Enda, Joan, Micheal, Gerry: Who will be first to hang up that whip?

The (ab)use of parliamentary whips in the Dáil has been much in the news of late – most recently in the light of an internal survey of Fine Gael TDs by Deputy Eoghan Murphy that was reported in yesterday’s Irish Times (here).

Three-quarters of Fine Gael TDs (74%) favour a relaxation of the whip. That’s quite a lot of support for the proposition by anyone’s reckoning.

On this Blog site there have been many calls for serious engagement with parliamentary reform – moving beyond the tokenistic moves of the current government. The need is for proper parliamentary reform that rebalances the power between Dáil and government, making the government more accountable to the Dáil.

Relaxing the parliamentary whip, which is used more strictly here than in others parliaments in Europe, should be part of this process. But this is different from all the other proposed reforms (such as secret elections for the Ceann Comhairle and committee chairs, etc.) in one very important respect, and that is that there is no need for any change to the Constitution, no need for any new legislation, no need to alter the Dáil standing orders.

All that is needed for the parliamentary whip to be relaxed is for one of the party leaders to announce that they will make this change for their party. The first to make this move will be the one to signal that Dáil reform truly matters for their party. It would only be a matter of time before the other party leaders would be forced to follow suit.

So, which party leader will move first?

Government U-turn on Votes at 16 shows its Contempt for the Dáil

Posted by David Farrell, January 1, 2015

When the government established the Irish Constitutional Convention it committed to providing a response to Dáil Éireann within four months of receipt of a Convention’s report. That this commitment is no longer being adhered to is a matter of some regret. But at least there have been responses to the first couple of reports by the Convention, and in some instances these have included firm commitments for action.

A case in point is the Convention’s recommendation to lower the voting age. Continue reading

UCD GARRET FITZGERALD SUMMER SCHOOL: Reforming The Republic’s Democratic Institutions 20 and 21 June 2014

Location: FitzGerald Debating Chamber, Student Centre, UCD

What kind of institutions can be framed to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, while maintaining the spirit of a republic? The structure of political institutions and the quality of public and civic life were long-standing concerns for Dr Garret FitzGerald. The third annual UCD Garret FitzGerald School will address issues concerning the reform of democratic institutions in Ireland, which has recently gained momentum from the Constitutional Convention, debates on the role of the Senate, and possibilities of far-reaching changes in institutions ranging from the judiciary and courts to the educational system.
The Opening Keynote, on The Infrastructure of Democracy, by Professor Philip Pettit of Princeton University is at 6 pm on Friday 20 June. Ruairi Quinn TD, Minister for Education and Skills, will respond, followed by a reception.

On Saturday, 21 June 2014 there will be sessions on

  • Reforming Institutions: Politics. Speakers: Dr. Niamh Hardiman and Professor John Coakley, School of Politics and International Relations, UCD
  • Reforming Institutions: The Law. Speakers: Hon. Mr. Justice John MacMenamin, Supreme Court and Dr. Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, UCD
  • Reforming Institutions: Education. Speakers: Dr. Eoin Daly, School of Law, NUI Galway and Dr. Iseult Honohan, School of Politics and International Relations, UCD

To register please RSVP to anne.murphy@ucd.ie as soon as possible.

The Irish Constitutional Convention completes its work

Irish CC in action

*Declaration of interest: I am the research director of the Convention (in a voluntary capacity).

Last weekend, the Constitutional Convention completed its work.  At its closing dinner last Saturday, the snappy slogan on the menu summed things up well: ‘100 members, 10 meetings, 1 constitution’. With a budget of some €900,000 and a deadline of one year (that ultimately was extended by a further two months), the Convention surpassed all expectations. Continue reading

In elections it’s not just how votes are counted that matters

The first annual report of the highly influential Electoral Integrity Project has just been published (see here). Professor Pippa Norris and her colleagues have carried out an extensive survey of the electoral process across the world’s democracies over the past few years. Ireland’s last election (2011) preceded this project so it was not included on this occasion, but as the work of this project continues, our next election will come under scrutiny. Continue reading

Why do we need a directly elected Seanad?

The fallout from the Seanad referendum continues.  Various groups (most prominent among them Democracy Matters), political parties (notably Fianna Fáil) and prominent individuals such as Michael McDowell are clamouring for the government to introduce legislation to allow for the direct election of the next Seanad.  An editorial in today’s Irish Times makes supportive noises in the same direction, inviting the government to show some ‘flexibility’ on the matter.

To put some comparative context, the table below shows the state of play today in Europe’s 33 democracies.  (I would be grateful for information on any errors that might need correcting.)  As set out below, the facts speak for themselves.  Were we to move to a system of directly electing our Seanad, we would be pretty much a unique case in Europe (based particularly on our small population size and the fact that we have a unitary system of government). Continue reading

Shortcomings in the Referendum Commission’s research on the two recent referenda

Referendum-Commission-October-2013

The Referendum Commission’s report on the Seanad and Court of Appeal referendums was published just before Christmas (and can be read here). There is also an accompanying powerpoint file (here) that purports to be a research report carried out for the Commission by Behaviour & Attitudes. (Sorry: but in my book, a ‘research report’ needs to be a bit more than a series of powerpoint slides, and certainly more than the simplistic descriptive analysis presented here.) Continue reading