The clock is ticking on when the long-awaited by-elections will be held. Donegal South West has had a vacant Dail seat since Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher was elected MEP in June 2009, while Dublin South has been open since being vacated by George Lee in February 2010 and Waterford since Martin Cullen stepped down in March 2010.
The seemingly unending deferral of these three by-elections calls a number of things about democracy Irish-style into question, among them the issue of whether the government of the day should have to right to decide on the date. On regular occasions over the past few weeks the government has used its Dail majority to successfully block opposition parties’ attempts to call the by-elections.
Of course, we’re not yet into the record stakes on this. The longest time Dail seats have been left unfilled, apart from the vacancies arising during WW2, were ‘the 521 and 470 days respectively that followed the resignations of FF TDs Padraig Flynn and John O’Connell early in 1993. The by-elections were not held until June 1994’ (Michael Gallagher in Irish Political Studies, Vol. 11, 1996, p. 31).
For all their faults, there are advantages to having by-elections as the means by which we fill vacant Dail seats (a point discussed in an earlier posting). But, this requires that they are called; not blocked in a desperate attempt by a government to cling to power at all costs. Recently, attempts by Fine Gael to propose a Bill requiring by-elections to be called within six months were rebuffed. If Fine Gael do form the next government, let’s hope that they implement this proposal so that at least we can fix this particular problem in our current set up.
This is one political reform that could be implemented extremely easily.