3 thoughts on “Irish electoral reform debate gathering international interest

  1. One of the points made on this discussion is about the size of the parliament. I’m sceptical of the benefit of reducing the Dáil. It’s obviously a populist measure that would get support in a referendum, but at the same time we’re trying to say we should have stronger committees. At the moment most insiders I’ve spoken to find that there are only about three people in each committee who take it seriously – maybe more for PAC. The rest are passengers.

    Another point on fruits and votes is that in Tasmania where they reduced the size of the legislature they find it difficult to staff the executive. At the moment there are 166 TDs, so about 80 for the government. (At least) ten are mad/ drunk; ten are too young/ inexperienced; That leaves between fifty or sixty TDs who are expected to staff the government – it leaves the taoiseach with pretty limited choices.

  2. Great credit is due to all in the politcial science disciplines (and wider) for building and sustaining the momentum to address the fundamental failures of democratic governance that are at the heart of the current economic, financial and fiscal debacle. (Btw, will the papers presented at the recent conference in UCC be available at this site?)

    However, I remain convinced that how many TDs there are, or how they are elected, matters far less than what they do when they sit in the Dail. People seem content with the PR-STV system. It avoids the need for primaries in the main parties and is the nearest thing available to a legal blood sport. The case for a second revising/delaying chamber appears weak, but, in the context of the talent pool available to a taoiseach, it might make sense to reduce the number of TDs by, say 40, and elect a second chamber of 40 members using a list system based on the Euro constituencies. More than the current two that may be selected from the Seanad to sit in cabinet could be selected.

    Rather than being a revising/delaying chamber, this reformed “Seanad” could act both as a policy proposing body and as the first scruntineer of government policy proposals. The Dail would have the final say.

    Furthermore, there is a pressing requirement to break the power of the whips and to allow the Dail, in consultation with the government, to set the order of business. And this needs to be extended to significant increases in the resourcing and empowerment of Dail Committees. The objective is to encourage the Dail to behave as a legislature rather than a parliament for warring tribes. Being the chair or deputy-chair of a parliamentary committee should be a position of influence and authority to which TDs would aspire, rather than being a bauble dispensed by the whips. (I accept that the current polarisation of politics in the US is resulting in the Houses of Congress not acting as the legislature the Founding Fathers intended, but I remain confident that the structure and process has proved sufficiently resilient and this bout of extremism will pass. It should not be used as an excuse not to contemplate reform of legislatures in parliamentary democracies, as all in the EU suffer from executive dominance to some extent or other – with Ireland and the UK being at the extreme.)

    Keep up the good work.

  3. @Eoin
    “That leaves between fifty or sixty TDs who are expected to staff the government – it leaves the taoiseach with pretty limited choices”

    Why confine the selection of members of the government to members of of the Oireachtas?
    This limits the ability of the Taoioseach to pick those with executive skills who would never be elected or even willing to be elected.

    In her SSISI paper, Niamh Hardiman pointed out that
    “The manner of appointing government Ministers is quite
    varied across democratic countries, as Figure 4 shows; other possibilities might perhaps
    usefully be discussed. If the Dáil looked like a place in which policy could be debated and
    influenced, this would increase the likelihood that people with specialized talents would be
    willing to stand for election.
    Figure 4 – Modes of appointment to parliamentary executives”
    See full text here http://www.ssisi.ie/Hardiman26-11-09.pdf

    Last June, the former UK Cabinet Secretary and head of the UK Home Civil Service called for the separation of the executive from the Parliament. He pointed out that
    “The “nearly complete fusion” of executive and legislature is also harmful to the legislature. Staffing the government from the ranks of MPs denudes the Commons of a great deal of talent. Financial incentives favour taking a government job not a committee chairmanship. This over-close relationship also undermines MPs’ independence. Someone aspiring to be in the government is hardly likely to throw his weight around.

    The second principle of constitutional design has been the sovereignty of parliament: only parliament can make laws. Historically this has been strongly supported in Britain, as seen in our reluctance to cede power to the courts or the European Union. But the truth is that the sovereignty of parliament has become a myth. The control of parliament by the executive has grown to such an extent that we now, in reality, have sovereignty of government. The Commons does not control which committees are established, who chairs them, who can table legislation and how time is allocated. All this is controlled by the government through the Whips office. ”
    This looks very much like what we experience here in this Republic.

    I dealt with the weaknesses of drawing Ministers from the Dail in a piece published in Business& Finance (21 May 1987) Need Government Fail?
    “Our basis of government
    In our system we, the people, elect a group (Dáil deputies) which in turn, elects a Taoiseach who then picks a smaller group (Cabinet) to govern for a period not greater than five years. We, who as citizens own the authority to govern, pass this authority to successively smaller groups.
    There is only one path to government power in our system. This path must act as a route for the transfer of our democratic power which authorises the government to act. At the same time, this path must also serve to gather the actual know-how needed to carry out the tasks of government. These two aspects may be equated with the distinction between the words “may” and “can”, ie the ability to do something and permission to do it…

    Ministers are always members of the majority grouping in the Dáil. This means that the examining role of the Dáil (as the Representative Branch) is very closely tied to the executive role of the Minister as option-maker. It seems inevitable that one or both roles will suffer from this link as appears to be the case in our present system. For example, Ministers often comment that their reduced poll (even loss of Dáil seat) at general elections results from being too taken up with government affairs to look after their constituencies.”

    The ideas outlined in this piece are derived from an article published in 1986 in the Institute of Public Administration’s journal Administration(No. 34/2 June 1986) under the title A Design for Democracy. This is available on this web-site

    Click to access design-for-democracy.pdf

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