In 1987, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the Irish government, as guardians of the Irish Constitution, could not enter into certain international agreements without a majority approval of Irish citizens through a referendum. This ruling is famously known as the “Crotty judgement.”
The World Health Organisation’s (“WHO’s”) proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations and Pandemic Treaty were the subject of presentations made to the Irish parliament on Tuesday. One of those who spoke was Irish author and presenter Eddie Hobbs.
“Under Crotty, the Irish people are entitled – as a right, it’s part of our estate – to a referendum on the WHO [agreements],” Hobbs said. “If the government say ‘no we’re going to ratify it at cabinet’ – well then, all hell will break loose.”
I have just arrived back from speaking in Dublin.
The WHO Director General, Tedros visited Dublin recently to meet the Irish President as Tedros knows under the ‘Crotty’ ruling, Ireland had to have a full public debate and Referendum on the Pandemic Agreement and the amendments… https://t.co/mloh7TuLLL
— Andrew Bridgen MP (@ABridgen) February 7, 2024
Raymond Crotty, who died in 1994, is probably best known to the general public for the “Crotty judgement” of 1987, which may yet prove to be the country’s strongest defence against unwarranted pressures from the larger EU member states. This Irish Supreme Court ruling forced the government to accept that significant changes to EU treaties had to be ratified by referendum in Ireland.
Treaties do not take effect in Ireland unless they are made part of law through legislation. Treaties may place obligations on the State but they are not generally specifically enforceable by citizens until enacted domestically.
Read more: International Relations, Irish Legal Blog
The case of Crotty v. An Taoiseach  IR 713 – the “Crotty judgement” – was a landmark judgment both because of its impact on the doctrine surrounding popular referenda in Ireland and because of the impact that it has had on the process of European integration.
The Irish Supreme Court famously held the Single European Act to be outside of the competence of the State to ratify as it involved a major expansion of competencies of the then-European Communities. The Court held that the Government was subject to the Irish Constitution, even concerning international foreign relations.
The question Crotty posed to the Court was whether the Single European Act, a treaty agreed upon by the then twelve Member States of the then European Economic Community in 1986, could be ratified by the Parliament or whether it needed to be put before the Irish people in a referendum.
In a majority of 3:2, the Court held that Title III of the Single European Act, which involved some co-operation in foreign relations, should be laid before the people for their approval. It established that the people will sometimes have a constitutional right to vote on international treaties that cause changes to the national constitutional arrangements.
In the ensuing referendum, the Irish people voted in favour of the Single European Act.