Political Studies Association of Ireland Annual Conference 19 – 21 October

The 2012 Annual Conference will be hosted by the University Of Ulster, Magee Campus, Londonderry, and will take place on 19-21 October 2012 in the City Hotel, Queen’s Quay. The headline theme for this conference will be “Politics, Culture and Society in a Changing Ireland“.

Full Details available at http://psai.ie/conference.asp


12 thoughts on “Political Studies Association of Ireland Annual Conference 19 – 21 October

  1. Given the location I can understand the focus on the totally dysfunctional polity that is Northern Ireland. But, given the extent to which effective democratic governance bwteen general elections has palpably failed – and continues to fail – in the South, the failure to get to grips with this appears surreal. It’s amost as if these academics exist in some sort of parallel universe.

    And please don’t tell me that this focus on ‘deliberative and participatory democracy’ is an effective means of addressing even part of this fundamental problem.

  2. The silence here is ominous. Something must be cooking on the Constitutional Convention front – and them what know and expect to be part of it are keeping their heads down. The tiniest squeak might scupper their chances. I expect a grand announcement – replete with platitudes and noble aspiration, but signifying nothing of any use – is imminent.

    • Yes, has been really quiet around here of late. I fully expect a few tumbleweeds to blow through here any moment now! 🙂 But maybe it’s just a lull before the constitutional convention eventually starts. I guess it has been uneventful on the political reform front recently. Though, would have thought the recent proposal by Senators and others such as Michael McDowell to legislatively reform the Seanad might have been newsworthy enough to get a mention in passing: http://issuu.com/seanadreform/docs/seanadreform (even if I have doubts there’d be enough political will in the Dáil to actually implement something along these lines in the event of an abolition referendum being defeated).

      • Hi, Finbar. Yes, I think it’s ‘keep the heads down’ time before this Constitutional Convention charade kicks off. Any idea when it might?

        And, yes, I’m also surprised that this Seanad reform proposal (thanks for the link) has not provoked a post here. I expect the Taoiseach would be happy to have a bit of wriggle room – or even space for a ‘principled’ retreat. He announced his decision (and the one on shrinking the Dail) in very different political circumstances; the objective was to demontrate his political virility. He’s lord of (most of) all he surveys now, so this decision is becoming a bit of a nuisance. I’m sure he would like more and more thorough reform proposals. He could then say that the quality of the various reforms proposals have persuaded him to reconsider. He could make a virtue of his willingness to listen to reasoned and cogent opinions. The last thing he wants is a referendum defeat. And this might be even more acceptablethan any strengthening of the powers of the Dail to compensate for the abolition of An Seanad.

        I can see him lining up for a hefty kick of this ‘ball’ in to the long grass.

      • @Paul
        The convention has been almost ready to start for a while now. A chairperson has yet to be announced though (or if one has been appointed that’s gone well under my radar). And, at least according to Enda Kenny when he introduced the Dáil motion initiating this process, the chairperson is supposed to oversee the selection of members of the public by the polling company. So has even that been happening? Maybe this is just more foot-dragging. Or maybe the government is having genuine difficulty finding a suitable person? I’ve no doubt that if the convention had a wide and sweeping mandate then a long list of candidates would be queuing up and beating down the door to be chair. But eight weekends over a year to discuss the eight topics (Presidential term, voting age, electoral system, same-sex marriage, role of women in home and society, role of women in politics, and blasphemy) on the narrow agenda seemingly will be the format. Never expected a scope anything remotely approaching the Icelandic process. Still, the bar has been set even lower than I expected (IMO making a bit more of an effort and being a bit more imaginative would have made good politics especially as the next GE approaches). Maybe one reason there may perhaps be some difficulty finding a chairperson with the kind of public stature the government would like?

        Not easy for Enda to back out of a Seanad abolition referendum (though I suspect he might now like to). And abolition requires some tricky choices to be made regarding the largely theoretical checks and balances of the Seanad (transfer elsewhere or simply get rid of?). I suppose turning the vote into a PR-STV preferendum would be the least damaging way of extricating himself from all this (maybe allow a choice between status quo, abolition, legislative reform, and/or maybe some constitutional reform option) and then allow hold a proper referendum on the winning option (if necessary). He could point out that abolition was still an option.

  3. Finbar,

    Many thanks for this. I obviously haven’t being paying as much attention as I should have. But it’s difficult to pay attention to this deliberately distracting charade while the domestic economy bounces along the bottom with one ‘dead cat’ bounce being followed by another with all the economic and social hardship this entails – and without any prospect of a genuine recovery in sight. And it’s even worse that so many seem to be placing their hope in some sort of EU/EZ/EMS/ECB writing off of most or all of the €64 billion that Irish taxpayers have poured in to the banks – both zombies and the definitely dead. This simply ain’t going to happen. (It smacks of a continuation of the long historical tradition from “Some Spanish wine will give you hope, my dark Rosaleen”. Sentiment never enters in to the deliberations of the ‘great powers’, but far too many Irish people delude themselves in to believing they are somehow special and deserving of favoured treatment,) Some relief on, or extension of, repayments will be provided, but it is extremely unlikely to have any material impact on the economic policy challenges.

    Apart from this, you make valid points about the inclusion of consideration of the electoral system in the CC agenda. This could be a Trojan horse, a stalking horse, a pantomime horse – or indeed any type of equine you desire, but its inclusion opens up some potential to lift this exercise from its charade status. I’ve always had an instinctive preference for proportional representation – and the more proportional the better. But I’ve been taken by arguments advanced by David Deutsch, an Oxford physicist/philosopher, in his book, “The Beginning of Infinity”, promoting the majoritarian, or ‘first past the post’, system of voting.

    He roots his argument in, and extends it from, Karl Popper’s philosophy of science – and to which I’ve long subscribed. For Popper, science involves a continuous process developing, modifying, adapting, rejecting and testing theories until the best – as in the most difficult to vary and with the greatest possible reach – explanation is found. And it does this by rejecting and excluding bad explanations. In one important sense this mirrors the process of evolution and natural selection. Organisms that are not capable of mutation or adaption are wiped out. Only those that are will survive and reproduce. But evolution is a blind and relentless force; the scientific method is driven to find better explanations, mainly by eliminating bad explanations and adapting those theories with some explanatory power.

    Deutsch extend this argument to systems of democratic governance. The objective here is to remove, peacefully, politcians who have proved ineffective or even harmful and to reject or adapt policies that have not proved fit for purpose or are detrimental to the public interest. And he advances a compelling argument that majoritarian systems are the most effective means of achieving this.

    But the chances of arguments along these lines being developed and advanced for consideration by citizens via this CC charade are vanishingly small. Hey ho. Another opportunity to make some progress will be deliberately spurned. It is ireland after all. Too many of the powerful and influential have a pressing interest in maintaining the status quo. And if some consideration is given to these arguments the whole process will be so surreal as to be almost beyond imagining.

    • @Paul
      I think the economy will dominate all for many years (likely decades) ahead. And thanks for the David Deutsch stuff. Read Deutsch’s first book many moons ago (the new one sounds pretty interesting, wasn’t aware of it). But did track down a recent plea by him up on youtube (made in the run-up to the UK AV vote) arguing against AV.

      There’s probably something to the argument (as much as I can gather anyway from the youtube link etc.). Have wondered in the past if the failure of FF constitutional attempts to go towards single-seaters was actually a good thing given the half-assed way we proportionality here.

      Deutsche argues that AV (or perhaps PR in general) magnifies the power of king-makers, or marginal groupings. He may have a point. But I suspect that happens to a degree even in FPTP (the focus in the US presidential elections on swing voters and swing states being a case in point). I suspect there’s a general tendency for very varied voting system to tend to produce similar outcomes one way or the other.

      Penrose voting actually bases itself on the opposite principle, that smaller groupings are less likely to be pivotal, hence accordingly increases their voting power (proportional to the square root of the group size). Though am not sure how realistic are the types of assumptions underlying this model.

      An upside of PR could be that new parties are easier to form. Hopefully, there should be a more dynamic party ecosystem. There’s always the potential for a new party to arise that might upset the apple cart. Party settings tend to be very static in FPTP and AV (usually one 2 or maybe 2 and a half). A party only needs to be better than the other lot to win. If there are aspects of how the country is governed that suits both (that the voters may not like) it could be potentially hard for voters to do much about it. However perhaps that is counterbalanced by potentially very big seat swings. The something of of a landslide in the UK 1997 GE being a good example (418 to Labour (Blair), 165 to Conservatives (Major)) with the Conservatives losing more than half their seats. In that sense at least the voters do have a drastic degree of control at the ballot box.

      Our electoral system comes somewhere in the middle. There’s slightly more dynamism in the party ecosystem. There are a small number of big beasts. Others come and go, but it’s hard for them to gain a foothold long term. Sinn Féin may be an interesting exception. It’s a big beast in neighbouring territory, making sustained excursions into new ground (and perhaps setting up a long term base). It’s really all fairly static however. Tightened donation rules may have the side effect of making forming new parties even harder (as has been pointed out by Desmond O’Malley).

      Big party seat swings I suspect are rare (the last GE being something of an exception). All in all a very stultifying middle ground with neither the big seat swings of AV or FPTP nor the potentially more dynamic party ecosystem of PR. All very inertia promoting (a pretty nice setup though if one is an established politician I suspect). I’d also instinctively tend towards proper PR (or at least PR-STV with decent constituency sizes). I’d wonder though if the half-arsed limited-proportionality PR-STV we practice actually ultimately might be worse than FPTP.

      • Forgot to include David Deutsch youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0pZ9LTZW1g

        Plus I suppose many countries with PR have mechanisms that attenuate the power of marginal groups within coalitions (I’m thinking of Germany and most of the Nordic and Baltic countries). Parliamentary dissolution may be constrained in some way (the prerogative of the President rather than the PM in Finland and Latvia (with referendum needed there also) and with semi-fixed terms in Sweden and Germany (constructive vote of no confidence also) and even fixed terms in Norway. There seem to be definite issues with unbridled PR, Israel and Italy (especially when its voting system was even more proportional than at present) being good examples. But PR seems to work ok when appropriate other structures are put in place to stabilize government formation.

        The electoral system is indeed the most interesting aspect of the CC agenda. It looks like it’ll be examined in isolation from other relevant aspects of the constitution. Ideally it would be examined together with local government, government formation and dissolution, and with a mind to creating state institutions like a proper constitutionally-based electoral commission. A holistic look is needed, not some hodge podge of mostly superficial bits-and-bobs.

  4. Finbar,

    Many thanks for your response and link. It looks like we’re the only two people awake here. Despite the electoral system being on the agenda for the CC charade, I doubt much progress will be made. The Government’s reform agenda is designed to smother any genuine progress. Policy-making is totally reactive. It will only do something when an issue is forced on to its radar and it is compelled to do something. All the flow of plans, reviews, proposals, etc. is merely spin and bullshit. And it seems the academics are perfectly happy to go along with it; indeed they contribute to the production of quite a lot of it – and often get handsomely rewarded.

    • Finbar,

      Once again, many thanks. I’m looking forward to reading Donal’s latest offering. He seems to be focusing on the need to provide ‘additional precautions’. I retain my focus on making existing institutions and procedures work better.

      He also seems to have given up on engagement on this blog. That’s a shame, but his apparent assessment is probably wise. This blog has fizzled out primarily due to the pussilanimity of its editors. Time to move on.

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