‘Constitutional Architect’ John Hearne honoured by ‘Waterford 1100’ lecture
Before a packed auditorium, Susan Denham spoke of her honour at speaking in a chamber which had previously welcomed, among others, Daniel O’Connell, Thomas Francis Meagher, Isaac Butt, Charles Stewart Parnell, John Redmond, King Edward VII and Presidents Eamon de Valera and Séan T Ó Ceallaigh.
“It is wonderful to see the economic tide turning, the future looking brighter, the growth of jobs and development again, of which the (new courthouse) project is an example.”
Referring to the long-awaited extension of Waterford Courthouse, Mrs Justice Denham stated: “We are so pleased that Waterford Courthouse is part of the investment package agreed with the Government, in a Public Private Partnership.
“The project here in Waterford involves the refurbishment and extension of the historic Courthouse, which currently has two courtrooms, to a position where it will have six courtrooms, improved custody facilities and court offices.
“The extension will be onto a site behind the Courthouse, part of which is currently occupied by the fire station, which is being relocated to a new site (in Ballybeg).
“The procurement process is underway, and it is expected that by mid-2015 a preferred bidder will be selected, and construction will start by the end of 2015, which will take two years. So the extended Courthouse should be in operation by 2017.”
Mrs Justice Denham’s lecture focused on Waterford native John J Hearne (1893-1969), who assisted then Taoiseach Eamon de Valera during the drafting of the Irish Constitution. Descendants of Mr Hearne’s were among the attendance at the Large Room on Monday evening last.
Mr Hearne, she said, “would go on to become a lawyer and a public servant of great distinction at the Attorney General’s Office and the old Department of External Affairs. In later life, Mr Hearne served as a diplomat and represented Ireland as High Commissioner to Canada. In 1950, he became independent Ireland’s first Ambassador to the United States of America and he retired in 1960”.
The signifance of John Hearne’s input into the Constitution was recognised by Eamon De Valera on December 29th, 1937, the date when the historic document came into force, stated Mrs Justice Denham.
On that day, Dev “dedicated a copy of the new Constitution to John Hearne. The copy is now kept in the National Library of Ireland and the note reads as follows: ‘To Mr. John Hearne, Barrister at Law Legal Adviser to the Department of External Affairs and Draftsman of this Constitution, as a Souvenir of the successful issue of his work and in testimony of the fundamental part he took in framing this the first Free Constitution of the Irish People. Eamon de Valera Constitution Day 29.XII.37.'”
Mrs Justice Denham said that “we were fortunate to live in a country with a written Constitution. The very nature of a written Constitution is that it is a comprehensive document with a specially entrenched status, meaning it cannot be changed by ordinary laws, for example, primary or secondary legislation enacted by either the Oireachtas or brought into force by a government minister”.
She added: “In Ireland, it is the people alone who can change the Constitution…it is a privilege that we can sometimes take for granted, and sadly we need only look to certain parts of the world today that are in turmoil and stand in stark contrast to Ireland.”
John Hearne’s contribution to Bunreacht na hÉireann was, in Mrs Justice Denham’s view, immense.
“For many years his name was a mere footnote in our history, and his painstaking work in the developing the Constitution was not well understood,” she said.
“Perhaps, that is the way Mr Hearne would have wished for his working life to be remembered, in the way members of the permanent Government in the Civil Service carry out their duties. They work diligently and anonymously, staying in the background with no desire for the limelight.”
Mrs Justice Denham was formally welcomed to Waterford by City & County Mayor James Tobin and Waterford Museum of Treasures Director Eamon McEneaney.
See News 28 and 29 for further coverage of Mrs Justice Denham’s address.