No FG/Lab majority in the next Seanad

Amongst all the fallout from the recent local elections in the republic one that has gone somewhat unheralded (just as the same effect was largely missed in 2009 for the FF/Greens) is the impact that the results have on future collation building after the next general election. While the task of assembly the numbers to elect a Taoiseach and hence a appoint a cabinet rests on the numbers in the Dáil, the job of governing or the practical tasks of passing legislation requires a majority in both houses. Certainly the powers of the Seanad to impede the ultimate passage of legislation are heavily proscribed but a government seeking to govern while having to expend time and effort in working to override the delaying powers of the Seanad would be too unduly constrained to function in the accelerated time frame of the 21st century world.

The current Coalition is now mathematically highly unlikely to be able to command a majority in the next Seanad under the current electoral system. Regardless of the results of the next general election it is nigh on impossible for the current coalition of Fine Gael and Labour to get enough senators elected from the Seanad electorate of cllrs and members of the Oireachtas even with the 11 Senate seats that would be in the gift of the Taoiseach to have a functioning majority in the Seanad. A functioning majority would be 31 out of the 60 seats.

After the election results of 2014 FG have 232 cllrs down from 340, Labour have 51 down from 134 and with Seanad quotas on two of the smaller panels being in the order of 133 and 177 it is very unlikely that Labour will be able to get anyone elected to those panels and likely to see just one seat at the most from each the other 3 panels. Presuming Sen. Bacik is returned for the TCD panel that leaves Labour with just 4 senators.

In order for FG/Lab to have a majority after the next general election Fine Gael would need to come close to equaling their 2011 result of 18 elected Senators and that simply won’t happen after the loss of nearly 100 cllrs from 2014, not to mind any losses that might arise in the Oireachtas.

Indeed, when you combine that loss of their own support base with the fact that FG have traditional under-performed in the Seanad elections compared to FF and others in garnering the support of independents and non-aligned amongst cllrs and Oireachtas members and it looks that Fine Gael would do well to get 14 Senators elected, they may, were a strong anti-government voting pattern to emerge, get closer to 11 elected Senators.

Whether the FG under-performance is due to the fact that independents especially at local level tend to be more FF gene pool than FG or that they’re more left leaning or that they will tend to vote amongst an outgoing government party to that the specific FF candidates are just more likeable is unknowable but it is a fact that will have a very real impact.

Those numbers – 4 Labour + 14 Fine Gael + 11 Taoiseach’s nominees leave them with a maximum total of just 29 Senators. And that’s the likely high water mark of support, it is more probable to be lower than that. So a FG/Lab government, were one to be in a position to be formed after the next general election, will most likely be in a minority in the Seanad. At least under the current electoral system. Whether that knowledge might spur on more extensive reform to the Seanad is hard to tell, and time is short to do much in that direction but it couldn’t hurt.

As for the other coalition options, SF should be well placed to get a least one per panel giving them a minimum of 5 (they may well exceed that, they could well equal Labour’s 8 elected in 2011 (excluding the TCD Senator)) and FF are well set to improve on their 14 from 2011. Keep in mind FF got 14 elected Senators from 218 cllrs and a much depleted Oireachtas voting pool in 2011. So FF/SF would be well placed to get to the 20 elected senators which when combined with 11 from the Taoiseach whether that’s a FF or SF Taoiseach is a small but workable majority. For the flip side of that, a FG/SF coalition the likely under-performance of FG (and the probably leakage of votes from disgruntled cllrs from both sides) would seem to see that option falling short of the 20 elected Senators mark.

Of course there is the final grand coalition option that FG and FF when combined should easily go over the 20 elected Senators threshold. Though the FF number might be lower than expected as neither would benefit from anti –government voting bias from independents and others.

It should also be acknowledged that the very much increased cohort of independents and non-aligned reps at local and national level would be ideally placed to get an agreed slate of independents elected to the Seanad via the panels. That is very dependent on what can be a highly diverse grouping agreeing on who among them gets to move up the ladder. Perhaps they could see outside themselves for nominees, with their current strength they could see a minimum of 1 independent being elected per panel.

Such a scenario of selflessness would throw the Seanad majority maths completely out the window.


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Dublin European election prediction (April 9th 2014)

By the power of entrails and the reading of tea leaves, here’s my current estimation of the state of play for the Dublin European elections.


ryan_and_kent_1 (Photo credit: kentbrew)

Sinn Féin Lynn Boylan – 15%

Independent Nessa Childers 12%

Labour Party Emer Costello – 9%

Direct Democracy Tom D’Arcy 0.6%

Fianna Fáil Mary Fitzpatrick 16%

Fine Gael Brian Hayes 20%

Socialist Party Paul Murphy 7.9%

Green Party Eamon Ryan  15%

People Before Profit Brid Smith – 4.3%

Direct Democracy Raymond Whitehead - 0.2%

My prediction? Ryan and Childers by virtue of their greater profiles and ability to attract transfers will over Mary Fitzpatick and while Boylan will attract a greater portion of the left transfers, once Costello is eliminated those votes will push both Ryan and Childers ahead of her.

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Ten reasons to vote No to Seanad Abolition

voting day in a small town

voting day in a small town (Photo credit: Muffet)

  1. VOTE!

    VOTE! (Photo credit: Kristin Lucco X)

    Vote NO, because you never accept a first offer from a reluctant reformer.  The referendum is what our American cousins would call “a low ball” offer on electoral reform, accept it and you won’t see another word about changes to the political or electoral process for decades. It locks in our current Dáil electoral system for a generation. Ask Richard Bruton, he’s said that we can’t reform the Seanad because there is no broad agreement on the shape of any reform proposals (leaving aside the 2004 cross party support of the O’Rourke proposals. I might not have liked them but the parties did.)

  2. Vote NO, because when it comes to making laws and especially given the attention span of the average TD you need to be sure, to be sure. Double checking and an excess of scrutiny is actually a good thing where making changes that could end up costing the state and her people their future freedoms.
  3. Vote NO, because you can only answer the question put to you. That is do you want to abolish the Seanad, Saying no doesn’t mean you want to keep it exactly as is. It just means that you don’t want to take the step of abolishing it. Just as saying “No I don’t want to see that awful murdering fecker swing from a rope until dead” doesn’t mean that you want them to get off scout free either much as opponents of the abolition of the death penalty might have liked to say it did. P.S. Voting NO is also not an endorsement of any specific set of reform proposals. You’re just saying “NO I’m not in favour of abolition”. You are not being asked if you are in favour of leaving the chamber as it is, just as saying “NO I don’t want to put the cat out” doesn’t mean you’re happy for the cat to remain sleeping on your pillow next to your spouse.
  4. Vote NO, because the Dáil isn’t able nor are it’s members motivated by the actions of voters to do the work (dull and tedious, undemanding of attention that it is) that the Seanad does do. What is that? It’s the sub-editing part of creating legislation, dotting the ‘i’, crossing the ‘t’ and making sure that the laws of the land are more specific than a simply, “ya can’t be doing that, it’s wrong and unfair to boot!”. You know how good all the newspapers are now that they’ve gotten rid of all the sub-editors and fact checkers, preferring to rely on Microsoft  Word and wikipedia instead? Yeah, that’ll be the Dáil. Banning horsing with hairs and brood sports, not to mind restricting the access of miners to Tabasco.
  5. Vote NO, because if the Seanad was truly redundant then the Dail would be already doing all work that it maintains we don’t need the Seanad to do i.e. if the Dail was capable of producing quality legislation then there wouldn’t be any need to have amendments produced in the Seanad, regardless of whether they are coming from the government or the opposition. Yep, the Dail and the government could have proved over the past 2 years that there genuinely was no need for the Seanad by getting legislation right the first time they looked at it.
  6. Vote NO, because there is no good reason to accept the removal of the power of a minority part of the Oireachtas to petition the President to refer a bill to the electorate. It’s got nothing at all to do with the argument being made for the proposed changes. I still can’t see why that’s being done and there’s no reason being given for it either. It’s like your hairdresser proposing to cut your hair in a certain style and then clipping just one of your toenails. It’s just odd and without logic.
  7. Vote NO, because the Seanad isn’t the governments watchdog. It says it right there in the constitution, the Dail is the government’s watchdog. It’s like listening to the actual dog in your house advocating that you should kill the hamster for not raising the alarm when Bertie and the Burglars were ransacking the nation’s coffers to buy some sort of goldie looking electorate.
  8. Vote NO, because you should never grant permanent powers to an office that someone you do trust holds only temporarily that you would not trust your worst political enemy with after that. Imagine a Dáil with 120 SF/FF deputies in coalition and no coherent opposition front benches. Those super power committees the government is championing could be swept aside in the blink of a new piece of legislation and then were would we be. The Seanad has it’s lag of on electoral change (caused at present by an electorate larger made up of cllrs elected at another time but which could be retained by rolling elections to the Seanad both at General election time and at local and European election. This means that a government has to representative of a sustained change in public opinion before it can go truly off the rails.
  9. Vote NO, because if you happen to be someone who actually supports the government in general (or Fine Gael as I do) and you’d never really give much credence to the arguments being put forward by the Yes campaign if the person saying them was Gerry Adams or Michael Martin then you shouldn’t accept them from anyone else either. If you wouldn’t be convinced of the merits of the argument from out of the mouths of your enemies then going with “Trust me I know what I’m doing” is no basis for accepting constitutional change.
  10. Vote NO, because if the Seanad goes without any changes being made to the Dail electoral system we will lose our only living breathing examples that non-geographical constituencies (the ill named university seats) can work and that a chamber elected using them wouldn’t be a mirror image of the Dail. Those panels don’t throw up more than the average percentage of of interesting people with well argued positions of a political perspective because the electorate has a degree. God no, have you seen the state of most of our graduates from those two institutions (TCD and the NUI)? If you want to see the larger single cohort of them particularly the older ones, fetch yourself up to one of our holiday towns like Bundoran or Killarney at Easter and see the Teacher Unions at play. Yep there are loads of graduates who are teachers, tens of thousands in fact and don’t look at them for wisdom in choosing who should be in the Oireachtas. No, it’s the separation of the voter from the locality that provides the filter to up the idea and rational argument quotient.
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The Lie of the 1% Seanad

The Fine Gael campaign on the Seanad is to me as someone who is a member of the party rather embarrassing. It’s not a simple choice, it’s a simplistic one. It’s not about matching the sacrifices of families in difficult times. When have you seen families cutting off a minor relation and sending them away? “Sorry uncle Mike but you’ve not done much around the house lately. Sure we’ve never let you but what of that. It’s off to the county home with you and good riddance.”


191120101164 (Photo credit: lusciousblopster)

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€20 million will not be saved, merely redirected to the other parts of the Oireachtas and civil service. More likely it safeguards funds for a 25% increase in the running costs of the Dail whether in salaries or expenses than anything else.

If we wanted a simple way to reduce the number of politicians and desperately expensive ones at that, we’d be instead fulfilling our other election promise to reduce the Dail by 20 TDs by havbing a constitutional referendum to change article 16.2.2 of the constitution to change the ratio of TDs to the population. Alter the boundaries from between 20,000 and 30,000 to instead 35,000 to 45,000 and overnight you could disappear 40/50 TDs. Who are at least 50% more expensive than Senators. But we’re not.

The notion is being advanced that only 1% of the electorate can vote for the Seanad but that’s also untru. The true figure for those constitutional entitled to vote for the Seanad is in excess of one in ten of the election. But why is the figure of 1% used? Because the Dail has never provided for the 7th Amendment to the constitution and because the registers for the TCD and NUI are maintained without any support whether logistical, financial or otherwise from the state. They are after all education institutions not bodies primarily charged with running elections.

If the county registrars were required to simply add a marker to the existing registers (just we do for EU citizens or British citizens) for those who had Seanad votes. And if the Dail had done as the people indicated it should do in 1979 then with CSO figures showing that in excess of 430,000 people who are resident in the republic and who have a level 7 qualification. We could have seen close to a quarter of a million voting in the Seanad elections in 2011 (assuming similar rates of turnout. )

Adding those who have had to emigrate down the years and with an electorate of 3,198,765 we’re moving solidly in the realm of 13%.

Why does this matter? Why is it better that it would be 13% rather than 1%? Because if a large enough minority was voting the clamor for more extensive reform would have been all the louder and more consistent down the years. And embarrassed by the clear second class status of the other 87%, there would have been real reform of the Seanad and perhaps of the Oireactas long ago. Instead it was better for the Dail to never act as to do so would have opened up all sorts of possibilities, next to none of which would suit the incumbents of the larger chamber.

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Who would you trust with post Seanad Oireacthas?

Part of the credibility problem for the government on the topic of Seanad Abolition is that we’re supposed to  believe the Dáil will magically start to do a job it hasn’t really bothered to do to date. That being to act as a check on the power of the executive and as the quality control department for government legislation.

Mmmm....cake.  And government info.

Mmmm....cake. And government info. (Photo credit: emkeller)

Amongst the arguments being out forward by the government in abolishing the Seanad is that (a) it’s never blocked government legislation and (b) new Dáil Committees will do the same job of scrutinising legislation.

True enough the Seanad hasn’t blocked much if any government legislation but there again with an inbuilt majority for government of the day by way of the Taoiseach’s nominee it was never intended to. It’s similar to complaining that your donkey didn’t bark and keep away the burglars or that the goose isn’t a very good mouser. Blocking government legislation is not the job of the Seanad, checking it, kicking the tires and making amendments to ensure the legislation is a good as it can be is part of it’s job.

And how many times has the Dáil blocked government legislation in the past 70 years? Not very often as I recall, so should we abolish the Dáil too?

Given the recent dismissal by the main government party of those members who voted against a government proposal from those same wondrous Dáil Committees how many members are likely to be overly diligent in their analysis and critiques of government sponsored legislation? I would very much like to see the current Seanad gone, but gone as a part of a whole, not as the scapegoat for the entire political class and process that was too scared to tell the electorate to its face that property booms don’t go on forever and that increased current expenditure based transient transaction taxes is compounding the problem.

Seanad Abolition is to a recipe for Political Reform what breaking an egg is to making a cake. You have to make sure that you do the other bits too, otherwise you’ve just wasted a few eggs and made a mess that someone else will have to tidy up later.

When members of the Dáil/government complain about failure of Seanad to reform it is much the same as someone much stronger hitting you with your own hand and then asking your why you don’t stop. It was the executive and the Dáil that never passed any legislation to reform the Seanad or much else in the electoral system for that matter. If the Seanad had had the power to reform itself it would equally have had the power to save itself. It doesn’t so it didn’t.

Some have said the Seanad is like the criminal in the dock, “I promise I’ll reform your honour” “but Johnny it says here you said that 11 times before but didn’t” yet in truth it has more in common with a parole board complaining that a prisoner still hasn’t learned to read while the prison system has kept them in solitary, not provided them with any books or access to a teacher.

By all means that’s get rid of the current Seanad and the current Dail and replace with an Oireachtas and electoral system that’s going to do the job we need it to do. But abolishing the Seanad on the promise that some tinkering might be done with the Dail later on (honestly guv’nor it will)  is wasting the opportunity we have before us.

And ask yourself this if you’re a supporter of either of the government parties and inclined to Vote Yes because you trust the government of the day. How would you feel if these same proposals were coming from government made up of other parties? How safe would you feel our democracy was in the hands of a SF/FF government given to guillotining legislation? If your answer is not very, then the proposal is clearly a bad one.

It is a political truism as yet uncoined that you should never give to an office or institution occupied by a good people powers that could be open to abuse by someone else.

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Is Fine Gael already in greater crisis than it realises?



Party (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Deeper problems could already have been set in train by a combination of the loss of the whip by four members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and the highly prescriptive nature of the current Fine Gael party rules. Reading over the rules this weekend, it would appear to me (and truth be told I’m no lawyer) that those members of the parliamentary party who break the party pledge (which is the reason given for their loss of the party whip) are in addition to losing the whip automatically suspended as members of the party.

It is that step which would make them martyrs in the eyes of many party members. And that suspension of ordinary membership appears to be an automatic outcome of any determination of the party’s Disciplinary Committee that the party pledge has been broken with no room for the application of discretion.

I would be of the view that the overreach in the past few years whereby the national executive and central party hierarchy have taken more and more power unto themselves is fundamentally not in the best interests of the party. While I happen on balance to agree with the party leadership on the matter of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill I don’t agree that dissension by party members whether ordinary members or elected representatives from government policy which has arrived at on foot of events and not as a result of a consultation with the wider party including the members should be sanctioned in this manner. However that sanction of the automatic suspension of membership of the party is what is required under the party rules.

Nor should be it be the case that any and all members of the party must act in a manner beholden to the leader of the day who can on a whim remove someone from an organisation that they have voluntarily given their time and energy too. That is a model for party discipline more commonly to be found in FF in the days of Charles J. Haughey.

The applicable rules re: the functioning of the party’s Discipline Committee are

44B.1 The Disciplinary Committee shall have the following powers:

(i) To adjudicate on and determine finally, subject to the appeal to the Executive Council provided for in Rule 44A. (xxiii) above, all complaints and matters of discipline within the Party, provided always that the Disciplinary Committee shall not be obliged to investigate a particular complaint or matter of discipline in circumstances where it determines it is not appropriate for it to do so.

(ii) To determine whether any member of the Party has been in breach of the Code of Conduct or the Party Pledge and in the event of such determination, such Member shall be suspended automatically and(where applicable) lose the Party Whip unless the Disciplinary Committee shall otherwise determine and in the event of such determination the provisions of paragraph (iv) of Section B of the Rule shall apply.

(iii) To determine notwithstanding paragraph (ii) of Section B of this Rule, whether any member who is or was a candidate for election at any Local Authority, Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann, Údarás na Gaeltachta or European Election has been in breach of the Code of Conduct or Party Pledge or has acted in a manner damaging to the interests of the Party in the course of an election campaign and in the event of such determination the Disciplinary Committee shall take such actions as it sees fit including (where appropriate) suspension or removal of the Fine Gael Whip in accordance with the provision of paragraph(iv) of Section B of this Rule. The Disciplinary Committee shall be entitled and is empowered to 31 exercise all of its powers, functions and jurisdiction under the provisions of this Rule in relation to every candidate contesting an election on behalf of Fine Gael whether that candidate is ultimately successful or not or whether that candidate was at the time of the calling of election or at the time of the making of the complaint or at the time of the hearing of that complaint or was not a member of the Parliamentary Party.

(iv) To hear and determine any complaint (whether made by a member of the Executive Council or any other Member or Unit of the Party) on matters of discipline within the Party that a member of the Party has acted in a manner seriously damaging to the interests of the Party and in the event of the Disciplinary Committee determining that a member has acted in a manner aforesaid the Disciplinary Committee may decide to expel the member from the Party and (where applicable) withdraw the Party Whip from the person concerned to take such other action as it shall consider appropriate provided however that the person or persons against whom the complaint is made shall, prior to such determination and decision be given adequate written notice of the nature of the complaint made and shall be afforded the opportunity of making written or oral submissions to the Disciplinary Committee and the opportunity to adduce such evidence as he/she wishes in relation to the said complaint.

(v) To hear and determine any question on appeal relating to matters of discipline from any Member,Unit or Organ of the Party made to the Disciplinary Committee under the provisions of the Constitution and Rules of the Party and to take any such action as to the Disciplinary Committee may seem appropriate.

(vi) To determine where any member of the Party has stood for election, while a member of the Party other than as a Party candidate and in the event of such determination, such member shall automatically cease to be a member of the Party unless the Disciplinary Committee otherwise determines.

(vii) To do all such other acts as are necessary to maintain and effect discipline within the Party.

44B.2 The Disciplinary Committee shall consist of five persons who shall be elected by and from the members of the Executive Council at the first meeting of the Executive Council convened after each Árd Fheis with at least one member from each European Constituency.


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Are you claiming me?

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Just to do it.

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Seanad Reform: too little, too late, too narrow?

So the reports are that the government will consider allowing the Seanad Reform Bill 2013 to go through to committee stage this afternoon.

English: A voter returns his vote-by-mail ball...

English: A voter returns his vote-by-mail ballot in the 2006 General elections in Lane County, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think we’ve gone beyond the point of tinkering with the Seanad within the constraints of the constitution. We should be looked at changes to the totality of the Oireachtas and local government and instead so much focus and energy is being expended on the Seanad, save it, open it or leave it to rot.

I attended the launch event and it was very disappointing how the issue was presented. There was even an initial pitch to the media that they would be suggesting for a No vote must to seen as an endorsement of this specific plan. I pointed out that this would be a perversion of democracy as a No vote is only a definite no to what is being proposed and not some round about yes to something not on the ballot.

The election system being suggested has some real oddities. Unless the Litir um Thoghchán system is radically overhauled (which the bill makes no mention of) any Seanad election under this new bill would cost the taxpayer millions more than any current Dail election.

Our former AG displayed a peculiar detachment from commercial reality when he tried to punt this away as a non-issue as it is something that An Post just has to do as part of its license. He seemed to ignore the fact that An Post is a wholly owned state company that is losing money already and that any accrued losses eventually have to be borne by the state and us as taxpayers. Not to mention the fact that the users of An Post are tax payers too, and that any revenue raising efforts it has to engage in so as to fund the Litir um Thoghchán system is passed onto us in increased rates for regular postage. It was as if he thought of state agencies as being there to do the bidding of the political class without any thought to their own day to day commercial realities.

Furthermore the ballots will need to be posted back using regular post which is to be paid for by the voter, I can see lots of the less well off rushing out to give their 60c over to voting for the Seanad. It is peculiar that the same folks who would be opposed to a prescription charge on ideological grounds find the idea of charging people to vote quite reasonable. And that is presuming that the weight of the combined ballots comes in under the weight limit for regular postage, the ballot for the NUI was about an A2 page, combine that with the ballot for TCD one and the witness letter and I can’t see any of the ballots coming under the 100g weight for regular postage. Then there is the basic reliability of the postal service and those in charge of sending the ballots to ensure that everyone who should get one does get one. It is very easy to see the error due to this being far higher than the supposed accidental spoilt vote that was part of the reasons for spending so much on e-voting machines.

The other rather strange aspect to all of this is the way in which it is being reported. I attended the event, asked some reasonable (I thought) practical questions, some of which I got answers to, and pointed out some difficulties with the bill such as the carrying forward the existing NUI and TCD registers which are inaccurate and wholly incomplete places the graduates of other colleges at a disadvantage, it should either be a clean slate or measures should be put in place immediately to get as complete a register as possible as soon as feasible. I also noted that while I didn’t agree with Enda Kenny’s stated logic or motivation for abolition of the Seanad that at least he had sought a direct endorsement of his view from the electorate and that the people would get to make the ultimate decision. This bill if enacted would have no such mandate from the public. And surely in a democracy a mandate should be sought for this sort of change, this isn’t some emergency measure to deal with an immediate crisis.

Yet nothing that was said either by me or by the proposers of the bill in response to those questions was reported in the media. I’m not looking for a name check here but rather that it would be noted that there are practical issues that haven’t been considered and that the bill had no tangible support from the public. Not a word. It’s as if the fix is in and the media have picked their side to support.


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Piece on Gender Quotas from IT of last year

The Electoral Amendment Political Funding Bill 2011 has been poorly served by a media debate focused almost entirely on the problem it is supposed to solve, namely the underrepresentation of women in the Oireachtas, rather than any real assessment of whether it can actually solve it.

When it comes to electoral politics, those most deeply involved, for all their fervour, are frequently blind to reality. Most of the population, irrespective of gender, finds much of what passes for day to day party politics in Ireland to be a pointless turn-off. It is no wonder that only the narrowest range of social, income, gender or educational backgrounds are represented in election contests at all levels.

The four C’s (Cash, Childcare, Confidence and Culture) have been cited for well over a generation as a barrier to women contesting elections, only to be rapidly superseded in the past few years by a new fifth C: Candidate Selection. This C has come with the added benefit of a ready-made quick fix in the guise of Candidate Gender Quotas (CGQ) to be applied by party apparatchiks.

Candidate Gender Quotas are not just the wrong solution; they are addressing entirely the wrong set of problems. The long-standing problem of the under-representation of women in the Oireachtas is not an isolated issue, as frequently portrayed: it is a reflection of a much broader problem, that of disengagement in electoral politics by the vast majority of the population. Compared to a generation ago, far fewer people are members of political parties. Fewer still involve themselves in canvassing, leaflet dropping, or other electorally related activities which involve talking to and meeting ordinary voters.

Undoubtedly there are practical factors inhibiting many people, of all strands of society, from involvement in electoral politics. Candidate Gender Quotas do nothing at all to address the root causes of the original 4 C’s, which will continue to be the same barrier to the majority of women and, to a lesser extent, men, which they would always have been.

Is it seriously being suggested that former TDs such as Olwyn Enright or Mildred Fox, who left electoral politics to ensure a better family life, would suddenly return, simply because their selection as candidates is assured? Or that being selected will magically sort out the difficulties in securing the cold hard cash required to fight an election campaign? If someone lacks the confidence to contest an open convention of their fellow party members because they might lose, how will they cope with the demands of an election campaign where they could be publicly humiliated? The proposals on candidate gender quotas are just the sort of boneheaded solution to a very real problem that ends up giving the problem a bad name.

A total of 566 candidates contested the 2011 general election, of whom 166 were elected – 86 of the candidates were women, 25 of whom were elected, equating to a success rate of 29% for both. While women candidates were just as likely to get elected as men, women who were members of political parties were even more likely to be elected than their male colleagues. Women made up only 10.6% of the independent candidates nationally. In Wicklow there were 14 independents (all male), for the 6 University Seanad seats: of 46 candidates only 8 were women. This is in contests where candidate selection is not at issue; the candidates select themselves.

Evidently women have no problem getting elected when they contest elections, nor is there any evidence that women are disproportionately disadvantaged at the nomination and candidate selection stage. No hard data has yet been produced to show that women who seek a party nomination in Ireland are less like to be selected than their male colleagues. Indeed, if we were to remove the distortion of male incumbents at party conventions the success rate of women coming through as new candidates is very impressive. This is irrespective of the form the selection process takes, be it by ‘one member, one vote’, head office interview or delegate-based convention.

No other country operating gender quotas has our electoral system of Multi-Seat constituencies with PR-STV. As the psephologists tell us the more candidates you run, over and above your seat target, the more seats you forfeit as a result of transfers drifting away as the counts go on. Such quotas will require parties who have seats at present to run more candidates than is advisable. The lack of debate from within the membership of the larger parties on this unprecedented act of electoral altruism, this willingness to hobble their own chances, demonstrates how poorly thought out and understood the consequences of this bill are.

In the Minister for Environment’s own constituency, unless one of his recently elected male party colleagues stands down, Fine Gael will be compelled to run an extra candidate where there is no realistic chance of a 4th seat and, in so doing, will imperil at least one the party’s three seats, in the face of a strong SF and FF challenge.

The money and resources for election campaigns come from individual party activists, not party HQs – people who cannot be compelled by legislation to work or invest their time in candidate Y rather than candidate X.

This is a superficial gesture instead of the frank debate on political reform we really need. We must be more ambitious and look to overhauling the entire electoral system with cost-effective and accessible measures to encourage parties to take risks in running more diverse tickets. We could utilise PR-STV more, by making all parties run twice the number of candidates as there are seats in a constituency, creating an open, local list system with instant primaries.

The likely outcome of this legislation is to allow a power-grab by the party elite over ordinary members and encourage the political parties to be more conservative, not less, in their candidate selection. They will choose from the same pool of the middle-aged and middle class, with money to spare, no childcare problems, the right family connections or an inside line to the party hierarchy. We’ve seen too much of this.

Those advocating gender-based quotas are merely salving the symptoms of a much larger problem while allowing the apathy of the people to grow. It’s not simply that we need more women as candidates; we need everyone involved in what must be the grandest contest of ideas imaginable. We have never needed it more than now.


Note this was published in the Irish Times last year but I never got around to posting it here.

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Some practical matters for the Constitutional Convention

English: Composition of Seanad Éireann, the up...

English: Composition of Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Oireachtas, at 29 January 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A number of people in recent weeks have called for the future of the Seanad to form part of the considerations of the Constitutional Convention. Self-serving calls from incumbent members of that self-regarding body for a limited examination of the functioning of the appendix of the electoral system should be ignored by the government. Much more worthy of consideration is the electoral system used for the entire Oireachtas and our local authorities; the heart and lungs of the body politic.

One of the few potential benefits of the Seanad was the opportunity in its design to break the tie between locality and representation. This is an opportunity taken only in the increasinly ill named university seats. We are all through the course of our lives members of communities other than the geographical yet our electoral system in the manner of its operation by both the electors and the elected is slavish in how it cleaves to the local. The inhabitants of Royston Vasey would find much to enjoy in the conduct of Irish election campaigns with the refrain of “And where are you from?” to be heard far and wide. We must consider electing at least a third of the Oireachtas from non-geographical constituencies, preferably while avoiding the imposition of closed party lists selected by party insiders.

We will also see the consequences of another limitation that the constitution imposes when the constituency commission on Dáil boundaries reports in the next few weeks. Its options are limited as only a minor correction to the number TDs can be considered due to the population reaching a level that makes the 30,000 people per seat upper threshold hard to avoid breaching. It has been long evident that the current maximum ratio of people to TD from 30,000 must be increased substantially to a figure closer to say 40,000 to ensure that future constituency commissions are not compelled to increase further the number of TDs. We should also consider increasing the lower limit to at least 25,000.
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