Formal submissions by TCD students on electoral reform

Formal submissions by members of the TCD Junior Sophister Irish Politics class at the formal sitting of the Joint Committee on the Constitution in the TCD Exam Hall- Declan Harmon, David Dehoe, Barra Roantree, Julianne Cox, Eliska Drapalova, Talya Houseman, Kimberley Moran, Ciara Begley, Barry Cahill, Daniel Philbin Bowman and Colm Quinn.

This was the first time in Trinity’s history that a fully constituted Joint Committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas sat in Trinity. 

Barra Roantree


Justice Frank Clarke, Prof Ken Benoit, Jim O'Keeffe TD, John Bowman, Minister Noel Dempsey, Senator Ivana Bacik, Seán Ardagh TD


Declan Harmon

A Chathaoirligh,

Ar dtús baire, go raibh maith agat as an deis chun labhairt anseo anocht.

My submission focuses on how we can reform our electoral system by introducing regional constituencies elected by a list system, coupled with traditional constituency seats. I will also discuss how those regional seats could be elected.

The current crisis has brought many of the institutions of our society – both public and private – under scrutiny. Are they delivering results? Are they fit for purpose? Quite rightly, our democratic system has not escaped such scrutiny.

Regrettably, many are cynical and skeptical about politicians and the political system.  A Eurobarometer poll published in September 2009 showed that 59% of Irish people surveyed felt that things were going in the wrong direction in our country. The same poll found that only 20% – one in five – trusted the government and 23% had trust in the Oireachtas. All of those findings were well below the European average.

If we are to restore trust in politics and defeat the cynics, then we can not afford to continue to do things in the same way and expect to get different results.

One of the principal features of politics in Ireland is the amount of time taken up with constituency activity and the resultant lack of time available for legislative work. Constituency work is important and is not without merit. It should be noted that there is a clear public demand for their politicians to deal with such matters.

However, a balance needs to be struck between dealing with local concerns and the work of legislating for the country. I believe that a mixed member system similar to that which is used in Germany, New Zealand, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly could assist in achieving that balance.

Under such a system, an elector would elect a deputy or deputies representing a constituency seat and would also vote for representatives for a regional (or even national) constituency, where a list system would operate. This would have the benefit of maintaining the direct link between the voter and their representative while also allowing deputies elected on the regional lists to devote themselves fully to legislative work.

A frequent concern raised by opponents of list systems is that it removes voter choice and centralizes control over party tickets with senior party figures and officials.

In order to address this concern, I propose that the regional list seats be elected using the voting system used in the Australian Senate election. In this system, voters have the option to simply tick one box to indicate that they wish for their vote to be cast and transferred as per the order of the party list. Alternatively, they can vote across party tickets and rank individual candidates in order of their preference. Voters therefore retain control over where their vote goes.

Another element to the regional list seats would be that it would allow for the opportunity for people from different backgrounds and different ranges of expertise to enter politics. Having worked on political campaigns, I hugely admire the work-rate of our politicians and the intensity of activity in which they must engage in order to get elected.

However, that has a downside in that the level of time commitment required to win a constituency seat effectively excludes private sector workers who aren’t self employed as it isvirtually impossiblefor such individuals to hold down a full time job and provide for their families while also seeking election.

I believe that an opportunity to bring in a broader range of people from different personal and professional backgrounds would be a welcome boost to our politics.

Go raibh maith agat arís as an deis agus táim ag súil leis an díospóireacht.

David Kehoe – Submission

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for the Constitution, ladies and gentlemen, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” There is a view abroad that PR-STV is at odds with these immortal words of Edmund Burke. I will argue that it is not. My submission will address the concerns of those proposing electoral reform, who believe that PR-STV is the root cause of the excessive constituency-work demands placed on TDs. I argue to the contrary that PR-STV is not the cause of this phenomenon, and that it’s replacement would not necessarily signify the end of this form of brokerage, which has debilitated the legislative function of TD work. I will illustrate that it is not the electoral system but an aspect of Irish political culture which needs reform, and that attempt at its elimination, under a new electoral system cannot be successful.

Firstly, the argument that intra-party competition in multi-seat constituencies causes excessive amounts of brokerage, is weaker than one would imagine. We must remember that constituency-work has seemingly always been a prominent part of our political culture. It was prevalent in the 19th century under a different electoral system of First-Past-The-Post, as it is under PR-STV today. This does not however emphasise the weaknesses of either electoral system, but only illustrates the robust survival of a political culture. A study of either Denmark or Switzerland serves to prove that intra-party competition in multi-seat constituencies need not be regarded as the cause or source of a constituency-work problem. It is, in fact, the superiority of their relative systems of redress and local government, and the fact that their citizens are well-informed about the correct and adequate avenues of inquiry, which has prevented the growth of a culture of excessive brokerage. Again let me stress, it is not the failure of an electoral system which allows disproportionate amounts of constituency-work to dominate, but the failure of a political system to provide an adequate alternative means of addressing the concerns of constituents, and to inform the public of its adequacy as an alternative means.

An unfortunate interdependency has become the hallmark of the TD-constituent relationship. As Professor Michael Gallagher noted, the behaviour of both actors has only served to incentivise and support the reactions of the other. Indeed, there is proof that candidates from smaller parties who are not burdened by intra-party competition engage in just as much constituency-work as their larger party rivals. So, it is manifest that even an electoral reform providing single-seat constituencies, like the German Mixed Member Proportional System would not prevent high levels of brokerage, as some believe, because it would not provide a new effective method of managing constituency demands. The creation of a barrier between the constituent and TD in the name of reducing brokerage, is a suspect proposition. It would signify not the provision of a solution but the creation of a new problem, in the separation it could facilitate between TD and constituent. Instead, we need to reform a political system which has allowed the inherent value of a close TD-constituent relationship to be overwhelmed by the time-sapping nature of the constituency demands. A new superior, decentralised system of redress is needed to truly provide this reform. However, it’s effectiveness in alleviating the TD’s brokerage work would be completely dependent upon the credibility of a TDs commitment to a revised code of ethics, reinforced with the power of law, which would prevent brokerage. The pursuit of the common good can no longer be sacrificed to brokerage. This must change. But the supreme remedy can only be found in political, and not electoral reform

Barra Roantree

A Chathaoirligh

I wish to focus on two issues in this submission. Firstly, the arbitrary exclusion of up to

120,000 young citizens from voting in general elections and secondly, the absence of any real policy debate amongst the Irish polity.

I regard the resolution of the first issue as necessitating a lowering of the voting age to 16, while an open-list system is akin to the Danish system is needed to balance the competing objectives of constituency service and good policy formation.

Lowering the Voting Age

Let me begin with the issue of the voting age. While the lower age limit for voting must be to some extent arbitrary given the need to balance the ideal of one-person-one-vote and the recognition that granting the vote to four year olds isn’t in the interest of the common good, this lower limit should be consistently arbitrary.

The most relevant benchmark for establishing whether someone should be able to vote or not is that of mandatory education. It is implicit in this state’s requirement for a minor to be in some form of state sanctioned education until the age of 16 that we as a society view the development of the citizen as inadequate until at least this minimum level has been acquired. If we are not prepared to allow citizens of this age to vote, we should increase the age of mandatory education to 18.

At the moment the turnout rate for those between 18 and 24 is estimated at 54 percent, the lowest of all age groups [Marsh et al. (2008)]. It’s not much of a jump to assume that this is probably lower again amongst those at the lower end of this range. While coordinating the yes to Lisbon II campaign here in Trinity last September, it was noticeable how few people were registered at all – be it at home or at their term addresses. People tend to reach the required voting age as they near their leaving certificate exams or during the initial stages of the huge change leaving school represents. I doubt anyone here would be surprised if I said a nudge, or repeated reminders are needed to get 18 year olds to do anything. The same applies for getting them to register to vote.

From a practical point of view, lowering the voting age to 16 would enable the easy registration of tens of thousands of voters. By lowering the voting age the administrative task could be effectively decentralised to teachers, or perhaps the act of registering to vote could be included in the proposed leaving certificate politics and junior certificate CSPE course.

Furthermore, each third level or vocational education institute sends out an array of forms and information to incoming students. The extra cost of including voter registration forms would be negligible (100 euro per 1000 students).

The Need for Electoral Reform

The second of the issues I wanted to deal with is the need for a new electoral system. What the current economic crisis has shown is that for the most part, at the level of both the Oireachtas and of the individual voter, we failed to seriously engage with economic, social and environmental policy.

The Irish National Election study found that the most important criterion for Irish voters when deciding whom to vote for is the ability of candidates to look after the needs of the local constituency. Policy just doesn’t rank. Only 4 percent of those who voted for Fianna Fáil mentioned policy as a reason for doing so; as did only 5 percent of Fine Gael voters [Marsh et al. (2008)]. While this increases for some of the smaller parties, still only 11 percent mention policy in their top three reasons for voting for the Labour Party. This does not mean that the electorate don’t care about policy – it means that they don’t associate the electoral system as the way to express any such choice.

My own personal opinion is that Irish people on the whole tend to view issues in a parochial and short term manner. My problem with the electoral system is not that it encourages inter- party competition, but that it facilitates and indeed encourages a parochial and short-termist engagement with policy among both electors and the elected. By framing the voters choice at such a local level, voters are bound to prioritise the local at the expense of the national.

Many reasons have been provided for why the electorate deem local needs as the most important criterion for voting, including “the weaknesses of local government … the bureaucratic difficulties of getting welfare entitlements or making government responsive to local concerns”(Hardiman, 2009, p.9). These are important aspects of a representative democracy, but to suggest electoral reform is needed is not to rubbish them. The electoral system is not impartial between the two competing desires of voters to firstly elect local representatives who will “look out for the constituency” and secondly put those with the skills necessary to formulate good policies in a position to do so. The PR-STV unduely benefits those who are good at the former at the expense of the latter and a better balance must be found.

A New System: The Danish Model

Denmark is divided into three regions for electoral purposes which are divided into multimember constituencies (10 in total). These constituencies are then subdivided into nomination districts (92 in total). 135 of the available seats are constituency seats allocated proportionally based on a combination of population size, size of the electorate in the constituency, and the geographical area. The remaining seats are compensatory seats which are allocated to main regions, but eventually go to parties.

Julianne Cox & Eliska Drapalova

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the opportunity to raise the important issue of electoral reform.  It is necessary to set in motion a process to dismantle the barriers that prevent women from exerting significant influence on the political scene in Ireland.  The 2007 election returned 22 women to the Dail, which translates into a weak 13%, well below the 30%  target set by the United Nations Organization.  At present the electoral system does not guarantee that issues relating to women find a voice in Parliament.  Research informs us that female parliamentarians are more inclined to argue on behalf of women’s interests more extensively that in parliaments dominated by men.  Female under- representation in the Dail has resulted in inadequate policies on women’s rights and has forced women to turn to the European Union for protection and improvements.  It is only when an equal number of women occupy key political decision-making positions that gender issues will be adequately addressed and the goal of equality realized.  Gender quotas constitute an affirmative action that seeks to correct inequality and guarantee women’s representation in parliament. 

Ireland holds 84th place in the world classification of women’s representation.  We are among the worst countries in the world for women’s participation in public life which conflicts with the idea of real democracy.  In 2007 a Committee of Members produced a recommendation on gender equality.  It described equality between men and women as a fundamental criterion of democracy and highlighted the obligation on the part of governments to eliminate discrimination and achieve equality. 

A Joint Oireachtas Committee report on women in politics launched in November 2008 cited candidate selection as an inhibitor of representation in parliament.  In the 2007 election, women comprised merely 17% of all candidates.  The candidate lists from the 2007 election show 60% of the constituencies being dominated by male candidates.  Fianna Fáil fielded no female candidates in 28 constituencies and Fine Gael did not put forward female candidates in 30 constituencies.  In these cases voters had no gender choice despite a National Election Study revealing that 64% of the public supported greater female presence in politics.  The most important proposal put forward by the report highlighted the need for a law that would penalize political parties who failed to operate a quota system in candidate selection. 

Irish political parties have recognized that action is required to secure women’s place on candidate lists and have undertaken steps to implement a gender equality plan.  However, no party has committed to a definite gender quota.  Committee member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, Ivana Bacik said the most effective reform to encourage greater participation by women in politics would be the introduction of legislation requiring political parties to adopt gender quotas in their candidate selection process.  Rwanda, a country at the top of world rankings of females in politics achieved equality through initiatives such as a constitutional quota and election law.  Belgium adopted quotas in 1994 and the post quota elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 resulted in 31.6% female representation.  The Spanish Equality Law, passed in 2007, which requires political parties to choose roughly equal numbers of men and women in candidate lists means that women enjoy 36.3% representation and dominate the Spanish cabinet.  Thus, the critical mass of 30 per cent representation of women has been achieved in other countries through legislation on quotas.

I would like to recommend that political parties enforce the necessary measures to implement gender equality.  Gender equality is a principle of human rights and the government should be accountable in the promotion of gender equality.  Female under- representation is a problem in Ireland and gender quotas offer a mechanism that can be used to improve women’s representation in parliament.  I thank the Committee again for this opportunity and I look forward to hearing the resolutions put forward by the committee in the future. 

Kimberley Moran

Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the committee on this important topic.

The proposal to set up a system of absentee voting aims to include in the voting process a section of the Irish citizenry that are currently disenfranchised on the basis of their status as expatriates. According to Collyher and Vathi, from the University of Surrey, ‘denying citizens the right to vote is widely interpreted as denying them full citizenship and therefore challenging their identity as members of the national community’.[1] By endorsing such a view, the Irish state is currently denying Irish citizens outside the Republic an intrinsic right by based on the citizen’s geographic location. However, while traditional interpretations of citizenship have elevated the importance of territoriality as a requirement for citizenship, Taylor E. Dark III of California State University establishes that this interpretation is out of touch with the reality of a growing ‘global electorate’.[2]

In an increasingly global world, the movement of individuals has transformed the concept of citizenship by allowing citizens living outside the borders of their country to retain their economic, social, cultural, and legal ties to it. In effect, expatriates expressly retain these ties as a means of distinguishing themselves as citizens of a country where they do not currently reside.

The provision of absentee voting for expatriates across the globe lends further recognition to the destruction of territorial-based citizenship as numerous countries across the world have enfranchised their citizens abroad. To name a few diverse countries, the United States, Britain, France, Mali, and Venezuela have recognised the international stature of their expatriate citizens by enabling them to extend their solid economic, cultural, social, and legal ties into the political sphere by providing absentee voting for these citizens.

Electoral reform within Ireland cannot overlook the importance of implementing absentee voting as a means of extending the franchise to individuals who are not currently covered under the current postal voting system. In particular, the situation of Irish expatriates is troubling for the Irish democratic system as it currently denies these citizens a legitimate political stake through the act of voting on the basis of geographic location. Sadly, Ireland is one of the few democratic countries that denies its citizens abroad the right to participate in the Irish political system.

Mr. Chairman, Deputies, and Senators, I’d like to thank you for your attention to this issue. I am confident that you and the rest of the committee will resolve this problem. I look forward to seeing your solution in the near future.

Talya Housman

Mr. Chairman, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to address the committee on this important topic.

Tonight I would like to discuss an Irish citizen’s fundamental right to vote in Irish elections. Currently, an Irish citizen’s right to vote is dependent on his or her geographic location on election day. With few exceptions, Irish citizens abroad continue to be denied the right to vote. 
This threatens Irish democracy.

Today in Ireland, a prisoner – one who has broken the law of Ireland -has the right to a postal ballot, while an upstanding Irish citizen who happens to be abroad on election day does not.

According to a study done by the University of Surrey, out of 144 countries, not all of whom are fully democratic, 80% allow citizens who are currently residing abroad to vote. Unfortunately, Ireland is not among them. Even countries that have traditionally been staunchly opposed to absentee voting are beginning to embrace the idea. Take the example of India: not only does India not provide absentee voting, but the RP Act of 1950 expressly prohibits non-resident Indians from voting in Section 19. However, despite this history, on January 8th the Prime minister announced he recognizes “the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in who governs India.”1

Our proposal is not drastic. There are currently provisions in place for postal voting for certain citizens, such as diplomats. The proposal would merely extend these rights to the general Irish citizenry. It would protect the rights of expatriates who continue to hold strong financial or personal ties to the Ireland, Irish citizens who happen to be away from their polling station on election day and others.

Our proposal protects the fundamental right of an Irish citizen to vote, regardless of their geographic location on election day.

Mr. Chairman, Deputies, and Senators, I’d like to thank you for your attention to this issue. I am confident that you and the rest of the committee will resolve this problem. I look forward to seeing your solution in the near future.

Thank you.

Ciara Begley

Good evening Chairman –  The system of PR-STV has been approved by the Irish electorate both times that it has previously gone to referendum..  My submission would make the point that reform is not wanted or needed instead there are a number of minor changes that could enhance the practice of PR-STV. My submission aims to focus on two of these, the availability of candidate policy details (particularly in rural local elections) and the use of the random sampling method of transferring votes. Both are worthy of consideration. The electorate are entitled to information about the individual policies of those seeking their vote. The resources to make this information widely available exist yet voters are often directed to party websites when questioning candidates. This is not adequate under a system of PR-STV where votes can be individualistic as well as based along party lines. The second change sought by this submission is based on the mechanics of STV. It seems antiquated for returning officers to be pulling ballots out of boxes and manually transferring them based on what is thought to be a random selection. I suggest fixing these minor problems by banning posters in exchange for information booklets, and introducing the Gregory Method of calculating transfer votes and potentially the use of vote counting machines to facilitate this method.

The first point I am seeking to make is that the level of information available to the electorate (particularly in rural local elections) is minimal and the focus is on advertising not informing. PR-STV creates this problem in that there is often more than one candidate running from the same party. Therefore differentiating them based solely along party policy is often not viewed as an adequate motive for voting for a candidate. For the continued use of PR-STV a complete overhaul of the approach candidates take during elections is needed. During Irish elections wide spread use of posters can be observed. These serve absolutely no purpose. A poster tells the electorate very little about candidates other than party membership, sex and their name. If voting is indeed based on this information we all ought to be concerned. If the campaign money spent on these wasteful adverts was instead channelled into informing the electorate PR-STV would function more effectively. Campaign money ought to be used to provide every household in each constituency with a booklet that briefly but clearly details the policies each candidate up for election in the area is seeking to promote. The clear environmental benefits of this simple change are also obvious. The electorate does not need to see adverts; they need information that will facilitate choice of candidates.

The second point is an important technicality. The use of the random sampling process of transferring votes is no longer tolerable given the nature and scope of widely available modern technology. PR-STV seeks to be as equitable and representative a system as possible. Consequently it is concerning that the approach to transferring votes has an easily eliminated arbitrary dimension. *The paper by Micheal Gallagher and and A. R. Anwin explains in detail the potential distortions that use of the current method can cause. I have included the reference in my written submission.  The problem arises in using a random sampling method as there is no way to be certain that the outcome of the sample would be the same if a different sample were used. This problem is exacerbated by the small size of the Irish electorate. If the ballot boxes are not mixed thoroughly the sample is not satisfactorily random. Instead of using this method use of the Gregory method would be preferred. This method entails the counting of all second (or third and so on) preferences and weighting them according to the surplus votes above and beyond the droop quota. In the Scottish local elections the use of voting machines facilitated the counts. I recommend this approach to the Committee.

Barry Cahill

Mr. Chairman, and distinguished members of the Joint Committee on the Constitution, may I first of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to make this submission. I, much like my colleagues in the Junior Sophister Irish Politics class, have given great consideration to the privilege of addressing these joint houses, an assiduous attention to the civic virtue these submissions embody, and it is with the great humility that I put forward this proposal.

The subject that I wish to discuss is that of the order in which candidate’s names appear on ballot papers. Since the foundation of the state they have appeared in alphabetical order.

In 1910, it was none other than Woodrow Wilson, who noted there have been candidates who have legally changed their names in order to get a higher position on the ballot paper, and reap the rewards that come with it.1 We continue, in this country to arbitrarily advantage those with certain surnames.

It is hard to imagine why certain of elected officials in this country opt for such an unnatural practice as to drop the Ó from their surnames, if not to obtain the undoubted advantage that comes with being higher on that ballot paper. The seemingly impartial system of alphabetisation of candidates on ballot papers, is one not without its flaws.

The solution I am proposing is that we introduce a system of a rotating order of candidates on ballot papers similar to the one operated in Tasmanian Legislative Council, the Tasmanian House of Assembly, and Australian Capital Territories.

Many Australian’s, just like many Irish people, are particularly proud of their electoral system, so much so that when the change I am proposing today, was suggested in Tasmania in 1979 by the Hon. Neil Robson MHA, it was adopted in the belief that the father of their STV system, Thomas Hare, was constantly looking for ways to improve representative democracy. A Political Scientist who believed that, in the absence of sensible objections to certain reforms, we owe a duty to implement them.2

In the ACT, after only 6 years of operation it was decided that the rotation of candidates on ballot papers, was in fact having such a positive impact that a greater number of rotations need be introduced.

The 1986 Tasmanian elections dramatically showed how a more level playing field for candidates can deliver results that would be unthinkable in other electoral systems where parties choose or in the Irish case, the surname you inherit determines your position on the ballot paper.

In that election, though major parties retained the same number of MHAs (19 Liberal and 14 Labour) The only change in party numbers was two Green members in place a Democrat and an independent. There was, however, a dramatic change in the faces in the House, with more than half of the MHAs being new. Four members elected in 1982 did not stand — 15 sitting members contested the election but were rejected by the voters.

Though, the change we would be likely to see in Ireland would not nearly be as radical, (as the change is from an alphabetised list, not from a party selected column.) though, this does highlight the impact of the order of candidates.

Criticisms of this system, include the idea that it may not be as easy as we could possibly make it, for voters to find the candidate they are looking for, and that parties can no longer show a specimen ballot and how loyal party members should vote. These are not, in my mind, large enough considerations, to negative the introduction of this rotation.

The system used in Tasmania to print numerous ballot papers, in rotating order from batch to batch, quite simply links the number of rotations to the number of candidates. The cost of doing this relatively small, in comparison with the overall election, and the number of rotations can continue to be increased in line with the reasonable and practical costs involved in doing so. But, to not even attempt to redress the advantage of ballot positioning is, in my mind, regrettable.

The idea that ballot paper ordering matters more for candidates who the public know little of is reinforced by a recent study3 of the Californian Governor recall election from a few years ago . Minor candidates were helped or hindered by their ballot paper location, but the front runners (such as the big name of Arnold Schwarzenegger) were not affected.

The study clearly shows that ballot ordering is more impactful on candidates with lower profiles. This is why I would proposed initially to introduce this ballot paper rotation in Irish local elections first.

It is with great pride that I commend this system to this Committee.

1Wilson, Woodrow. “Hide-and-Seek Politics.” The North American Review 191, no. 654 (May 1910): 585-601.   “There are cases on record where shrewd seekers of office have had their names changed to names beginning with some letter at the head of the alphabet preparatory to candidacy on such a ballot, knowing that they had no chance of election otherwise.”

2J.S. Mill described Hare’s system as “the greatest improvement of which the system of representative government is susceptible; an improvement which…exactly meets and cures the grand, and what before seemed inherent, defect of the representative system” “Autobiography, John Stuart Mill (1806–73)”The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

3 Ho, Daniel E. and Kosuke Imai. “Randomization Inference With Natural Experiments: An Analysis of Ballot Effects in the 2003 California Recall Election.” Journal of the American Statistical Association (2006)

Daniel Philbin Bowman and Colm Quinn

A Chathaoirleach,

I am presenting this submission on behalf of two of my classmates, Daniel Philbin Bowman and Colm Quinn, who are currently studying in Sweden on an Erasmus programme.

Daniel and Colm had intended presenting this submission in the form of a You Tube video, however due to a difficulty with the technology here in the Examinations Hall this did not prove possible.

The class were of the view that the points Daniel and Colm have identified may be of particular benefit and interest to the Committee and should therefore still be brought to your attention on their behalf. In that respect, it should be noted that the views presented are not my own.

In contrast to politics in Sweden, Daniel and Colm had identified two key distinctions:

  • the lack of women in parliament in Ireland compared to the almost equal representation of men and women in the Swedish parliamentand
  • the amount of time parliamentarians in Ireland spend on local issues compared to Sweden, where parliamentarians deal almost exclusively with national issues.


On the issue of the higher number of women in parliament in Sweden, there is no doubt that their electoral system – which is based on regional closed lists – allows parties to more easily position women for winnable seats. Parties have also introduced voluntary quotas, which ensure that at least 40% of candidates run by parties are women.

Many people look at the fact that many Irish parliamentarians spend much of their time on local issues and point to it as a criticism of the Irish system. Some of that criticism is deserved. However, it is interesting to note that, according to discussions Daniel and Colm had with politicial scientists in Sweden, there is some debate in Sweden as to whether their system has parliamentarians focusing too much on national issues and not spending any time at all on local matters.

As part of their research for their video presentation, they met with Professor Jörgen Hermansson, a lecturer in Uppsala University and one of Sweden’s foremost researchers on electoral systems and reform. I suppose you could call him the Michael Gallagher or Michael Marsh of Sweden!

Prof. Hermansson has just completed a short book looking at how Sweden’s electoral system could adapt some of the German mixed member and Irish PR-STV system. This makes his research particularly interesting for the purposes of our discussion here tonight, given that we are hearing calls for elements of the German system to be introduced in Ireland. The professor’s study shows that, far from being totally imperfect and fit to scrap, other countries are actually looking to our electoral system in Ireland when considering how to improve their own. 

To very briefly summarise Prof. Hermansson’s study, he concludes that the ideal electoral system would be a modified version of the German mixed list system. Under Prof. Hermansson’s idea, the local seats would not be single seat constituencies – as is the case under the German model – but would be multi seat PR-STV constituencies, akin to those we currently have.

While Daniel and Colm see merit in the German mixed member system, they caution that if the aim of reform is to introduce greater diversity of opinions and greater proportionality, it could prove foolish to adopt the German system directly. There is a danger that with single seat constituencies, one party could easily win a disproportionate share of the constituency seats. In Ireland, this would traditionally have favoured Fianna Fáil, although there is of course no guarantee that this would continue to be the case into the future.

In conclusion, Daniel and Colm suggest that electoral reform does have a place in the overall process of political development. However, if we are looking to electoral reform alone to solve issues like the lack of women in politics and the heavy focus on local issues then we may well end up being disappointed.

Electoral reform must be coupled with other issues like reform of local government if it is to have the strongest effect. In addition, there are issues that impact on our political process that can not be changed by legislation but that run deeper into our political culture. Those questions need to be addressed also.

5 thoughts on “Formal submissions by TCD students on electoral reform

  1. Pingback: Digest – Feb 2 2010 – The Story

  2. All for the proposals are coming in as I would have expected for privileged students, who don’t seem to realize that they are living in a dream world created no doubt by the elitist surroundings at Trinity
    The inevitable suggestions coming from the floor is just typical and predictable
    A few changes, to the existing system or variations of some foreign system and then they must mention the woman’s card (not enough woman represented etc)
    The sad fact is the majority of people in Ireland view this body as nothing more than a talking shop for eccentric carrachters who evidently like to lecture the rest of us and get paid enormous amounts of money.
    As far as I can see the Oireachtas is full of self interest individuals, waiting to make a breakthrough into the Dail or some are quite happy to just waffle on in the chamber biding their time and collecting their ill-gotten pay check, and enjoy the trappings of been a “senator” (an Irish Lord)
    This of course is view as the Irish “house of Lords” and is just as corrupt!
    This house should be abolished as it is the view, of the vast majority of the disenfranchised public an attempt of the ruling elite to maintain a class structure within the republic.
    This is of course contravenes the constitutions stated guarantee to treat all citizens equally
    Unless there is to be submissions from all the citizens of Ireland, the vast majority of the people of Ireland view this process as a waste of time

  3. Pingback: on Electoral Reform « Machholz’s Blog

  4. Pingback: On The Ordering Of Ballot Papers « Conduct Unbecoming

  5. We should divide the country into 80 single seat constituencies. Election should be by stv. Once all the constituency seats are allocated. An additional 80/85 seats are then allocated from party lists such that the house reflects the percentage of first preference votes each party received nationally. While anyone can become a minister, anyone who is or was, should only be allowed run via the party lists. Multi-seat constituencies create a caste system of very strong ie poll toppers alongside very weak tds, ie those deemed elected without reaching the quota. This leaves tds open to exploitation by party whips.
    Given the main threat to a sitting td is his/her own running mate, unless the td has a national profile any discussion of policy is a serious waste of time.


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