Electoral reform to increase female representation

Liam Weeks*

It is widely recognised that adoption of a (closed) list electoral system would give political parties the power to increase the number of women in the Dáil. Women could be placed at the top of each party’s list of candidates, thus guaranteeing their election. However, if we are to see electoral reform, it is unlikely to be towards a closed list system. Few among the political elite seem in favour of it, it would require a referendum that would be difficult to pass, and it may have a number of undesired consequences.  Instead of this, a far easier change would be to modify the current STV system towards the Australian Senate-style model of STV. Continue reading

Election 2011 and transfers

Liam Weeks*

Since 2011 may be the last general election by PR-STV in Ireland (if some of the political parties get their way), it is worth looking at the value of the transferable nature of the vote. This is one particular feature that makes STV so voter-friendly and yet its value is sometimes dismissed by media commentators.

Continue reading

Policy Advisers: who are they and what do they do?

Liam Weeks*

Micheál Martin recently suggested that the government should pay more attention to experts outside of the political process in formulating its strategy. But what about the paid experts already brought in from the ‘outside’ to advise the government? I am referring to the special advisers of every minister and minister of state. Who are they and what do they do?

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Are independents a danger to democracy?

Liam Weeks*

Recent media reports of the voting intentions of independent TDs re-the Finance Bill seem to imply that independents undermine the stability of Irish democracy.

The claim is that Jackie Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry et al are acting selfishly by not voting in favour of the Finance Bill or by attempting to extract promises from the government in return for their support. Continue reading

Is the only truly new Dáil an independent Dáil ?

Liam Weeks*

Reading the calls for reform from afar, there seems to be one overarching theme: a desire to improve the calibre of parliamentarians.

To date, most of these calls have been misguided as many from outside the political science community persist with the notion of electoral reform as a panacea that will transform the quality of our politicians overnight.

It doesn’t matter what type of electoral system is used. The quality parliamentarians (although I have yet to see the evidence that bringing in a load of experts will improve the Dáil: how did Martin O’Donoghue fare as Minister for Economic Planning and Development in the 1970s?) that John Rogers and other speak of are simply not interested in running for party political office. And who can blame them? Continue reading

The value of independent parliamentarians

Liam Weeks

The current government parties have 77 seats. The combined opposition of Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin have 75 seats. The balance of power in the Dáil is thus held by the 10 independent TDs, who include 2 ex-PDs, 4 former FF TDs (one of whom has resigned from the party), one FF gene pool TD, one former FG minister and 2 independents never elected on a party ticket, but one of whom supported Bertie Ahern in his third administration. Continue reading

Senates that work? The Australian experience

I have recently returned from a research fieldtrip to Australia. The following is an extract of an article of mine from The Irish Examiner, April 2 2010.
I have examined the experience of the Australian Senate, of interest in Ireland because of Fine Gael’s proposals to abolish the upper house. (Given the likelihood of a Fine Gael-Labour coalition after the next election, I would like to hear Labour’s plans concerning the Seanad) Continue reading

The Tasmanian experience of the Irish electoral system

The following is taken from an article of mine in The Irish Examiner, April 9 2010. It may be of interest considering the Tasmanian experience of PR-STV.

The first thing that struck me about Australian politicians is their responsiveness. Last January I e-mailed a large number of parliamentarians, both past and present, requesting an interview. The next day my inbox was full with responses, most of them positive, and where not, apologetic for not being so. Continue reading

Fine Gael’s New Politics

A couple of things strike me about Fine Gael’s ‘New Politics’:

1. Much of the debate in the last few months concerning political reform has focused on two assumptions: (a) ‘Ireland is broken’ (taken from The Irish Times series on ‘Renewing the Republic’) and (b) the political institutions are responsible for this.
While there is no doubt that at the moment there is definitely something wrong in this country, where is the evidence that institutional reform will right these wrongs?
For example, in the context of one particular institution – the electoral system – which has unjustly been the target of a considerable deal of blame, it is particularly ironic that when the citizens’ assembly in British Columbia assessed all the world’s electoral systems, it favoured our own PR-STV.
The political institutions seem to be used as a scapegoat upon which to lay culpability when things go wrong. However, in this context, the old adage ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ springs to mind. Rather than focusing on the actions of individuals or groups (be it the clientelist culture supported by politicians and voters alike or poor policy choices made by politicians and civil servants alike), we quickly look to shed blame. It’s not our fault, goes the argument, it’s the conditions (i.e. the institutions) under which we work. In this way, neither we as an electorate nor the politicians as a legislature can ever be held truly accountable for their actions.
Think about this. Do we ever thank the political institutions when things go well? Certainly no one in either Canada or Australia, two western countries that have escaped the worst of the global recession, is suggesting that their electoral systems are responsible for this.

2. The lack of public debate about these issues. Even if, as seems likely, Fine Gael leads the next government, to what extent will it have a mandate concerning its New Politics document? This would only be the case if it was the main issue affecting people’s votes. We all know that the length of presidential terms or even the presence of an upper house of parliament will not influence the next election. It’s the economy, stupid.
That is why we should have a citizens’ assembly on these issues (as Fine Gael proposes), but before any such constitution day.
If we rush ahead with changes without fully considering their consequences, we may have another e-voting type fiasco that cost the taxpayer millions.

3. Why is Fine Gael tampering with the presidency? It appears a rather soft option for reform, particularly given that it’s an entirely symbolic position with no real powers. Does anyone really care about the presidency? After all, where was the fuss when there was no presidential election in 2004, 1983, 1976 or 1974? Shortening the term of office and expanding the franchise will certainly not help to create the New Republic to which Fine Gael aspires. If anything, the latter change creates the possibility of a republic headed by a president without a mandate from its inhabitants. For example, could the granting of a vote to Irish citizens abroad, although in line with comparative experience, expand the electorate in such a manner that overseas voters will outnumber residential voters? If so, what if the overseas votes swung a presidential election in such a way that we were left with a president who did not win majority, or even plurality support, amongst voters living in Ireland?

4. I don’t wish to appear pedantic on this matter, but I have to agree with Matt Wall on the typos in the New Politics document. These include:
• Citizens Assembly (sic)
• Fianna Fail (sic)
• Children Rights (sic)
• Peoples’ concerns (sic)
• Private members time (sic)
• the peoples’ representatives (sic)
• Fine Gael will give backbench TDs establish a bigger role (sic)
• whistleblowers charter (sic)
• Fine Gael will register all lobbyists are ensure that their activities are overseen (sic)
• Irish peoples’ trust in government (sic)
• A desire to afford every term it deems important with upper case status. Why not then write the whole document in upper case font?

I am quick to reproach students for sloppy errors, usually because it indicates a lack of time or care afforded to their efforts. It is in this context that Fine Gael’s typos surprise me. One would imagine that in such an important document as this, every word and phrase would have been carefully considered, more so than in a regular undergraduate essay.
If the party can’t get this wholly right, should we be concerned about its abilities to forge this new republic?

Liam Weeks