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.
Some practical matters for the Constitutional Convention
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.