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

Political parties, like other public bodies, need to have their accounts fully audited

The ongoing standoff between the Minister for the Environment and the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is yet another signal of just how much this government has backtracked on its supposed commitment to open government.

At the heart of this issue is what level of party accounts should be made available for auditing and public scrutiny. The Minister (and in fairness, it seems all the other parties with him – I stand ready to be corrected on this ☺) is of the view that the legislation (the Electoral (Political Funding) Act, 2012) requires that the parties need to only audit their national accounts. SIPO disagrees. As a letter this week from the outgoing SIPO Chair (published on their website here) makes clear their legal advice, on the contrary, is that the auditing should also extend to the sub-national units (i.e. the party branches) of the parties’ organizations. Continue reading

Another set of milestones in the work of the Irish Constitutional Convention

In the week that’s in it….

Earlier today it was announced on the Irish Constitutional Convention’s website that the convention members have decided that the last two meetings of the convention shall be focused on Dáil reform and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. And reports suggest that this week we will have the formal government announcement that, following a recommendation by the constitutional convention, there will be a referendum on same-sex marriage in the lifetime of this government. Continue reading