clarity” on the issue owing to the dereliction of duty by politicians, while noting that, ”for elected representatives, it is political suicide.” Meanwhile there has been a “heart-breaking alphabet soup” of cases taken since, seeking for the law post-X to be clarified.

Elsewhere, in a powerfully argued opening chapter, Fintan O Toole examines the history of Ireland’s three “republics” – those declared by the Fenians in 1867, at the GPO in 1916 and in Canada in 1949. His conclusion is that “the vague incomplete half republic that existed” until 2008 “imploded because it was gerry-built” and calls for the creation of a new one based on justice and equality.

For Iseult Honohan republicanism embraces notions of interdependence, self-government and the common good, but notes in Ireland republicanism was long conflated with nationalism. She warns against populism and scapegoating in the current situation. Elaine Byrne writes of a crisis of trust in Irish public life and discusses how this can be remedied, reporting on the deliberative democracy experiment here “We the Citizens”. She deplores what has happened since 2008 and quotes Cicero that a nation cannot survive treason from within.

Tom Hickey discusses the role of education in imparting necessary civic skills, examining the ideal civic mission, the practicalities of educating children to be independent of their upbringing and the relative merits of religious and non-religious education here. Fred Powell explores the issue of whether people are citizens or subjects, and ponders where the policy of austerity in Ireland will end. He suggests that, in the regenerated republic there should be ten core Principles for Critical Citizenship.

Theo Dorgan asks what is law, whence does it derive and how is it formulated. He draws on the works of Michael Hartnett and John Montague in particular in teasing out his thesis. Philip Pettit reflects on the Occupy movements with particular reference to the Zapatero government in Spain; he concludes we are experiencing a perfect storm.

November 2012


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