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Unexplored legal links between India and Ireland examined by UEL law academic

Barry Collins argues that the constitutions played an important role in the newly independent countries

A senior law lecturer at the University of East London (UEL) is exploring previously neglected links between the constitutions of Ireland and India, and their role in creating national identities as newly independent countries.

Barry Collins (pictured, second from left) of the Royal Docks School of Business and Law at UEL, and the University’s LLM programme leader, delivered his paper, ‘Constitutional Borrowing and the Invention of the Nation: The Case of Ireland and India’, at the Formations of Colonial Legality workshop at the Law Futures Centre of Griffith University, Australia on 31 July. 

He said, “The choice of the Irish model by the Indian drafting team in 1949 is curious. I’m particularly focused on the ‘Directive Principles of Social Policy’ which form part of both constitutions.” 

The Directive Principles of Social Policy are sections of both constitutions that prescribe the fundamental obligations of the States to its citizens and the duties and the rights of the citizens to the State.

He continued, “These principles, which were adopted for the 1949 Indian Constitution from the 1937 Irish Constitution, itself based largely on French and US models, mark the commitment made by both states to guarantee certain social and economic conditions for their citizens in the post-independence era.”

The Indian drafting team was led by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a legal expert, economist and politician who was familiar with Irish affairs because of the close connections between the nationalist movements in both countries. Ambedkar was also a social reformer who strongly opposed India’s caste system and the ostracising of Dalits. 

Ireland’s constitution was drafted largely by Éamon de Valera, a leader in the 1916 Easter Uprising and Irish civil war. He later founded the political party Fianna Fáil, and went on to hold the roles of President of the Executive Council, Taoiseach, and President of Ireland. Collins argues that the Irish constitution reflects his idealisation of rural life and his commitment to Catholic social teaching.

Drawing on post-colonial theory, Collins argues that both constitutions had to fulfil the difficult task of distinguishing the new regimes from the previous British administration while at the same time appealing to ideas of tradition and continuity. 

Collins continues, “My argument is not just that India privileged a European model in drawing on the Irish Constitution, but looking at it the other way, I explore how the cultural conception of nation in the Irish constitution is itself influenced by Ireland’s relationship with India.”

He says that the constitutions played an ideological role in helping to shape both countries with a new self-understanding and identity, particularly around rural self-sufficiency and the value of rural life.

A separate paper on 'Imperial Law and Colonial Practices in Mandate Palestine' was given by John Strawson (far right), UEL honorary professor of law at UEL.