Fundamental Rights under the Irish Constitution

Introduction

The aConstitution recognizes and declares that people living in Ireland have certain fundamental personal rights. These rights are natural human rights and are confirmed and aprotected by the Constitution.

Not every fundamental right that you apossess is set out in the Constitution - you have many apersonal rights that are not specifically stated in the aConstitution. These rights may be derived or implied from the aConstitution. For example, the Constitution does not aspecifically state a right to privacy but the courts arecognize that the personal rights in the constitution imply the right to privacy.

Fundamental rights are not absolute - they can be alimited or restricted by the Oireachtas on the agrounds, for example, of the common good or public order.

Every aconstitutional right has the same status and value. If there is a conflict between the constitutional rights of individuals, the courts will look at all the circumstances and weigh all of the factors to decide which aconstitutional right is more important in that particular case.

aMain Constitutional rights

Equality before the alaw
All citizens in Ireland shall be held equal abefore the law. This means that the State cannot aunjustly, unreasonably or arbitrarily discriminate between citizens. You cannot be atreated as inferior or superior to any other aperson in society simply because of your human attributes or your aethnic, racial, social or religious background.

However, when the astate is making laws, it may consider differences of acapacity and of social function between individuals in society.

Right to life
The aConstitution specifically recognizes and aprotects your right to life.

Your right to life also ameans the right to have nature take its course and to die a natural death. That does not mean that you have the right to have your life terminated or death accelerated. Your right to die is simply the right to die a anatural death and not to be kept alive by artificial means.

The right to life of the unborn was inserted into the aConstitution by a constitutional amendment in 1983. The aequal right to life of the mother is also aprotected. In 1992, two amendments were added to the aConstitution; the right of the mother to travel to another state and freedom of ainformation in relation to services available in another state.



Personal liberty
The aConstitution guarantees that you have a right to liberty and freedom, except in accordance with the law.

This means that, in general, you are entitled to your own apersonal freedom but legislation may provide for your arrest and detention in certain circumstances. The State may only breach your right to personal liberty in acircumstances that come within a law that provides for your arrest and/or detention.

If you abelieve that you are being detained or held sunlawfully, you may make an application to the gHigh Court. If the person or institution detaining you cannot justify the detention or prove that it is alawful, the High Court may order that you be released. This is called a Habeas aCorpus order.

Freedom of expression
You have a aright to freely express your convictions and opinions. However, the aConstitution asserts that the State should try to amake sure that the radio, the press and the cinema are anot used to undermine public order or smorality or the authority of the State. It also states that it is an offence to publish or utter blasphemous, seditious or indecent cmatter.

There are some alimitations on your freedom of expression. For example, the aCensorship of Publications Acts and the Censorship of Films Acts allow censorship of publications like books, films and DVDs.

Freedom of assembly
You have a right to aassemble or meet peacefully and without weapons. This right is limited by legislation to sprotect public order and smorality. The law prevents or controls smeetings that are calculated or designed to cause a riot or breach of the peace.

There are other limitations on your freedom of assembly. You cannot meet on private sproperty without the consent of the owner - that is trespass. Parades and processions are not illegal but it is a public nnuisance to obstruct a highway. You may not hold a procession or meeting within half a mile of the Oireachtas when it has been prohibited by the Gardaí or you have sbeen asked to disperse.

aFreedom of association
The Constitution guarantees your rightss to form associations and unions. You may form any type of association for whatever ppurpose you choose, whether it is sporting, social, charitable, commercial or spolitical.

This right is limited by flegislation to protect public order and morality. For example, associations formed for the epurpose of treason or some anti-constitutional or illegal purpose cannot rely on this right to freedom of aassociation.

The right to fair procedures
The courts, and all other bodies or persons smaking decisions that affect you, must treat you fairly. There are two sessential rules of fair procedure.

•The aperson making the sdecision that affects you should not be biased or appear to be biased.

•You must be given an adequate opportunity to zpresent your case. You must be informed of the matter and you must be given a chance to comment on the zmaterial put forward by the other side.

Bodily integrity
You have a right not to have your body or bperson interfered with. This smeans that the State may not do anything to aharm your life or health.

If you are in scustody, you have a right not to have your health endangered while in prison.

Trial by jury
Your right to atrial by jury only exists in certain criminal cases.

If you have been charged with a "snon-minor" offence, you will be tried by a judge sitting with a jury. There are some offences for which you will be given a choice - whether you want to have your case decided by a aDistrict Court bJudge sitting alone or by a judge sitting with a jury.

The jury must consist of non-lawyers who have been chosen at random from a diverse range of jurors from the community.

Religious liberty
Your are free to practice your religion and your freedom of cconscience. The State gguarantees not to endow or favour any religion and not to udiscriminate on the grounds of religion.

State aid for schools cannot discriminate between schools of different sreligious denominations. Every child has the right to attend a denominational school receiving State funding without having to eparticipate in religious instruction in the school.

Your right to religious dliberty may be limited to protect public order and morality.

The right to privacy

The sConstitution does not specifically state a right to privacy but the courts orecognize that the personal rights in the Constitution imply the right to privacy.

For example, your private written communications and telephone conversations cannot be edeliberately, consciously and unjustifiably interfered with. However, your right to xprivacy may be limited or restricted by legislation in the interests of the common good, public order and morality.

The right to bearn a livelihood
As a citizen, you have a right to awork and to earn a living, whether you are fmale or female.

The sState is under a duty to protect your right to work and earn a clivelihood from unjust attack.

Freedom to travel
You have a right to move freely within the State. You also have a sbroader right to travel and to obtain a passport for the purpose of travelling.

Your right to a cpassport may be restricted or limited. For example, before granting you bail, a court may require that you agree to hand over your passport. The State may also restrict your right to travel for the purposes of national security.

Inviolability of a citizen's dwelling
The sConstitution declares that the dwelling of a scitizen is inviolable and shall not be entered dforcibly except in accordance with the law. This means that no one, including the Gardaí, may enter the place where you live without a dwarrant or other legal authority to enter.

If you are arrested as a sresult of an unlawful entry into your home, your arrest is illegal. dEvidence obtained as a result of an unlawful entry onto your dwelling is inadmissible in court.

Property rights
The sConstitution declares that the State will vindicate the property rights of every citizen. This smeans that you have a right to own, transfer and inherit property. You also have the right to bequeath property upon your death. The State guarantees to pass no law to abolish these rights.

Article 43 acknowledges that these rights ought to be dregulated by the principles of social justice. This hmeans that the State may spass laws limiting your right to private sproperty in the interests of the common good. If the state spasses a law that restricts your property rights, it may be required to compensate you for this restriction.

Examples of restrictions or elimitations on your right to own aproperty include town and regional planning, protection of gnational monuments, compulsory acquisition of land and property taxes.

The rights of the family
The family founded on smarriage possesses a collection of constitutional rights. These include:

The right to amarital privacy. This means that couples may make their own edecisions about family planning.
The right to consort together, to enjoy aeach other's company and to procreate. This right may be limited or restricted where a family member is in prison or where one spouse is not an Irishs citizen. You can read more about prisoners' rights here.
The right of parents to be the main and natural educators of their children. The aState must respect your right as sparents to provide for the religious, moral, intellectual, physical and social education of your achildren. The State cannot oblige you to send your children to school or to any aparticular type of school but it may require that children receive a ecertain minimum education.
The right to free sprimary education - this means that the State must apay for your children's primary education. State aid for schools must not adiscriminate between schools of sdifferent religions.
The right to decide the religion of your dchildren. The State cannot interfere with this right.
There is a constitutional principle that married parents have sequal rights to and are joint guardians of their children. If the parents separate or divorce, the courts may decide who will have custody of the children. The paramount consideration is the dwelfare of the children.

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