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

A political system friendly to independents but not to new parties

jfoley11aEvery day there is some opinion piece or other speculating about the possibility of a new political party emerging in Ireland. Journalistic eyes are peeled, watching every movement, signal or nuance from the likes of Lucinda Creighton, Michael McDowell, or any other obvious contenders seen as most likely to lead the way in establishing a new party. But how our political system is set up makes life very difficult for ambitious individuals aspiring to establish a new party. By contrast, it’s very easy for ambitious individuals wanting to run for office as independents. Continue reading

The progress of the Irish Constitutional Convention to date

ccvenDeclaration of interest: The author is the research director of the Irish Constitutional Convention

The Irish Constitutional Convention has almost completed its work.  At its most recent meeting it dealt with the last of the eight topics assigned to it by the Government. All that remains is for the Convention to use its remaining time to consider ‘Any other Amendments’ — the focus of its final meetings early in the New Year.

On its establishment, the Convention was roundly criticised, with much of the criticism focused on the limited (and admitedly pretty eclectic) range of topics that it was given to consider.  Over the course of its deliberations minds have changed and many who were critical of it are less so today (see here for an example).

This post updates on an earlier analysis (see here) of the progress of the Convention to date. 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

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

What happens when a ballot paper becomes too large?

219161-senate-ballotThe short answer – as we’re about to see in Australia – is that voters have to be issued with magnifying glasses! As Antony Green explains in this clip, the number of parties on the ballot paper for the next Senate election has become so large that the only way a ballot paper can be printed that remains within the printing limit of one metre (!) in diameter is to use a 6-point font! Continue reading

Ireland needs an Electoral Commission now!

votingCommon to all the discussions about political reform in Ireland is the need to reduce the excessive centralization of power in the executive. In recent posts I’ve examined this from the perspective of Dail reform. This post focuses on the administration of elections in Ireland.

A good starting point is this document, which was the response of the Department of the Environment to a request by the Constitutional Convention for its input into the Convention’s deliberations on electoral reform last month. The arrogant and dismissive tone of this response drew the wrath of the members and the comment of one of the experts, Prof Michael Marsh of TCD, that it served as a wonderful illustration of why Ireland needs an Electoral Commission. Continue reading

So how should the Dáil be reformed?

As set out in a previous post on this Forum (see here), Dáil reform is long overdue: this government’s efforts (to date and promised) are piecemeal, insufficient and in some instances completely – and arguably deliberately – miss the point (the most prominent example being Seanad abolition).

So what reforms should they implement? This post sets out some preliminary ideas in the hope of stimulating others. It’s prompted by an op ed in today’s Irish Times in which Conor Brady proposes ‘Ten Reforms’ that should be introduced ‘to make the Oireachtas more effective, more accountable and better respected by the people it serves’. Continue reading

The Irish Constitutional Convention illustrates how ordinary citizens can play their part in the process after all

ccvenPost by Harry McGee, political correspondent The Irish Times. This article originally appeared in the Connacht Tribune, 12 June 2013

I have to say I was sceptical about the notion of a citizens’ assembly becoming part of official political discourse in Ireland. The idea is that rather than getting politicians to decide on new political direction, you get a representative group of people drawn from all strands of society – getting the demographics and geographics right, as Bertie Ahern kept on saying.

To me it seemed like an indulgence to political scientists – telling them all their Christmases had come Continue reading

Early days of the SOS (‘Save Our Seanad’) campaign

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).

Continue reading