Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Our electoral system and the Oireachtas are not fit for a modern democracy – it’s time for change - Doherty

19 July, 2010 - by Pearse Doherty TD


Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Co. Donegal today Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty called for a radical overhaul of the current electoral system. He said “Our electoral system and the Oireachtas are not fit for a modern democracy. The electoral system has given us an Oireachtas that is largely male, middle class and middle aged. It is not surprising that it is so unrepresentative.”
Senator Doherty said:
“There is widespread public belief that the political system has failed us. Public disillusionment with politics has grown as the role of the government and the establishment parties in bringing about the economic crisis has become more apparent. It has been exacerbated by revelations of corruption, outrageous expenses claims and a dull and ineffectual Oireachtas.
“Many people have no engagement whatsoever with our electoral system – they are not on the electoral register and they do not vote. Those most estranged from our electoral system and from politics come from the most disadvantaged communities in the state.
“Any reform of our political system must have as one of its first objectives to increase the participation of citizens, particularly those who currently do not participate, in the political process at all levels from voting to holding office.
“Our electoral system and the Oireachtas are not fit for a modern democracy. The electoral system has given us an Oireachtas that is largely male, middle class and middle aged. It is not surprising that it is so unrepresentative.
“If we are serious about addressing the warped political culture in this state that will require a radical shift that seeks an end to cronyism and an end to the privileged position enjoyed by an elite in this state.
“As someone who is currently in the process of taking a judicial review against the Government over the failure to hold a by-election in a constituency where there has been a vacancy for over 13 months, I am acutely aware of some of the flaws in the electoral system.
“There should be no requirement to go to the courts on such an issue – a time limit for the holding of by elections should be set down in law.”
In relation to the Seanad, Senator Doherty said:
“As a member of the Seanad I have to say that the current Seanad serves no useful purpose and should be abolished. As it is currently constituted is not a democratic institution and merely reproduces the existing balance of power in the Dáil and acts as a rubber stamp for the Government.
While there is a case to be made for a system with two houses of parliament for this to make sense they have to have two clear, separate defined roles.
The current Seanad is an affront to democracy, giving votes to people based on their educational attainment, giving multiple votes to members of local authority and ensuring a government majority through 11 Taoiseach nominees.
We could have a Seanad elected by a list system which seeks to represent civic society and minorities (a type of civic forum) or one that is more structured like the United States senate where each of the 32 countieswould have one representative directly elected, regardless of the population size, while representatives would continue to be elected to the Dáil based on the basis that they represent a set number of electors.” ENDS
Among Senator Doherty’s proposals to overhaul the current electoral system are:
- the abolition of the current Seanad,
- the reduction of the voting age to 16,
- the introduction of larger multi-seat constituencies and the introduction of voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad.
- The holding of Elections at weekends
- A time limit for the holding of by elections should be set down in law.”
- Establishment of an independent Electoral Commission
- A new constitution to accompany electoral reform.
- Dáil to play a stronger role in holding the government to account
- An end to the situation where positions on state boards are doled out as rewards to supporters of whatever party happens to be in government. There also needs to be a cull of quangos and unelected bodies to cut back on waste and improve transparency and efficiency in decision-making.
- New rules that prevent people making moves like this straight from government to the heart of those bodies trying to wield influence over government policies.
- A major transformation of local government is also required including an increase in councilors’ powers to include appropriate local control over the provision of services including greater local control over budgets and financing of local government.

Connect with Sinn Féin