Radical reform of electoral system is needed

Minister for transport Noel Dempsey TD has called for radical reform of the Irish electoral system. Minister Dempsey was speaking after the first public sitting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on The Constitution, held last night in Trinity College Dublin (TCD). The session had been convened to discuss electoral reform in the constitution.

The committee received submissions, both oral and written, from students of the faculty of political science in TCD. The submissions dealt with the reform of the proportional representation by the single transferable vote system (PR-STV), the introduction of gender quotas for election candidates, and the lowering of the minimum voting age from 18 to 16.

In relation to the pressure on TDs to deal with both the requirements of representing their constituency and the necessities of their legislative role, Minister Dempsey remarked "My basic belief is that a national politician is elected to create and influence policy. Unfortunately, the way you get elected is to make sure you deliver the medical card, the planning permission, not make changes to policy".

Speaking from the floor, former minister for education Gemma Hussey concurred with Dempsey, stating "the lifestyle imposed on TDs is inimical to good government".

In response to a submission made by student Declan Harmon, committee member Jim O'Keefe TD said "We have to change what we're doing and we have to change it radically. I believe there is scope of constituency and legislative work, and I think the issue of electoral reform must be examined".

Senator Dan Boyle, responding  to a submission proposing the lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16, noted that where this policy has been implemented elsewhere in Europe, "young people are more likely to vote and stay voting". 

Senator Ivana Bacik and Justice Frank Clarke were also present for the roundtable discussion, chaired by John Bowman, that followed the proceedings of the committee. Senator Bacik responded to submissions relating to the introduction of a gender quota for general election candidates by pointing out that "representative rates for women have actually got worse because we have done nothing. If you do nothing, the numbers do not rise. Positive action must be taken to improve numbers of women and ethnic minorities". In reference to the impact of the proposed amendment of the PR-STV system on the numbers of female candidates, Senator Bacik cited a recent European report "which found that the type of electoral system had less impact on the numbers of female representatives; what impacts most is the party selection system".

Meanwhile, Justice Clark pointed out that many of the proposed electoral reforms which had been discussed, such as the extension of the franchise to ex-patriate citizens, would not require a change to the constitution.

For more on the debate over PR-STV, a useful background to the main points of debate is provided by TCD here.

TheStory.ie ran a liveblog of the event last night, which can be viewed here.