The discretionary powers of the President of Ireland are said to be very limited.  In fact, our President does have important powers, and our lack of appreciation of this is attributable to the fact that (thankfully) we have enjoyed relative political, economic and social stability since the Constitution was enacted.  Accordingly, the constitutional “safeguards” of which the President is guardian have only rarely been used, if at all.

These safeguards  include:   referring a bill to the Supreme Court under Article 26 to test its constitutionality; convening a meeting of either or both of the Houses of the Oireachtas (after consultation with the Council of State); deciding whether to accede to a request under Article 27 (joint petition by a majority of the members of Seanad and not less than one-third of the members of Dáil requesting the President to decline to sign into law a Bill before a referendum or election is held).

But there is one additional power which I feel may become relevant at some time in the near future.  I refer to the right of the President (under Article 13.2.2) to refuse to dissolve the Dáil when requested to do so by the Taoiseach of the day.  This request would arise where that Taoiseach has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann, usually evidenced by the loss of a vote of confidence.  The President can refuse the request if she believes it to be in the interests of the State that the Taoiseach instead goes back to the Dáil and attempts to form a different government.

In the economically and politically stressful months that lie ahead, it may well become appropriate for the next President to exercise her  (or his) discretion in this manner.  I can readily foresee a breakdown in relations between the Fine Gael and Labour partners in the current coalition government.  In a situation where the next budget is set to make cuts of, and/or increase taxes by, a total of €3.6 billion or more, there is plenty of scope for the two parties to fall out.  In particular, it is yet to be seen whether Labour have the stomach for the sort of cuts that are necessary for our economic recovery.  The signs are not good.

So how about this for a scenario:  Enda Kenny’s government falls apart after Labour withdraw their support for certain cutbacks; Enda goes to the Park to look for a dissolution and a general election; President McAleese (or her successor) says “Hang on a minute, we don’t need an election, and in fact it would be bad for the country to hold an election given the prevailing economic crisis.  There are 19 Fianna Fáil TDs on the opposition benches and you should go and talk to them.  With FG and FF combined, there is a comfortable majority, and FF under Micháel Martin can surely be persuaded to do the right thing by the country and allow the economy to be sorted out, however difficult the short-term pain might be. So, on your bike, Enda”

And with that, civil war politics might just come to an end.

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Sarah Carey has a useful piece in today’s Irish Times.  She deals with (and comes out against) the suggestion that emigrants should (even if they don’t pay Irish taxes) have a vote in Irish elections. I find it incredible that votes for emigrants is being seriously suggested, given that (a) the Irish diaspora is very large relative to the size of the resident population and (b) non-residents wouldn’t have to live with the fiscal consequences of decisions made by the politicians they would help to elect – a basic unfairness.

Votes for non-tax-paying emigrants is another example of woolly thinking by the chattering classes, based on sentiment rather than practical reality.    If we are going to make changes to our electoral laws, then we should instead focus our energies on changing our system to one that will help reduce the impact of clientelism and parish pump politics – such as the one suggested recently by former Attorney-General John Rogers.

An extract from Sarah Carey’s article:

There has to be a mechanism whereby those who vote have to consider the personal consequences of that vote. Living here means you have to live with your decision. Sadly, you have to live with other people’s decisions too but that’s another day’s work.

I like too the guiding principle of “no taxation without representation”. It’s not reasonable that people who don’t pay taxes to the State should be allowed to have a say in how those taxes are collected and distributed. Those living in Ireland, no matter how poor, will pay tax, directly or indirectly.

If we are to change this system and insist that citizenship and not residency is the basis of the franchise, the right to vote must come with some corresponding obligations. Paying tax is the obvious choice.

We know of course that in the American War of Independence, the rallying cry “no taxation without representation” helped to bind together the insurgent forces.  However, thinking about the words quoted above, I wonder did the sub-editors mistakenly amend what I suspect Sarah intended to write in the second paragraph.  If she had written “no representation without taxation”  instead of “no taxation without representation”, it would have made more sense!

In passing, I note that a wicked friend of mine opposed the election of Mary McAleese as President of the Republic of Ireland: his reasoning was that the principle of “no representation without taxation” should apply and, as Mrs McAleese was tax-resident in a “different jurisdiction” (ie the United Kingdom), she should not be our most exalted representative.

 Last April, it was reported in the news that (a) President McAleese had launched a new fund dedicated solely to women’s causes (“The Women’s Fund for Ireland”) and (b) that she claimed that the current economic situation was “pretty much testosterone driven”.  At the launch, it was claimed that there were 200 women’s funds worldwide and that there was clearly a need for funding specifically for women.

I was expecting a degree of protest at President McAleese’s comments (where’s her scientific evidence that testosterone had anything to do with our economic crisis?), or even a question or two about whether a fund dedicated solely to women’s causes was necessary or appropriate.  But hardly a peep was registered.  Now, if our President had launched a fund dedicated solely to men’s causes, there would have been a landslide of critical comment.  What does this tell us about our media, or about how we are all still conditioned to think of women as victims in the game of life?

But it is predominantly men who are the academic underachievers, the criminal offenders, the drug addicts, and the morbidly unhealthy.  Men work longer hours, die years younger than women and are now under-represented in third-level education.  Men’s health issues receive far less taxpayer funding than women’s health issues. 

But I don’t expect to read any day soon about a new fund dedicated solely to men’s causes (“The Men’s Fund for Ireland” anybody?)