EIGHT former Irish attorneys general have voiced collectively their strong opposition to the Government’s proposal to amend the Constitution to give the Oireachtas special powers of investigation.The former AGs also object to the manner in which judicial pay is to be cut, while agreeing with the reduction in principle.
The proposals will be put to a referendum on Thursday, the day of the presidential election, and indications are that both measures will be passed.
According to a letter, the former AGs say that extending the powers of the Oireachtas in this manner will hit civil liberties.
"The proposal in relation to Oireachtas enquiries seriously weakens the rights of individual citizens, firstly to protect their good names, and secondly to have disputes between themselves and the Oireachtas concerning their constitutional rights (especially their rights to fair procedures) decided by an independent judiciary," states the letter.
"The proposal to allow proportionate reductions in judicial remuneration (which we support in principle) provides insufficient protection for the independence of the judiciary." The letter is signed by Patrick Connolly, Peter Sutherland, John Rogers, Dermot Gleeson, Harold Whelehan, David Byrne, Michael McDowell and Paul Gallagher.
Mr McDowell urged a no vote in the referendum on inquiries, saying it would give absolutely unlimited powers to the Oireachtas on any matter of public importance.
The former Tánaiste said that once these powers were conferred on politicians, they would become addicted to using them and it would never be possible to get them back.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, Mr McDowell said the wording of the amendment was very badly drafted and could send gardaí in to search people's homes.
He said the Commission of Inquiries set up under legislation he brought in as Minister for Justice were a much fairer way to investigate matters and cited the Murphy Commission as being fair to victims and perpetrators. He said it was not designed to grab headlines.
Meanwhile, Independent Presidential candidate Mary Davis has said that she will vote no in Thursday's referendum on broadening the power of Oireachtas inquiries.
"This decision has not been taken lightly," said Ms Davis.
"Constitutional change should not be taken lightly either."
Ms Davis said that she recognised that if she were elected President, she would not able to express her opinions on future referendums, but said that her concern at the impact of the proposal was such that it was appropriate for her to comment now.
"I fully appreciate that if elected President I will not be able to express any public opinion on any future Constitutional referendum put to the people," she said.
"However, as it would suit the political system for this change to be waved through with a minimum of discussion, and given my concerns at the impact of this proposed change on all citizens, I feel that it is appropriate - and important - to voice my concerns openly."