Article 46 of the Constitution provides that any provision of the Constitution may be amended, whether by way of variation, addition or repeal. It also provides that every proposal for amendment must be initiated in Dáil Éireann as a Bill. Having been passed or deemed to have been passed by both houses of the Oireachtas, the Bill is submitted by referendum to the decision of the people.
The Constitution therefore places on the members of the Oireachtas, and in particular on TDs, the duty of formulating proposals for amendment of the Constitution.
It gives the people a veto in these matters on what the Houses of the Oireachtas have passed. The Constitution provides that the people shall express their approval or disapproval by way of a simple majority.
The Constitution also provides that the Oireachtas shall draw up legislation specifying the arrangements for conducting the referendum in accordance with the Constitution. The Referendum Acts 1994, 1998 and 2001 flow from that provision.
The Houses of the Oireachtas have proposed to amend the Constitution thirty times. The first two amendments were effected under the transitory provision of Article 51.1, which allowed the Oireachtas to make constitutional changes for up to three years from the date of the inauguration of the first President, by having a Bill passed and presented for signature by the President.
The first amendment (1939) provided for a state of emergency to secure 'the public safety and preservation of the State in time of war or armed rebellion', by changing Article 28.3.3. The second amendment (1941) was an omnibus proposal, covering a range of disparate Articles, aimed at tidying up the Constitution in the light of experience since its enactment.
Of the twenty-eight proposals put to the people, twenty-one have been approved by them. They related to:
• the European Economic Community, 1972
• the voting age, 1972
• the special position of the Catholic Church and recognition of other specified religions, 1972
• adoption, 1979
• university representation in the Seanad, 1979
• the right to life of the unborn, 1983
• votes for non-Irish nationals at Dáil elections, 1984
• the Single European Act, 1987
• European Union (Maastricht Treaty), 1992
• the right to travel, 1992
• the right to information, 1992
• the dissolution of marriage, 1995
• bail, 1996
• cabinet confidentiality, 1997
• European Union (Amsterdam Treaty), 1998
• Multi-Party Agreement, Belfast, 1998
• local government, 1999
• death penalty, 2001
• International Criminal Court, 2001
• European Union (Nice Treaty), 2002
• amendment of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956