Posted by Eoin O’Malley (15 May)
A new Seanad reform bill was introduced in the Seanad today by Senators Katherine Zappone and Fergal Quinn. It is available here. The main point of the bill are that it should move to a reformed house with new powers, but without requiring constitutional change. It proposed elections by universal suffrage, to close the democratic deficit, with non-geographic constituencies (on these see an interesting post by Michael Gallagher here). The other reforms are to allow the Seanad conduct public inquiries, to monitor secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments), Continue reading
A couple of interesting stories in the Irish media today caused me to re-consider the notion that political reform should be the exclusive domain of elected politicians. With their electoral mandates, experience of the day-to-day functioning of political institutions and (in Ireland, at least) their exclusive right to initiate constitutional change, our professional politicians certainly have more claim than most other social groups or organisations to take the lead on this issue.
Posted by Eoin O’Malley (12 March 2013)
The ‘sort-of’ revelation on Twitter that Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan may have used his Oireachtas privilege have penalty points wiped juxtaposes nicely with the eight month sentence imposed on the former UK cabinet minister, Chris Huhne, for perverting the course of justice in a case that started from misallocated penalty points. Huhne’s case is worthy of a soap opera, but Ming’s may be the comic relief in a tragedy. It shows a profound misunderstanding of the purpose of parliamentary privilege.
Ireland’s constitution gives members of the Oireachtas parliamentary privilege through Article 15.13: Continue reading
Posted by Eoin O’Malley (21 February, 2013)
A poll released today by the Pro-Life Campaign seeks to ‘challenge the notion that there is broad middle ground support for abortion in Ireland.’ This polls claims to show that two-thirds of Irish people want ‘legal protection of the unborn’ and suggests that this means Irish people are against legalised abortions. This should surprise some as it follows on from a IpsosMRBI poll in the Irish Times recently which showed a substantial majority in favour of legalised abortions in a variety of circumstances. Continue reading
Here are some edited highlights of the Deliberative Democracy conference held in the Royal Irish Academy some weeks ago, including interviews with the participants there – some of the world’s leading experts on deliberative democracy in practice – on the prospects for the Irish Constitutional Convention.
It is still far too early to be definitive in the analysis of the result of the Children’s Referendum obviously research is needed in order to ascertain why turnout was so low and why people voted in the way that they did.
What we can say is that Saturday voting is unlikely to be the main cause of a low turnout as it serves to increase turnout in many other jurisdictions.
However in some way the 60 40 split could be seen to fit into the pattern of previous referendums as can be seen in the slides in this presentation that we delivered to the PSAI conference in Derry in October.
We also know that there is a strong and logical tendency to vote ‘no’ if you don’t know. And we know that there was a fairly low level of understanding for this referendum at least so far as it was measured by pre referendum polls.
There is a need particularly with large numbers of referendums in prospect over the coming years to seriously reexamine the framework in which we conduct these polls, If we are to properly derive real democratic benefits from referendums we need to ensure that people are as informed as possible. We should thus examine how to best resource both sides to make their arguments and have them heard. But with that right there must be an obligation to ensure that all arguments are factual and this could perhaps be policed by the Referendum Commission.
Theresa Reidy and Jane Suiter
Theresa Reidy and myself had a piece in the Irish Times earlier this week on the need to think about change for referendum rules. Many of the comments on The Irish Times site were from no voters in the Children’s Referendum who appeared to think that we would seek to ensure that their voices are not heard. However, in fact what we argue is that if we are to utilise the tools of direct democracy such as referendums then we should seek to maximise the democratic outputs. Referendums with low turnouts and large sections of the population not understanding the issue at hand are not enhancing of our democracy. Thus we need to look at new models.
John Drennan’s Sindo article points to growing backbench opposition to the government’s proposed referendum on abolishing the Seanad. This development is unsurprising, given the tightness of electoral margins in Ireland’s political system and the personal investment of Oireachtas members in retaining their positions (although, as we all know, the pension’s not too bad if you do get the boot). However, the naked self-interest on display in this debate is enough to sicken even a seasoned observer of the venality of the Irish political class.
Posted by Matt Wall
A letter to the Irish Times from six former Senators represents a faltering start to the campaign against the government’s plans to abolish the Seanad. The six argue, as many others have and will, for reform rather than abolition. Sadly, their case is not helped by the farcical nature of many of the ‘debates’ that unfold with such regularity and futility in the current Seanad. Such debates are all-too-often nothing more than set pieces. They tend to be treated as such by their participants – rhetorical grandstanding and political point scoring are par for the course, and considered, constructive inputs are far more rare (though by no means absent).