Referendum campaigns are not like election campaigns

This post is based on a brief talk I gave on October 10 at a post-mortem on the referendum organized by the Voters, Parties and Elections section of the Political Studies Association of Ireland.


The more recent referendums on Seanad abolition and the Court of Appeal should give political parties – and particularly their back room strategists – some cause to reflect on how referendums are run in this country. Ireland is third to Switzerland and Italy in terms of the number of referendums held, and yet how we administer referendums and how the parties fight them are still in the Stone Age. With the promise of more referendums to come, this is a problem that needs urgent attention. Continue reading

How did the polls get it so wrong in the Seanad referendum?

Post by Kevin Cunningham
PhD Candidate in Political Science at Trinity College Dublin

pollingThe Millward Brown/Independent poll conducted between the 13th and 25th of September suggested a 64 per cent to 36 per cent margin in favour of abolition. The Red C/Sunday Business Post poll conducted between the 9th and 11th of September indicated a 59% to 41% margin. The night before the election, Paddy Power offered 1/10 on a Yes vote compared to a 5 to 1 for a No vote.

The error in these polls was a consequence of insufficiently accounting for the likelihood of an individual to turn out. Continue reading

Why I will be voting ‘No’ in the Seanad referendum

The Seanad referendum is an unfortunate distraction from the need for real and sustained political and constitutional reform. Up till now I have not expressed a view either way on the question of whether the Seanad should be abolished or not.

But on October 4 I (like hopefully many other citizens) will be going to my local polling station to vote. The question that’s been bothering me for the past number of weeks is how should I vote. And I have decided to vote ‘No’. Continue reading

Fianna Fáil’s proposals for Dáil reform

FF polSome weeks ago Fianna Fáil published a policy paper (for discussion) on Real Political Reform. Its focus is primarily on the Dáil and how it could be reformed. While the document appears to have attracted virtually no coverage whatsoever, it certainly warrants a read. I may not agree with all the proposals in this document, but there are some very interesting ones, for instance relating to: the need to elect the Ceann Comhairle, steps to free the Oireachtas from ‘complete’ government control, a new Oireachtas Office of Polity and Economic Oversight to provide expert support for TDs, more time for Continue reading

New Report on Lotteries Published

Post by Dr Peter Stone (TCD)

In Aristotle’s day, people took it for granted that democracy meant selection by lottery, and aristocracy meant elections. Today, most people assume that a democratic society elects all of its officials. But a growing movement believes that we should revisit selection by lottery as a means of curing the various ills of contemporary democratic society.

The Policy Institute at Trinity College Dublin has just published a report on this topic. The report, entitled The Lottery as a Democratic Institution was officially released in July 2013. It was co-authored by Gil Delannoi (fellow of the Centre de Recherches Politiques and professor of political theory at Sciences Po, Paris), Oliver Dowlen (who holds an ISRF Early Career Fellowship at Queen Mary College, University College London), and Peter Stone (Ussher Assistant Professor of Political Science, Trinity College Dublin). Continue reading

Constituency service by TDs is good — but it must be in proportion

In an op ed in today’s Irish Times, Dr Anthony O’Halloran reminds us of the important constituency service role played by our TDs (see here). He argues that Irish political commentators are universally negative about this role, painting it in negative tones and tending to suggest that such behaviour is atypical. While the article makes for an interesting read, I fear he may be exaggerating somewhat to make his point. Many of us would actually agree with him that constituency service does have an important role to play in our system of representative democracy. Politicians in all countries do partake in this sort of activity – to varying degrees. But the point at issue is that our politicians tend to be off the scale in the degree to which they focus on this dimension over and above their other roles (legislating, or holding government to account). Constituency service is a good thing, but it needs to be in proper proportion.

Some years ago I posted on this blog a tongue-in-cheek piece about TDs kissing chickens. The point I wanted to get across then (as now) is that while some features of constituency service are worthwhile and to be lauded, this must not be the be-all-and-end-all of the role of a TD.

The Irish Constitutional Convention: citizen-oriented political reform in action

Declaration of interest: I am one of the members of the academic team advising the constitutional convention on its work programme.

The Irish Constitutional Convention is most of the way through its work programme. Many journalists and other commentators were  critical of the Convention when it was launched. But among those who have witnessed its proceedings the sense is that it has been a success (see, for instance, Harry McGee’s piece).  The Convention’s first report (on voting age and the presidential term of office) was discussed in the Dáil in July, just before the summer recess (see the ministerial statement here) where the government committed to holding referendums on three of the four recommendations made by the Convention and for the fourth item (on giving citizens a say in the nomination of presidential candidates) to be referred to the Environment committee for further consideration — overall, then, a pretty positive reaction by government (so far). Continue reading