David Farrell (January 10 2011)
Former Attorney General John Rogers has returned to the theme of electoral reform. In a presentation on The Week in Politics on RTE last night and also in today’s Irish Times he set out the latest version of his ideas for a new electoral system (for discussion on the previous version see here). As before he misses the main point — namely that on its own electoral reform will fix nothing (discussed in a large number of posts on this site; for an example see here). And as regards his proposed system, we have the makings of what could best be described as a dog’s breakfast.
The proposed changes are as follows:
the Dáil to comprise of no more than 150 deputies, and this to be unalterable save by constitutional change;
100 of these deputies to be elected from 20 five-seat constituencies using proportional representation;
the remaining 50 deputies to be elected by the entire national electorate by proportional representation from seven panels with seats as follows:
1. future planning, security and social development: eight seats
2. environment and sustainable development: seven seats
3. natural resources and agriculture: seven seats
4. industry, science and technology: seven seats
5. administrative, accountability, labour and business: seven seats
6. education and culture: seven seats
7. EU and international relations: seven seats
As a further measure of reform require that the taoiseach, the minister for finance and at least three other members of our 15-member cabinet should be drawn from this cadre of 50 nationally-elected deputies.
Others can feel free to chime in, but for openers among the main problems with this system would be the following:
1. Does he really, really think that by naming his 7 panels by theme (future planning, education, etc.) that somehow the parties will step back and let relevant learned bodies (which??) propose candidates. The golden rule in politics is that representative politics IS party politics. You can design fancy new electoral and parliamentary structures till you’re blue in the face and parties will still manage to take charge: that is how it has always been and will always be; and actually that’s how it should be.
2. He proposes that these 7 panels would elect one national list of 50 TDs, and that the Taoiseach and most senior ministers must come from this coterie of TDs. Given that this is a 50-seat constituency (unless he proposes some sort of electoral threshold to reduce the overall proportionality) then this will mean that large numbers of these seats will be won by minor parties (Greens, Sinn Fein, and doubtless other new parties that would form). This will mean that relatively speaking the larger parties (that would be the senior coalition partners) would pick up fewer of these seats. And this would be compounded by the fact that a key feature of mixed-member electoral systems such as this (for more on all of this, see) is that the higher tier election (i.e. this 50-seat tier) is used to iron out any disproportionalities in the lower tier (the 20 5-seat constituencies) — i.e. giving more seats to smaller parties to compensate them. In short, the pool of ministerial/leadership talent available to the main parties in this 5-seat tier could be pretty limited.
3. What sort of expenses regime would be envisage for both sets of deputies? If we take at face value the idea that the 50-TDs representing the 7 panels are there to push national issues, then that suggests that they won’t have a budget for a constituency office. As we’ve seen in Scotland and Wales, this will result in debates over the status of TDs, some seen as of a lower status (because they have less resource). But IF, instead, he proposes that all deputies should have the same set of resources, then we end up with turf-wars: the 5-seater TDs demanding that the 50-seat TDs ‘get off their lawns’.
4. There are lots of details that are missing that would have huge implications for the system he proposes, among them:
- What sort of PR system would be used for the 50-seat election — open or closed list? The latter gives a lot of power to parties to determine who gets elected; the former results in the same-old-same-old localist politics)
- Would candidates be allowed to run in both sets of elections (as for example happens in Germany)? If so, we’re into the realm on ‘zombie politicians’, politicians who by hedging their bets and running for both ensuring that even if they are killed off at one level they can still live to fight another day.