It’s the not the government, but the Dáil that elects the Ceann Comhairle. The constitution makes no reference to how the Ceann Comhairle is elected, so if the Dáil wished to change the rules of election, it is free to do so.
Of course, the reality of party discipline means that it is difficult to speak of the government and the Dáil as separate bodies, particularly when the former has majority support.
Let’s suppose for the sake of a ‘stronger’ Dáil, the election of the Ceann Comhairle was by secret ballot. Can we expect FF TDs to vote for a FG candidate instead of their own party nominee (unless advised to do so by their party leader)? Some may highlight the case of John Bercow, the former Conservative MP who was recently elected Speaker in the House of Commons. However, he was backed by Labour MPs because he was perceived to be closer to their party than his own. Indeed, he had accepted an advisory role from Labour and had been rumoured to be on the verge of joining their party. Not only that, but such was his detachment from the Conservatives, very few of the latter are alleged to have voted for him. In other Westminster democracies, such as New Zealand, Canada or Australia, the Speaker is normally from the government party. Party discipline prevails throughout these political systems, so why would we expect it to stop when an important aspect of patronage is being considered, whether by secret ballot or not? For some strange reason, The Irish Times at the weekend cited the example of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States, but he/she is far more of a partisan figure than the Ceann Comhairle, and is de facto leader of his or her party in the house.
In spite of this, let’s suppose it did result in the election of a neutral or non-partisan (is there such a thing?). Why stop there? Why not elect the Taoiseach by secret ballot? After all, he, like the Ceann Comhairle, is elected by Dáil Éireann –not by the people nor any party –but it is a process which again is affected by the realities of party government. If the Taoiseach was elected by secret ballot and if this did result in the election of a more independent figure, he/she might then pick a government that reflected the diversity of interests and talents from across the parties, rather than from within the narrow confines of his/her particular party. Now that would be a real change.
One thought on “Ceann Comhairle-response to Eoin O’Malley”
I did not talk about a non-partisan filling the chair, I said that it would be someone who owed something to the Dáil rather than the government. And in a secret ballot, party discipline might go out the window. One would be naive to think that all FFers love each other.
The idea of electing a Taoiseach by secret ballot – probably made tongue-in-cheek- would be undemocratic as voters would have a right to know who their TDs voted for. But The CC is a just a house keeping matter with no oestensible policy implications.