More hints are emerging about the government’s intentions relating to the election of the next Ceann Comhairle. As reported in a recent post, the government is about to propose a change to Dáil standing orders so that the Ceann Comhairle of the next Dáil will be elected by a secret ballot of all members. As a number of us have argued for some time, this is an important first step towards making future governments more accountable to the Dáil. (My colleagues and I will be setting out more detailed proposals on Dáil reform this coming Wednesday morning.)
But in order to make this reform meaningful careful thought also needs to be given to the nomination procedure, and here — unfortunately — the reports of government intentions are not promising. According to a report in last Saturday’s Irish Times, candidates for the position of Ceann Comhairle will need the support of at least seven TDs. The problem with this procedure is that it risks keeping the position of Ceann Comhairle tightly under the control of the established parties.
Two alternative nomination procedures that the government might consider are:
- Allowing any TD to nominate themselves (as practiced in Canada), or
- Requiring nominees to have cross-party support (e.g. in the British House of Commons candidates for Speaker must be nominated by MPs from at least three political parties).
The British system has a lot of merit in ensuring that that candidates for the position of Ceann Comhairle attract cross-party support and this is certainly worth considering for the Dáil.
When the Dáil debates the proposed standing order changes for electing the next Ceann Comhairle, let’s hope that the nomination procedure is not over-looked.