Hurrah! The Greens want to Change our Electoral System

7 October, 2009

Good news: the Green Party has adopted electoral reform as one of its core policies, and is trying to get Fianna Fáil to buy into it as part of the new programme for Government.  The Greens say:

The Irish system of multi-seat constituencies elected on the single transferable votes carries with it considerable advantages. Representatives are close to the people who elect them, and smaller parties have a greater potential to elect their candidates through this system. On the negative side, there is concern about TDs being over-concerned with constituency matters at the expense of the national outlook. 

To counteract this we propose that a proportion of the seats be elected by a top-up procedure. For example, in a Dáil of 130 seats, 100 could be elected by local constituencies and 30 from the national lists of parties that have achieved at least 2% of the vote. In this way we would have deputies with both local and national perspectives.

This is exactly what’s needed. So among the usual eccentric and/or frankly deluded Green Party policies, there is at least one really sensible policy.  But I’m not holding my breath that Fianna Fáil will do what’s right for the country, unless of course they see something in it for themselves.

In fairness to Garret Fitzgerald, he has been plugging away at this issue for decades.  And former FG minister Gemma Hussey, in an article in the Irsh Times last May wrote that:

We have in Ireland an electoral system, multi-seat proportional representation, which almost ensures that a broad range of the best brains and achievers in the country will never see the inside of Leinster House, much less the Cabinet room. At the same time, we have too many Dáil members.

The electoral system imposes a lifestyle on politicians which is directly inimical to good government and is a considerable deterrent to potential participants.

The skills required to massage a constituency seven days and nights a week have nothing to do with running a small European country with an open economy…..

Most modern democracies of western Europe have some variant of a list system, combined with proportionality. This means that the voter may choose to vote for a party list, which will be written up in the polling booth. Distinguished and/or well-known citizens from a variety of walks of life will have been chosen by their parties to head up their lists. Side by side there are opportunities to vote for individuals too.

They say one should never waste a good crisis.  Well, we have a hell of a crisis now in our public finances, so there may never be as good a time as this to shake up an electoral system that is failing us as a country.  If we don’t change the way we elect our politicians, then it is a certainty that further crises lie ahead.

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