Ireland Wiki

The Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008 was a failed proposal to amend the Constitution of Ireland that was put to a referendum in 2008 (the first Lisbon referendum). The purpose of the proposed amendment was to enable the state to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon of the European Union.

The amendment was rejected by voters on 12 June 2008 by a margin of 53.4% to 46.6%, with a turnout of 53.1%. The treaty had been intended to enter into force on 1 January 2009, but had to be delayed following the Irish rejection. However the Lisbon treaty was eventually approved by Irish voters when the successful Twenty-eighth Amendment of the constitution was approved in the second Lisbon referendum, held in October 2009.


A 1987 decision of the Supreme Court established that ratification by Ireland of any significant amendment to the Treaties of the European Union requires an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland. All Constitutional amendments require approval by referendum.

A referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe of the European Union was expected to be held in 2005 or 2006 but was cancelled following the rejection of the Constitution by voters in France in May 2005 and in the Netherlands in June 2005. The Treaty of Lisbon represents the European-wide political compromise that was agreed upon in the wake of the rejection of the Constitution. It preserves most of the content of the Constitution, especially the new rules on the functioning of the European Institutions, but gives up any symbolic or terminologic reference to a Constitution.

Ireland is the only EU member state that has held a public referendum on the Treaty. Ratification of the Treaty in all other member states is decided upon by the states' national parliaments. The referendum is part of the larger EU ratification of the Treaty, which requires that all EU members, and the European Parliament must ratify it. A "No" vote in the referendum could block the treaty in the EU altogether. However, the Treaty of Nice was ratified by Ireland in 2002 in a second referendum after the first vote rejected it by a narrow margin in 2001.

Passage of the bill[]

The treaty was signed on 13 December 2007 in Lisbon. On 26 February 2008, the Government of Ireland approved the text of the changes to the constitution. The Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2008 was published on 6 March. The bill allows for the ratification of the treaty and also retains the prohibition on Irish participation in an EU common defence agreement. It also allows for Ireland (like the United Kingdom) to opt out from the change from unanimous decisions to qualified majority voting in the sector of police and judicial affairs; this decision will be reviewed three years after the treaty enters into force (if referendum allows). Both states will be able to opt in on these voting issues on a case-by-case basis.

In Dáil Éireann, the bill passed the First Stage on 2 April 2008, the Second Stage on 23 April 2008, and the Committee Stage and Report and Final Stages on 29 April 2008; the text of the referendum was also approved on 29 April.

The bill was then sent to Seanad Éireann, where it passed the Second Stage and Committee Stage on 1 May 2008, and the Report and Final Stages on 9 May 2008.

Proposed changes to the text[]

  • Deletion of entirety of Article 29.4.9:
The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7° of this section where that common defence would include the State.
  • Deletion of entirety of Article 29.4.11:
The State may ratify the Agreement relating to Community Patents drawn up between the Member States of the Communities and done at Luxembourg on the 15th day of December, 1989.
  • (Existing subsection 10 of Article 29.4 retained but renumbered as subsection 9)
  • Insertion of new Article 29.4.10:
The State may ratify the Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed at Lisbon on the 13th day of December 2007, and may be a member of the European Union established by virtue of that Treaty.
  • Insertion of new Article 29.4.11:
No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 10 of this section, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the said European Union or by institutions thereof, or by bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section, from having the force of law in the State.
  • Insertion of new Article 29.4.12:
The State may exercise the options or discretions provided by or under Articles 1.22, 2.64, 2.65, 2.66, 2.67, 2.68 and 2.278 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10 of this section and Articles 1.18 and 1.20 of Protocol No. 1 annexed to that Treaty, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
  • Insertion of new Article 29.4.13:
The State may exercise the option to secure that the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (formerly known as the Treaty establishing the European Community) shall, in whole or in part, cease to apply to the State, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
  • Insertion of new Article 29.4.14:
The State may agree to the decisions, regulations or other acts under —
i. Article 1.34(b)(iv),
ii. Article 1.56 (in so far as it relates to Article 48.7 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 4 of this section),
iii. Article 2.66 (in so far as it relates to the second subparagraph of Article 65.3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union),
iv. Article 2.67 (in so far as it relates to subparagraph (d) of Article 69A.2, the third subparagraph of Article 69B.1 and paragraphs 1 and 4 of Article 69E of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union),
v. Article 2.144(a),
vi. Article 2.261 (in so far as it relates to the second subparagraph of Article 270a.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), and
vii. Article 2.278 (in so far as it relates to Article 280H of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10 of this section, and may also agree to the decision under the second sentence of the second subparagraph of Article 137.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (as amended by Article 2.116(a) of the Treaty referred to in the said subsection 10), but the agreement to any such decision, regulation or act shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
  • Insertion of new Article 29.4.15:
The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to —
i. Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7 of this section, or
ii. Article 1.49 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 10 of this section, where that common defence would include the State.

Referendum campaign[]


See also: Irish Times articles on the "No" and "Yes" factions, and the Referendum Commission

Organisation Notable personnel Stance
Cóir Richard Greene, Niamh Uí Bhríain No
Independent Workers Union of Ireland Patricia Campbell No
Irish Alliance for Europe Ruairi Quinn Yes
Irish Congress of Trade Unions David Begg Yes
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association Jackie Cahill Yes
Irish Farmers' Association Padraig Walshe Yes
Fianna Fáil Brian Cowen Yes
Fine Gael Enda Kenny Yes
Green Party John Gormley, Patricia McKenna Mixed
Labour Party Eamon Gilmore Yes
Libertas Declan Ganley No
National Platform Anthony Coughlan No
Peace and Neutrality Alliance Roger Cole No
[eople's Movement Patricia McKenna No
Progressive Democrats Ciarán Cannon Yes
Referendum Commission Iarfhlaith O'Neill Neutral
SIPTU Jack O'Connor Neutral
Sinn Féin Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald No
Socialist Party Joe Higgins No
Socialist Workers Party Richard Boyd Barrett No
Technical Electrical and Engineering Union Eamon Devoy No
Workers' Party Mick Finnegan No


The government parties of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in favour of the treaty, but the other government party, the Green Party, was divided on the issue. At a special convention on 19 January 2008, the leadership of the Green Party failed to secure a two-thirds majority required to make support for the referendum official party policy. The result of the vote was 63% in favour. As a result, the Green Party itself did not participate in the referendum debate, although individual members were free to be involved in whatever side they chose; all Green Party members of the Oireachtas supported the Treaty. and the Labour Party were also in favour. Only one party represented in the Oireachtas, Sinn Féin, was opposed to the treaty, while minor parties opposed to it included the Socialist Party, the Workers' Party and the Socialist Workers Party. Independent TD's Tony Gregory and Finian McGrath, Independent MEP Kathy Sinnott, and Independent members of the Seanad from the universities David Norris, Shane Ross and Rónán Mullen advocated a No vote as well.

The then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern warned against making Ireland a 'battlefield' for eurosceptics across Europe. The invitation by UCD's Law Society to French far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen was seen as an example of this. Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, committed his party to supporting the No campaign saying: “UKIP members will be encouraged to go to Ireland to help.”

The Government sent bilingual booklets written in English and Irish, explaining the Treaty, to all 2.5 million Irish households. However compendiums of the two previous treaties, of which the Lisbon Treaty is intended to be a series of reforms and amendments, remain unavailable in Ireland. Some commentators have argued that the treaty remains essentially incomprehensible in the absence of such a compendium.

On 12 March 2008, Libertas, a lobby group started by businessman Declan Ganley launched a campaign called Facts, not politics which advocated a No vote in the referendum. A month later, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel appealed to Irish people to vote Yes in the referendum whilst on a visit to Ireland. The anti-Lisbon Treaty campaign group accused the government and Fine Gael of a U-turn on their previous policy of discouraging foreign leaders from visiting Ireland during the referendum campaign. The European Commissioner for the Internal Market Charlie McCreevy admitted he had not read the Treaty from cover to cover, and said "he would not expect any sane person to do so".

At the start of May, the Irish Alliance for Europe launched its campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum this consisted of trade unionists, business people, academics and politicians. Its members include Garret FitzGerald, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Cox and Michael O'Kennedy. The Taoiseach Brian Cowen stated that should any member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party campaign against the treaty, they would likely be expelled from the party.

On 21 May 2008, the executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions voted to support a Yes vote in the referendum. Rank and file members of the individual unions were not balloted and the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) advised its 45,000 members to vote No. The Irish bishops conference stated the Catholic Church's declaration that the treaty would not weaken Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion, however the conference did not advocate either a Yes or No vote. By the start of June, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party had united in their push for a Yes vote despite earlier divisions. The two largest farming organisations, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) and the Irish Farmers' Association called for a Yes vote, the latter giving its support after assurances from the Taoiseach Brian Cowen that Ireland would use its veto in Europe if a deal on World Trade reform was unacceptable.

Opinion polls[]

Date of opinion poll Conductor Sample size In favour Against Undecided
7 June 2008 Red C ? 42% 39% 19%
5 June 2008 TNS/mrbi 1000 30% 35% 35%
24 May 2008 Red C ? 41% 33% 26%
16 May 2008 TNS/mrbi 1000 35% 18% 47%
10 May 2008 Red C 1000 38% 28% 34%
26 April 2008 Red C ? 35% 31% 34%
14 April 2008 Red C ? 28% 12% 60%
1 March 2008 Red C ? 46% 23% 31%
27 January 2008 Red C 1002 45% 25% 31%
26 January 2008 tns/MRBI ? 26% 10% 66%
October 2007 tns/MRBI ? 25% 13% 62%


There were 3,051,278 voters on the electoral register. The vast majority of voting took place on Thursday, 12 June between 07:00 and 22:00. Counting began the following morning at 09:00. Several groups voted before the standard polling day:

Some groups were able to cast postal votes before 9 June, namely: members of the Irish Defence Forces serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions; Irish diplomats and their spouses abroad; members of the Garda Síochána; those unable to vote in person due to physical illness or disability; those who would be unable to vote in person due to their employment (including students); and prisoners.

On 9 June, several islands off the coast of County Donegal voted: Tory Island, Inisfree, Gola, Inishbofin and Arranmore Island; these islands are all part of the Donegal South–West constituency. Around 37% of the 745 eligible voted. Two days later, several islands off the coast of Counties County Galway and County Mayo voted: the Aran Islands (Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr) and Inishboffin form part of Galway West constituency; while Inishturk, Inishbiggle and Clare Island form part of the Mayo constituency. The Galway islands had 1,169 eligible to vote, while the Mayo islands had 197.


Votes were counted separately in each Dáil Éireann constituency. The overall verdict was formally announced by the Referendum Returning Officer in Dublin Castle by accumulating the constituency totals.


Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland Bill, 2008
Choice Votes Percentage
Referendum failed No 862,415 53.40%
Yes 752,451 46.60%
Valid votes 1,614,866 99.62%
Invalid or blank votes 6,171 0.38%
Total votes 1,621,037 100.00%
Voter turnout 53.13%
Electorate 3,051,278

By constituency[]

Constituency Electorate Spoilt votes Total poll (%) For (%) Against (%)
Carlow–Kilkenny 103,397 228 52,644 (51) 26,210 (50) 26,206 (50)
Cavan–Monaghan 92,920 190 49,649 (53) 22,346 (45) 27,113 (55)
Clare 77,398 145 40,617 (52) 20,982 (52) 19,490 (48)
Cork East 83,850 169 42,398 (51) 18,177 (43) 24,052 (57)
Cork North–Central 65,738 134 35,120 (53) 12,440 (36) 22,546 (64)
Cork North–West 63,574 114 35,358 (56) 16,253 (46) 18,991 (54)
Cork South–Central 89,844 177 49,455 (55) 22,112 (45) 27,166 (55)
Cork South–West 58,225 143 32,184 (55) 14,235 (44) 17,806 (56)
Donegal North–East 56,195 144 25,654 (46) 9,006 (35) 16,504 (65)
Donegal South–West 60,079 113 27,946 (47) 10,174 (37) 17,659 (63)
Dublin Central 57,864 121 28,265 (49) 12,328 (44) 15,816 (56)
Dublin Mid–West 61,622 74 31,833 (52) 12,577 (40) 19,182 (60)
Dublin North 81,550 187 45,077 (55) 22,696 (51) 22,194 (49)
Dublin North–Central 51,156 77 31,245 (61) 15,772 (51) 15,396 (49)
Dublin North–East 52,432 101 29,991 (57) 12,917 (43) 16,973 (57)
Dublin North–West 49,893 69 26,394 (53) 9,576 (36) 16,749 (64)
Dublin South 87,855 147 51,342 (58) 32,190 (63) 19,005 (37)
Dublin South–Central 67,499 136 42,170 (52) 16,410 (39) 25,624 (61)
Dublin South–East 81,743 116 27,871 (50) 17,111 (62) 10,644 (38)
Dublin South–West 56,202 124 36,181 (54) 12,601 (35) 23,456 (65)
Dublin West 52,173 94 28,421 (55) 13,573 (48) 14,754 (52)
Dún Laoghaire 84,710 137 49,810 (59) 31,524 (64) 18,149 (37)
Galway East 80,569 166 40,124 (50) 18,728 (47) 21,230 (53)
Galway West 85,642 190 42,844 (50) 19,643 (46) 23,011 (54)
Kerry North 54,787 112 28,120 (51) 11,306 (41) 16,702 (59)
Kerry South 51,338 117 27,257 (54) 11,569 (43) 15,571 (57)
Kildare North 71,429 117 36,815 (52) 20,045 (55) 16,653 (45)
Kildare South 57,145 80 27,858 (49) 13,470 (49) 14,308 (51)
Laois–Offaly 105,053 243 56,992 (54) 31,786 (56) 24,963 (44)
Limerick East 76,735 168 39,444 (51) 18,085 (46) 21,191 (54)
Limerick West 57,847 129 29,958 (52) 13,318 (45) 16,511 (55)
Longford–Westmeath 81,834 192 42,065 (51) 19,371 (46) 22,502 (54)
Louth 83,458 168 44,565 (53) 18,586 (42) 25,811 (58)
Mayo 95,250 197 48,822 (51) 18,624 (38) 30,001 (62)
Meath East 67,415 105 34,148 (51) 17,340 (51) 16,703 (49)
Meath West 62,816 119 32,589 (52) 14,442 (45) 18,028 (55)
Roscommon–South Leitrim 59,728 131 33,962 (57) 15,429 (47) 18,402 (54)
Sligo–North Leitrim 55,591 130 29,228 (53) 12,602 (44) 16,496 (56)
Tipperary North 55,941 148 32,750 (59) 16,235 (50) 16,367 (50)
Tipperary South 53,687 148 29,756 (56) 13,853 (47) 15,755 (53)
Waterford 72,052 160 38,474 (54) 17,502 (46) 20,812 (54)
Wexford 101,124 205 53,369 (53) 23,371 (44) 29,793 (56)
Wicklow 85,918 206 52,272 (61) 25,936 (50) 26,130 (50)
Source: The Irish Times: Detailed count results for each constituency

Reasons for rejection[]

A poll was published by the Irish Times on 18 June 2008. The question was "Why did you vote no?" and the results are given below.

Reason for rejecting the Lisbon Treaty Percentage
Don't understand /not familiar 40%
Protect Irish identity 20%
Don't trust politicians/Govt policies 17%
Protect neutrality 10%
Keep commissioner 10%
Protect tax system 8%

A Flash Eurobarometer poll of 2,000 random respondents was conducted between 13 to 15 June on behalf of the European Commission by Gallup. Those respondents who voted "no" in the referendum were asked "Please tell me what are the reasons why you voted "no" to the treaty?" and the results are given below.

Reason for rejecting the Lisbon Treaty Percentage
Because I do not know enough about the Treaty and would not want to vote for something I am not familiar with 22%
To protect Irish identity 12%
To safeguard Irish neutrality in security and defence matters 6%
I do not trust our politicians 6%
We will lose our right to have an Irish Commissioner in every Commission 6%
To protect our tax system 6%
I am against the idea of a unified Europe 5%
To protest against the government's policies 4%
To avoid that the EU speaks with one voice on global issues 4%
Because large Member States decide on EU matters 4%
To protect the influence of small states 3%
It would allow the introduction of European legislation in Ireland, such as gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia 2%
To avoid an influx of immigrants 1%
The EU does not need any fixing, it works fine 1%
Other 14%
Don't know/not applicable 3%

Second referendum[]

Main article: Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

In the meeting of the European Council (the meeting of the heads of government of all twenty-seven European Union member states) in Brussels on 11–12 December 2008, Taoiseach Brian Cowen presented the concerns of the Irish people relating to taxation policy, family, social and ethical issues, and Ireland's policy of neutrality. Effectively Ireland's position was renegotiated, and the revised package was approved by the electorate in 2009. Because of the 2008–2010 Irish financial crisis it was also apparent that Ireland would need increased financial support from the European Union.

The European Council agreed that:

  • the necessary legal guarantees would be given that nothing in the Treaty of Lisbon made any change of any kind to the Union's competences on taxation for any member state;
  • the necessary legal guarantees would be given that the Treaty of Lisbon did not prejudice the security and defence policy of any member state, including Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality;
  • the necessary legal guarantees would be given that neither the Treaty of Lisbon (including the Justice and Home Affairs provisions), nor the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, affected the provisions of the Irish Constitution in relation to the right to life, education and the family in any way;
  • in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, a Decision would be taken to retain Ireland's Commissioner, provided that the Treaty of Lisbon was ratified;
  • the high importance attached to issues including workers' rights would be confirmed.

The Irish Government then committed to seeking ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by the end of the term of the current European Commission(October 2009), provided that the above were implemented satisfactorily.

The European Council did not specify what forms the legal guarantees would take. The Sunday Business Post stated that what the European Council had offered were Decisions and/or Declarations, not protocols. Decisions and/or Declarations of the European Council are agreements made between all twenty-seven member states of the European Union and are not part of a treaty, whereas protocols are agreements between states as part of a treaty. Previous examples of Decisions and/or Declarations following a referendum rejection include the 1992 Edinburgh Agreement (following the first Danish referendum on the Maastricht Treaty) and the 2002 Seville Declaration (following the first Irish referendum on the Treaty of Nice). French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking to the European Parliament in his capacity as President of the European Council during the six-month presidency of that body by France, stated that the legal guarantees would be added as a protocol later to the treaty, enabling Croatia to join the European Union legally.

The guarantee that Ireland would keep its Commissioner provided Lisbon was ratified was criticised in the Irish Times on the grounds that it may lead to an oversized European Commission.

The Treaty of Lisbon was ratified by the Twenty-eighth Amendment in October 2009.