So I recently learned that The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 will soon be passed as law. Looks like some really progressive stuff, especially when you look at the ongoing hyper monetization of politics that is taking place in the usa. I can’t wait to see the parties publish comprehensive accounts, which should let the media, academia, and general public keep a closer eye on how we fund our politics.
One aspect of this legislation that has been extensively debated on these pages is the introduction of gender quotas into Irish electoral law. I’ve thought long and hard about this topic, as I have heard many divergent opinions, with considered points on both sides. Overall, I’d say that I’ve come to see quotas as a necessary (and necessarily temporary) evil, in order to allow for a conscious re engineering of an aspect of our political system. I look forward to the day where we don’t need quotas to help women to participate equally in politics, though I think the ultimate solution to that problem lies in lessening the ‘carreerist’ nature of our political system, which doesn’t favour a normal work/life balance. Who knows, perhaps with more women running for office and getting elected, this problem may eventually be addressed.
One interesting argument from the ‘no’ side in the debate was that the introduction of a gender quota opens up a Pandora’s box – if a gender quota is necessary, then why not a racial quota, or an occupational quota, or an age quota? Certainly, we know that Ireland’s politicians differ in many ways from Irish society – the words ‘male, stale and pale’ come to mind. they are also systematically different in terms of their levels of wealth and occupational backgrounds. I think that rather than a series of quotas, random sampling for an upper chamber has many promising properties – the most important being that the established laws of statistics promise a reliable degree of representativeness.
Rather than abolishing the Seanad, could we randomly select it’s members, and pay them the median industrial wage for a year’s political service to the state (with, say, the power of referral of any law to referendum to be shared with our elected president)? The idea of random selection to public institutions is not totally radical – think juries. It was also hugely important in the political architecture of ancient Athenian democracy – an example that has long inspired democratic progress.