Lessons for the General Election from the 2011 NUI Seanad

In 2011 there was a large field of candidates for the NUI Seanad panel, with a considerable spread of support across the entire field. 3 candidates who got just 46% of the votes got 100% of the seats. 54% of votes went to candidates who were simply never in with a shout of getting a seat or of altering the outcome.

English: Independent's Day, an event for indep...

English: Independent's Day, an event for independent presidential candidates in the 2008 US Presidential election. Shown is one independent presidential candidate, speaking to a very small audience in a theatre at the University of Cincinnati. The Independent's Day website is now inactive. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The upcoming general election is also likely to be quite similar with the large % of people voting for Independents or new smaller parties and others but with those votes not altering the outcome of who gets the seats. Naturally where there are existing independents or new party incumbents they could see their support rise and if there is a singular new party or independent representative who is well ahead of the pack on the first count then they might stand a slight chance but if they’re more than a few percentage points outside the band of the number of the seats then it is very unlikely that the large non-main party vote will coalesce on this leader. This doesn’t mean their votes are wasted but rather that the high opinion poll rating will not result in the level of seats that many are predicting or expecting.

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Some thoughts in the upcoming Ard Fheis


1656 Sanson Map of Guiana, Venezuela, and El D...

1656 Sanson Map of Guiana, Venezuela, and El Dorado - Geographicus - Guiane-sanson-1656 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d thought I’d open up the below efforts to some sort of coverage in advance of the Ard Fheis especially considering some recent press attention on the goings on internally.

There are a number motions submitted for the FG Ard Fheis which were done in advance of the Perry case being heard but which are intended to recalibrate what many members see as the over centralisation of power within the organisation. Both in policy making and in the day to day running of the party. This isn’t about individuals and if I’m honest HQ makes a too easy punch bag for too many people in the local organisation when seeking to deflect attention from their own actions. Rather it’s about the structures that are in place and some of the practices that have grown up around what was an emergency period after 2002 and which at this stage have outlived their usefulness and which a much larger party and one that’s in government no longer requires.

The motions submitted have a focus more on the organisational side. The intention is to rebalance the relationship between the very top of the organisation and the ordinary members. We think it’s time to renew the organisation side and bring ordinary members back into more active participation aside from being election shock troops.

It is possible that the motions won’t make it to the Ard Fheis as the national exec has final say on all motions that get onto the Clár. If that’s the case then we’re going to make that publicly known and seek to confront any efforts that the national exec might take to stymie debate and the efforts of members who are attempting to demonstrate that we can both govern and evolve and reform the party structures for a new age at the same time. I’m not saying for sure that there should be an alternative event organised either on the day of the Ard Fheis or at another time for members rather than elected reps but it’s something to be considered. Being a member has to be about more than filling seats for the telly, dropping leaflets and buying SuperDraw and then being ignored the rest of the time.

One of the simplest but also possibly most significant measures is to separate the role of party leader and party president. The intention is that the party president elected by the members at the Ard Fheis would be more directly responsible to the members and in time it may make sense for the paid party officials including the General Secretary to report to the holder of this position and not the party leader in the Oireachtas The thinking is that the party officials would find it easier to not get caught up too much with the party leader but more to the wider party. Think in terms of the Chair of the DNC or RNC in the US.

Below are some of the motions in more detail

·        Election of national Exec Members by ordinary members to be changed from 12 to 16 via 4 separate contests in 3 seater panels for each of the current 4 old Euro constituencies, with the remaining 4 positions filled from the 4 highest ranking candidates from those same panels prior to their elimination.

o   This would allow for candidates to be elected who might garner support across the country along with regional candidates,

o   it would encourage more competition,

o   lessen the value of incumbency

o   ensure a higher turnout for all elections at the Ard Fheis at times when the organisation wants people to be around and active.

  • National Executive members may serve for only 2 consecutive terms before standing down for a minimum of one term. The one term absence to be a minimum of 18 months.

At present a 3 term/year limit applies to all other positions in the local organisation (branch or Constituency chairs etc. but not at the national level, even though their terms run for 2 or so years at time!)

  • The position of party leader and party president to be mutually exclusive.

Being the leader of the party, and Taoiseach and party president are demanding positions, one of those is being to be neglected in comparison to the other roles and party president is the one most likely. Hence we believe it should be occupied by someone else.

·        The role of the Ard Fheis should be much more about ordinary members having their say and the party reps listening to them, and not reps or prospective candidates getting some time to practice their public speaking technique.

·        Deadline of submission of motions to be a defined period, say 8 weeks, before the holding of the Ard Fheis. At present it’s not known or publicised until quite late.

·        All motions submitted for the Ard Fheis to be published on the party website the day after the deadline for submission of motions.

·        A facility to allow party members directly select, in advance, a percentage say 30% of motions to be debated per session by use of PR STV (online).

·        The Finalised Motions for the Ard Fheis to be circulated a minimum of 1 week in advance of the Ard Fheis.

At present the Clar is often only circulated on the Thursday evening before the Ard Fheis starts.

  • Party delegates allowed to vote at the Ard Fheis on a percentage of policy motions say 33% which would be fully binding on the party until the next Ard Fheis.

·        Time must be allocated for genuine debate on party motions, with opposing speakers allocated equal time to those proposing motions.

·        Time should be allocated for contributions from the floor on party motions, with speakers who may be oppose to motions allocated time fairly by the Chair.

Too often no time is allowed or no one is even invited to make an opposing contribution, and people are told there’s no time. Plan for it. this is the only opportunity members have to make their contribution.

  • The person from a branch who submits a motion should have first refusal on speaking on the motion. Only if they are agreeable or unavailable should a public rep or other party member speak proposing this motion.

Too often, an elected rep is invited to speak on a motion they didn’t submit or have minimal interest in, just so they can get some practice speaking. This is not the forum for that.

·        External people should not be allowed make speeches at a Ard Fheis without an opportunity for party members to question them. A minimum of equal time should be scheduled for such questions. i.e. a speech of 15 minutes should have a minimum of 15 time for contributions from the floor. This is separate from reps who may be sharing a panel with the guest speaker.

In some recent Ard Fheiseanna speakers from outside the party were invited to make contributions that were then unchallengeable because there was “no time”.

  • Public reps who act (voting on councils elsewhere) against motions to be lose the party whip automatically. – specifically I’m thinking of those cllrs who voted against the referendum on a directly elected Mayor for Dublin. It was party policy proposed and endorsed at an Ard Fheis that the people of Dublin would get the referendum and our own cllrs in Fingal denied them that chance. With no consequences for them at all.
  • Suggestion for recognition for the motion of the Ard Fheis/Best speech/ best floor contribution.
  • To examine more opportunities for fringe type events that don’t involve motions but which would act to allow ordinary members to express their views as feedback to the party’s reps.
  • Opportunity for unconferencing techniques to develop policy ideas or future areas of focus.

o   These could be Friday night events that feed into the Saturday agenda.

Anyway, it’s just a few ideas, and sure who’s afraid of those.

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Uncomfortable with the image of two men and a toddler – Homophobia or plain old sexism?

Seeing a back and forth on twitter last night about the softness of support for the upcoming marriage referendum, I saw a comment that illustrates a problem for the YES Campaign. A problem that if dealt with incorrectly will do considerable harm to the YES campaign because it will miss the root cause and misfire badly. As part of that exchange, John McGuirk, who while I wouldn’t be on the same side as him in most things is also no fool when it comes to judging the public mood, said this.

You know what, he’s right but not for the homophobic reasons that too many Yes campaigners will unfairly attribute to it. It’s because even if you remove the word gay from that scenario, there are lots of people, women as much if not more so than men, who would not be comfortable with two men or one man with a toddler.

Picture a scene at a park with two men walking with a toddler and running about playing, and then having to stop to change said toddler’s undergarments. Even more so if said toddler is female.  There are quite a few people who while not unduly homophobic on the individual or societal level will somehow pause at the appropriateness of that scene.

Replace the men with women and most of those same folks wouldn’t bat an eye. So for those people the problem clearly would not be about sexual orientation, cos we’re not even sure in the scene if the two men or two women are couples or merely a friend out with their friend and their friend’s child. The problem at the root of that lack of comfortableness is plain old sexism; that there’s something wrong with men looking after children without a woman around. That’s why surrogacy and not artificial insemination, why the lack of a mother’s influence and not so much a father’s,  will be the first port of call in the “it’s about children” argument.

The challenge for the YES campaign is to tackle that argument head on, and for what it is, not for what some in the YES campaign would prefer it to be. Indeed, some elements in the YES campaign suffer from that same blindness, that same tendency to want, at the one hand, men to take more responsibility for childcare but then on the other, some deep rooted feeling that only a woman can really care for a child properly. That men are fundamentally secondary to parenting and that’s why two men in particular can’t be equal to a man and woman as parents. That two uncles could never be as good as two aunts. Perhaps in the past they weren’t but that’s no reason why men can’t, when called upon, up their game and do as well in raising children.

Sure children should have a right to know their parents, but we also know well enough to place limits on that right. Most people would not be comfortable supporting the right of a rapist to know or have access to a child resulting from their rape of their mother. Or where a legal adoption has taken place for the birth mother to years later demand automatic restoration of custody  from the adoptive parents, man and woman who have spent years loving and raising that child. Yet if their logic is accepted then that’s where they lead us, that’s the situation the IONA Institute is pushing for; to overturn the legal adoption process and to enshrine the absolute right of rapists to have access to their children. Very loving, very Christian.

Many people are all fine and dandy with the world of Fried Green Tomatoes where a lesbian couple raise children post the murder of an abusive husband and not so much the Torch Song Trilogy, where a male couple adopt a child. That’s not due to homophobia, it’s down to plain old sexism.

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Collins Institute and the future role of Fine Gael members in policy development

The recent launch or relaunch of the Collins Institute is a development in Irish politics that should be broadly welcomed. Indeed it would make sense that such efforts would receive public funding though I’d suggest more through a reallocation of the funds given to parties rather than any additional funding being provided.

The full structure in that the board is yet to be made clear, a number of people have been mentioned as being on the board but it not clear if they are the entirety of it or if there are others who haven’t been revealed as yet. One would have expected the full current board to be mentioned at some point at launch time. That may be something that is rectified in due course. While it is admirable that the board members won’t be taking any salaries or expenses this also means that only those of independent means or those in receipt of incomes such as pensions, whether public or private, who are no longer required to work can be considered for involvement. Joanne Schmoes who have to put in their daily grind won’t find too many employers who will be willing to give them time off during the work week to attend meetings or participate in other events associated with being a board member. That I believe is unnecessary restrictive in the longer term and I would hope that it would be addressed.

The longer term is definitely where the Collins Institute sees itself, and that’s a good approach. Indeed it’s one that other parties or political should look to mirror. Since the Collins Institute lies without Fine Gael, it begs the question of how lies the development of policy within the party? Not well, would be my view.

The existence of Institute presents us with the gaps glaring in the short and medium term of policy development. In the short term it makes sense that a minister or party frontbencher should own, both in the developmental and responsibility sense, the tactical aspects of day to day policy in a political organisation. Though one would imagine that the presence of tends of thousands of party members from many walks of life would be a fruitful means to test the specifics of policy initiatives. Yet that appears not to be the case. In the medium term it should be not alone more feasible but also more advisable that members would have greater say over what policy is to be, both the creation of policy but also deciding between policy options or the finessing or road testing of same.

Where are the ordinary party member of Fine Gael when it comes to the development of policy? At this point it very much appears that regular members are pretty much outside the door when it comes to have any input to, or oversight of party policy as it would appear in the party manifesto or indeed as might result in government action.

Party members are naturally free to say (at meetings or Ard Fheiseanna) or write (as I or other might online) what they like when it comes to policy but there is at present no mechanism by which this might result in any influence for change in the party’s stance on any issue. You may be fortunate to catch the ear of a party spokesperson or the minister of the day at an event, and in doing so convince them to adopt an idea you have. That’s all to your good but it’s also wholly undemocratic and utterly lacking in transparency. There is no system and in the absence of a system, there is no quality control. There is more chance that good ideas will be lost and bad ideas will be promoted than the other way around.

That the current situation is entirely arbitrary is no longer acceptable for a party in government; this isn’t a problem for the Collins Institute to solve. It is one that the existence of the Collins Institute highlights, that ordinary active members of an organisation have considerable less say over the direction it goes in than those who are avowedly not members. There’s something really odd about that, that so few people comment on it anymore suggests that it is a very deep rooted problem. So deep rooted that it may be impossible for those most embedded in it from resolving. So it may be time to mirror the approach of the Collins Institute and go outside the current party structures in seeking a solution. The time remaining to do that may be shorter than most imagine it to be.


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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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