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

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

Seanad Referendum in Perspective

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By Michael Marsh

Another weekend of referendums is now over and the debate is well under way as to what the result means: what did the people say when they spoke? We have various evidence to go on: the polls, anecdotal evidence, and the nature of the campaign itself, but all these are flawed. The polls after all were ‘wrong’, or at least did not provide any simple indication of what would happen and so the ‘intentions’ voiced in the polls may diverge from the reality of what people did. Anecdotes are just that, often chosen to fit an argument rather that employed to test one. And the campaign themes themselves are not necessarily those that motivated most voters to pick yes, no, or indeed to switch off. Continue reading

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.

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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

Perspective on Seanad Abolition

By Vanessa Liston (CiviQ.eu)

Opinion polls are built into the fabric of our political system. We look to them as a fountain of knowledge on people’s minds, as we search for clues and cues in meandering a fractious course to the polling booth. Yet, given the outcome of the Seanad referendum, that quite dramatically violated most poll predictions, it should be of concern that there are few alternatives to understanding public opinion in such significant decision-making events.

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Seanad reform – what’s on offer?

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Post by John Carroll
During the past few weeks, we’ve heard much about the Zappone/Quinn and Crowne Seanad bills offering a roadmap for non-constitutional Seanad reform. Apparently these Bills can be the “legislative template” for Seanad reform that could be put in place within 75 days yet surprisingly few people (beyond Richard Humphreys and Eoin O’Malley) seem to have considered what is in them and the issues they throw up.  So, for those interested in what these Bills contain, I’ve put a general summary below, which might give people food for thought. From a cursory reading Continue reading

The people have mumbled. What was it they said?

election-count-1_3By Seán Patrick Donlan (University of Limerick)

It’s all too easy after any election, no matter how slight the margin of victory, by however small a portion of the electorate, to declare that the result represents a mandate of some sort. When this isn’t merely spin, it’s often the product of wishful thinking, the hope that some clear intention is waiting for us to discover and act on. Indeed, both the winners and losers might desire this clarity so that each can move on with their lives. Continue reading

Does the referendum on the Court of Appeal contain any hidden dangers?

courtsBy Michael Gallagher

Most of the debate over the 4 October referendums has focused on the abolition of the Seanad, understandably enough, but there’s another referendum too: the 33rd amendment on the establishment of a Court of Appeal. Sometimes when there is more than one referendum on the same day, the ‘minor’ proposal is seen as uncontentious and passes without difficulty, but on other occasions its very lack of visibility can count against it, as when voters finally become aware of it some of them suspect that it is being deliberately kept quite as the political class is trying to smuggle something through without their noticing, so to speak. It may then take just one well-delivered blow to finish it off, as happened two years ago when the presidential election overshadowed the referendum on extending the powers of Oireachtas committees, and the intervention of the former Attorneys-General was enough to tilt the balance against it, even though after the event most voters seemed to favour the idea that it embodied and could no longer recall the arguments that had led them to vote No.

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The Wrong Referendum?

Interested in how we can make our parliament fit for purpose?  This public discussion on Dáil reform is open to anyone who thinks our Dáil can do more for democracy.

The debate in the run up to the Seanad referendum has not provided sufficient space for debate on wider reform of our parliamentary structures.  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