Updated: Aug 19, 2022
Ratified by the people of Ireland in 1937 Bunreacht na hÉireann (or the Irish Constitution) lays down the fundamental laws of the state.
The constitution is written in both Irish and English, where under the Article 8, Irish is the official language whereas English is recognised as secondary.
The structure of the government, institutions such as courts, etc are established and how they should function are clearly defined in the constitution, however, in this piece I will be focusing on the fundamental rights of every Irish citizen. It is my firm belief that to be an active citizen you must fulfill your constitutional duties i.e. go out and vote and be versed with your basic human rights.
Disclaimer: Fundamental rights are not absolute - they can be limited or restricted by the Oireachtas for certain reasons, for example, for the common good or public order.
1. Equality before the law
The State cannot unjustly, unreasonably or arbitrarily discriminate between citizens. You cannot be treated as inferior or superior to any other person in society simply because of your human attributes or your ethnic, racial, social or religious background.
2. Right to life
Your right to life also means 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 natural death and not to be kept alive by artificial means.
3. Personal liberty
The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law, you are entitled to your own personal freedom but legislation may provide for your arrest and detention in certain circumstances. The State may only breach your right to personal liberty in circumstances that come within a law that provides for your arrest and/or detention.
4. Freedom of expression
You have a right to freely express your convictions and opinions (Article 40.6.1.i). However, the state shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the state.
5. Freedom of assembly
You have a right to assemble peacefully and without arms (Article 40.6.1.ii). This right is limited by legislation to protect public order and morality. The law prevents or controls meetings that are calculated or designed to cause a riot or breach of the peace.
6. Freedom of association
The Constitution guarantees your right to form associations and unions (Article 40.6.1.iii). You may form any type of association for whatever purpose you choose, whether it is sporting, social, charitable, commercial or political.
7. The right to fair procedures
The person making the decision that affects you should not be biased or appear to be biased. You must be given an adequate opportunity to present your case. You must be informed of the matter and you must be given a chance to comment on the material put forward by the other side.
8. Bodily integrity
You have a right not to have your body or person interfered with. This means that the State may not do anything to harm your life or health.
9. Trial by jury
If you have been charged with a "non-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 District Court judge sitting alone or by a judge sitting with a jury.
10. Religious liberty
You are free to practise your religion and your freedom of conscience. The State guarantees not to endow or favour any religion and not to discriminate on the grounds of religion.
11. The right to privacy
The Constitution does not specifically state a right to privacy but the courts recognise that the personal rights in the Constitution imply the right to privacy.
12. The right to earn a livelihood
As a citizen, you have a right to work and to earn a living, whether you are male or female. The State has a duty to protect your right to work and earn a livelihood from unjust attack.
13. Freedom to travel
You have a right to move freely within the State. You also have a broader right to travel and to get a passport for the purpose of travelling.
14. Inviolability of a citizen's dwelling
The Constitution declares that the dwelling of a citizen is inviolable and shall not be entered forcibly except in accordance with the law. This means that no one, including the Gardaí, may enter the place where you live without a warrant or other legal authority to enter.
15. Property rights
The Constitution declares that the State will vindicate the property rights of every citizen, but are still regulated under Article 43 by the principles of social justice. This means 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, if the State passes any such law that restricts your property rights, it may be required to compensate you for this restriction. .
16. The rights of the family
- The right to marital privacy.
- The right to consort together, to enjoy each other's company and to procreate.
- The right of parents to be the main and natural educators of their children. The State must respect your right as parents to provide for the religious, moral, intellectual, physical and social education of your children. The State cannot oblige you to send your children to school or to any particular type of school but it may require that children receive a certain minimum education.
- The right to free primary education - this means that the State must pay for your children's primary education. State aid for schools must not discriminate between schools of different religions.
- The right to decide the religion of your children. The State cannot interfere with this right.
17. The rights of children
Article 42A was added to the Constitution in 2015. It affirms children’s natural and imprescriptible rights and the State’s duty to uphold these rights. Children have the right for their best interests to be of paramount consideration where the State seeks to intervene to protect their safety and welfare.
Learn more about fundamental rights here: https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/irish_constitution_1/constitution_fundamental_rights.html