The first fact to be grasped concerning the Constitution which Mr. de Valera has put before the Irish nation is the one that Professor O'Rahilly brought out in his discussion of it which we published last week. When this Constitution comes into operation Ireland will for the first time in modem history be governed under an instrument wholly independent, in its origin and authority, of the Parliament of Great Britain. The existing Constitution is legally no more than a schedule to a British Act and Mr. de Valera has hitherto done no more than amend it, and if Irishmen have placed any other interpretation on the Anglo-Irish Treaty Great Britain, as the other party to the Treaty, has not recognised it.
What particularly enrages those who still hold to the Unionist tradition is that it will make no practical difference in the present instance whether Great Britain recognises the new Constitution or not. A document which would certainly have meant war if pressed in ton and might easily have done so when Mr. de Valera first took office, can now be put forward and enacted with impunity.
For Mr. de Valera has once again manifested that combination of ingenuity and persistence on which we have several times had occasion to comment, and the new Constitution is an' authentic member of a finely graded series of pronouncements and definitions each of which approximates, verbally at least, one degree nearer the goal which Mr. de Valera set himself, at the beginning..
This last document achieves the feat of omitting all mention of either the King or the British Commonwealth, and yet allowing the Government of Eire to maintain its present relations with them in rexternal affairs. Mr. de Valera could if he wished point to it as evidence that Eire has not repudiated her ties with the Commonwealth nor relinquished certain advantages that go with them, or else that she now voluntarily forges them as an independent Sovereign State, according to whether he was addressing himself to Downing Street or to the Dail. Confronted with such ingenuities, his opponents here and in Ireland are accustomed to fall back on denouncing them as meaningless verbiage. For it is maddening to have to deal with someone who is persistently advancing towards a goal you regard as intolerable without ever taking a step which you can definitely refuse to tolerate.
But there are limits to this advance. Mr. de Valera would quickly forfeit this impunity if he attempted to modify in more than words the present status of the six counties. The influence which the ruling clique in -Ulster exercises in the Conservative Party is still great enough to make any serious threat to Orange rule there a casus belli for Great Britain.
Meanwhile, the British press professes itself shocked by indications in the new Constitution that the new State is to be both dictatorial and Catholic. The principal evidence alleged for the first tendency is the account given of the powers of the newly created office of President of Eire. The account itself appears not to be decisive either way. It certainly does not provide for any regular interference by the President with the working of Parliamentary institutions, and his supreme authority over the armed forces is what is nominally possessed by the most unrnilitary Presidents in entirely democratic countries.
On the other hand, the newly devised " Council of State " might easily be manipulated by a strong President so as to become a formidable rival of the Cabinet. Much will depend on whether Mr. de Valera himself chooses to stand for election as President of Eire or to retain his Parliamentary office.
As for the special position given to the Catholic religion and the frank statement that the State is to control the organs of public opinion in the interests of public order and morality, these are perfectly proper interpretations of the mind of the Irish nation and a necessary provision for the cultural homogeneity of the State. But when the statement adds that the control is to he exercised in the interests also of " the authority of the State," we again have a phrase that may be taken as an innocuous platitude or else as a prelude to totalitarianism.
It would have been better if the clause had stood without this addition. After all, " morality " in the Catholic sense of the word sufficiently includes obedience to properly constituted and exercised political authority.
A corrective, however, is supplied by the enunciation as part of the Constitution of the principal rights and duties of the individual and the family. The principles of social justice and organisation are also summarised. There are some that are not sufficiently reflected in other parts of the Constitution and all of them are inserted as counsels rather than as legal precepts, but it is a matter for thankfulness that they should stand there at all. Still more should we give thanks for the most Christian preamble to any Constitution of our times.