David Farrell (July 5, 2010)
The following letter appeared in today’s Irish Times:
Madam, – In recent times, I have wondered whether the collective membership of the Dáil has the ability to cope with matters of national importance, which impact on the daily lives of our citizenry. The low and blinkered level of debate relating to animal welfare has served to confirm my fears.
A significant sector of the present Dáil membership would be more at home in the chambers of local county councils. That sector’s vision will never extend beyond the parish pump and it has nothing to contribute to matters pertaining to our national parliament.
Yes indeed, reform of our electoral system is long overdue. – Yours, etc,
Is the author correct in blaming the electoral system for the quality of our politicians?
As readers of this blog will know, this is not the first time that there has been a call for electoral reform the aim being to improve the quality of our elected representatives. (For a sample of earlier discussion, see here.) There are a number of questions that follow from this proposal, among them:
- Change to what? What sort of electoral system would we want Ireland to move towards? For instance — to take an extreme case — do we want the sort of electoral system they have in Israel (closed, national list PR) where there is little if any direct contact between citizens and politicians?
- Would change work? Would a new electoral system produce a new type of politician? What is it that electoral reform would do that would have such an impact?
As some of us have argued before (for my previous posting on this, see here) there are question marks over the extent to which, in and of itself, electoral reform would have as much impact as its promoters might suggest. Yes, as part of a package of wider, large scale reform (as proposed by the two main opposition parties) there could certainly be scope for looking at a new electoral system for Ireland. But, on it’s own I have my doubts as to its likely success. There might well be a problem in the quality of our politicians and in the constituency-focused services they supply; but I wonder if the bigger problem might actually be the demands that we, the citizens, place on our politicians — demands that, in large part, result from our frustration with poor service provided by our public services, and the political vacuum on the ground resulting from our weak and ineffectual local government. Perhaps more could be achieved by dealing with these problems first: i.e. focus on fixing the demand-side first and the supply-side problems may sort themselves out over time.