Donal O’Brolchain reviews pre/post- election developments on direct democracy
The February 2016 election continues a pattern of nearly 50 years ie. voters have not re-elected an outgoing government. Since 1969, this has happened once in 2002. Despite Ireland’s undoubted successes (eg. joining the EU, a rising population and workforce) over these years, we have had two major social, economic and fiscal crises brought on by bad governance.
Here, as elsewhere, there is a growing awareness of the need to find new ways for enhancing democratic governance, given the influences of new communications media in a globalised economy. The Irish Water debacle indicates that, on some issues, people want to take part in politics directly, without waiting for elections.
During 2015, two independent movements (One Year Initiative, Reinstate48) started with the same aim ie. to introduce people-initiated referendums.
This suggests that people are becoming aware of a need to have a means of directly exercising their right to decide all questions of national policy, in accordance with the common good, which is one aspect of Article 6.1 of our Constitution.
In 2013, members of Constitutional Convention voted 83% in favour of direct democracy when considering electoral reform. The last government rejected of this vote which was higher than the support for same-sex marriage.
Since the election, some scope has emerged for another look at people-initiated referendums as means of complementing our representative democracy. These are the setting up of a Citizens’ Assembly and a motion on the Dáil’s order paper.
The manner in which referenda are held is among the five topics of the terms of reference for the Citizens’ Assembly.
Nearly 40 TDs supported a 1Yi draft motion which is now on the agenda for this Dáil. This calls for a One Year Citizens’ Assembly to devise a new mechanism that will enable citizens to robustly scrutinise proposed legislation, assess and advocate for citizens’ initiatives, and table amendments and counter proposals to Government sponsored legislation.
Over the next few years, we will continue to mark the events that led to the foundation of this State. Some attention will focus how democratic legitimacy was secured and sustained. In 1922, the Dáil voted to include people-initiated referendums in the Constitution of the Irish Free State. This showed extraordinary confidence in the democratic process and in the right of the people to participate directly in governing themselves, at the height of Civil War violence.
Full report available at Republic of Ireland – moves towards more direct democracy? Democracy International 14 December2016