Crunch time approaches for the constitutional convention

For those of us who have been following the progress of Ireland’s constitutional convention, tomorrow promises to be an important date. According to the Dáil’s schedule of business, the Department of the Environment Community and Local Government will be providing a statement on the Convention’s first report tomorrow afternoon/evening.

While (to the best of my knowledge) no official statements have been issued by the Department or government in advance, The Irish Times reported last Wednesday that the government has accepted the Convention’s recommendation that a referendum be held on a proposal to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16. However, the same report went on to disclose that ‘the one major departure of Cabinet from the convention report is its rejection of its recommendation that ordinary citizens have a role in the nomination process in a presidential election’.

I note here that, according to the Convention’s report, 94% of the membership voted in favour of the proposal to ‘give citizens a say in the nomination’ (of presidential candidates), so rejection would be something of a slap in the face for the Convention’s membership. I also note that this specific recommendation would, by definition, take exclusive nominating power out of the hands of our elected politicians.

We will see tomorrow whether this is the case – watch this space.

5 thoughts on “Crunch time approaches for the constitutional convention

  1. @Matt
    ” I also note that this specific recommendation would, by definition, take nominating power out of the hands of our elected politicians.”

    Frankly, I think you have taken an extraordinary liberty with this view of what the Convention decided on this issue. What is the basis for jumping to the conclusion that you do?

    The Convention voted ie “Give citizens a say in nomination” (of candidates for President).

    The formal Report of the Convention to the Government on this matter (March 2013)does not provide any basis your interpretation
    “A very prominent theme to emerge from the small group deliberations was whether the nomination rules should be amended to give a greater role to citizens in nominating candidates for the presidency, and thus help to increase public engagement. As one member argued, the Presidency should not be a gift controlled by the political parties; voters should have a greater role in deciding on who runs. Another observed that the nomination process is the biggest single obstacle to opening up the Presidency”

    Given that you have linked to the Convention’s Report, please point out something that I may have overlooked or misinterpreted. Let me say that I have not looked at the podcasts of that particular meeting of the Convention.

    Surely it would be possible to add another clause to the existing means for nominating Presidential candidates set out in in Article 12.4.2
    The basis of this could be
    1) any person wishing to be a candidate in a Presidential election could be nominated by gathering d a certain number of signatures of those on the electoral register eg. equal to the 1 per cent of the total valid poll in the previous general election;
    2) with a certain time period.
    The methods brought in for the European Citizens’ Initiative could be applied directly to validating the signatures collected, including those collected electronically.

    • Hi Donal, thanks for the comment.

      You will see that I have amended my wording slightly, so the sentence now reads: ‘this specific recommendation would, by definition, take exclusive nominating power out of the hands of our elected politicians’.

      My logic in making this conclusion that citizens currently have no direct way of nominating candidates for the presidency. I added the word ‘exclusive’ because, reflecting on it, there’s nothing in there about removing the power of elected politicians to nominate candidates.

      The steps that you outline seem quite reasonable to me – Michael Gallagher explores some other options (and the difficulty of signature validation) here:

      Whether the CC should elaborate specific steps to implement each of its recommendations is certainly a matter for debate, but I think that the meaning of their recommendation is fairly clear (or so it seems to me, at least).

      • Matt,
        I am not impressed that you have used your access to your original posting to modify it after I had posted a comment based on your original posting. What is the point of people like me taking part in this kind of forum if the editors allow the authors of the original posting to change that posting, in the light of comments submitted – in good faith?

        I thought that the meaning of the Constitutional Convention’s (CC) recommendation on this issue was clear ie. that there should be another means of securing a nomination. Your original assertion stretched that recommendation for reasons that are not at all clear – even in your response.

        Michael Gallagher’s (Sept 2011) comment is a recipe for doing nothing.
        “Validating signatures would presumably mean local authority employees knocking on the doors of supposed signatories and seeking confirmation of their identity and their signature. As we know from the experience of conducting surveys and maintaining the electoral register, this would mean repeated visits to many addresses, a good deal of evening work, and the certainly that many names would prove in effect uncontactable. The administrative capacity to take on this task surely does not exist. Given that both central and local administrative machines have difficulty in coping with their existing responsibilities, and with public sector staff numbers being frozen or reduced, how realistic would it be it to expect them to deal meaningfully with this additional responsibility?”

        I am disappointed that you do not refer to the methods of validating voters signatures now that the European Citizens Initiative is part of Irish law since 21 March 2012. It is spelt out reasonably clearly what needs to be done, including penalties to be applied for organisers who make false claims.

        Click to access FileDownLoad,29720,en.pdf

        “Whether the CC should elaborate specific steps to implement each of its recommendations is certainly a matter for debate,…”

        This strikes me as extraordinary given the the CC as set up and run allows, at most, for one weekend for most topics – the only exception being the Dáil electoral system.
        Compare this to the much vaunted Citizens Assembly in British Columbia which spent 18 months on one topic (the electoral system) and had resources of up to Can$5.5m (over €4m).

        The design of our CC hardly allows the members to do more than than they have done. The real issue for debate is the extent to which our CC is a contribution to deliberative democracy, which some our our political scientists claim. I am sure that the CC members learn a lot, but the rest of the population hardly has a look in, if only because of the 1 year times scale for 8 topics. Podcasts are no substitute for a longer period for people to become familiar with the issues – by discussion among themselves.

        How could CC members come up specific steps to implement each of its recommendations?

        The least I expect of the academic political “scientists” is to put forward more detailed options that could implement the non-specific recommendations of the CC.

      • Matt,
        On further reflection, I believe that reasonable discussion (which I presume this web-forum is meant to promote) requires you to delete the word “exclusive” which you added to the last sentence of your original posting after I have made my comment at 12.13am on 18 July last.
        Your response to my first comment clarifies what you meant to say in your posting.

  2. Hi Donal, I reserve the right to moderate my own posts as I see fit, at any time that I choose. It’s hardly hidden, as I point out the change explicitly in the above comment.

    I’m sorry that you found/find my reasoning unclear, but I think it’s valid to infer that opening up alternative (citizen based) avenues of nomination would imply a diminution of power exercised by elected politicians over the process, I tried to clarify my line of thinking by amending the wording of that sentence.

    I’m not sure why you have such a bee in your bonnet about this particular post, but you’re certainly entitled to express your opinions on this forum, which was set up to be a venue for open, and often critical, discussion.

    As you say, the CC is working on a very diverse array of issues over a very constricted timescale, and, to my mind, they are doing a great job. On public engagement, I agree that real public engagement would require a substantial increase in resources.

    In the spirit of open and frank discussion, I should tell you that I couldn’t care less about what you expect of academic political scientists.

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