Dáil debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Electoral Representation (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)

I acknowledge the role of the Fine Gael Party and Deputy Hogan in my being able to contribute tonight. It is an injustice in our system that I am not able to do so in my own right. Last Thursday, I proposed an electoral (amendment) Bill similar to this but the system precludes me from advancing it at this time. Hence, it is Deputy Hogan's Bill we are debating now.

I was elected in a by-election and, therefore, have first-hand experience. It was the death of my predecessor, the late Mr. Tony Gregory, that caused the by-election in Dublin Central. Mr. Gregory, as Members know, was a tireless worker in the constituency, as was borne out by the fact that he was re-elected consistently over 27 years. His death on 2 January 2009 meant that Dublin Central was left without one of its entitlements. Four months passed and these comprised a time of anxiety and uncertainty in the constituency for Mr. Gregory's constituents and his supporters. At that stage, Dublin South had been without its full complement of public representatives for a much longer period. Today Dublin South is again without a Deputy, as are Waterford and Donegal South-West. We are approaching the first anniversary of Donegal South-West lacking its full entitlement.

We either believe in our parliamentary or democratic system or we do not. If we do, we should ensure all our constituents have their full entitlement of Deputies. Are we approaching a system similar to that affecting public sector workers in that when one leaves a post, one is not replaced? It appears this is the system in the Dáil.

I have heard of by-elections as the wrong way to fill a Dáil vacancy and that they are a distraction from the work and business of governing and policy-making. This time last year, I was in the middle of a by-election campaign in Dublin Central. There was also one in Dublin South. This did not equate with political instability and I did not see the country grinding to a halt. The Dáil continued its business, the Government governed and the Opposition opposed. The by-elections came and went and Dublin Central and Dublin South then had their full complement of Deputies.

Alternatives to by-elections are suggested. Options are to choose the next person in line from the most recent election, or to avail of the count-back system or co-option. Co-option would be just a further accentuation of the political dynasty syndrome in the Chamber. A by-election is the fairest and most democratic way to fill a vacancy. I cannot understand why we do not have legislation on this issue. My Bill sets time limits, both minimum and maximum, for the holding of by-elections.

What is holding up or preventing the by-elections? I read an article in a newspaper at the weekend in which the correspondent stated by-elections are "undemocratic and their outcomes unrepresentative because they give voters in a particular constituency a distorted electoral impact." Are we in a democracy or just paying lip service to it? It is the right of the voter in a democracy to vote for the candidate of his choice. It appears we are afraid of democracy.

Moving the writ for the by-election is at the whim of the political party or parties in power, and they do so at a time of optimum value to them. This is not good enough and not democratic. It is not just or fair to leave a constituency bereft of its entitlement. To the contention that there is a strong trend whereby by-elections produce results against whatever parties are in Government, I say, "So what." There is no just, valid or fair reason for depriving a constituency of its full complement of public representatives. The present Government may not want by-elections in the foreseeable future in terms of political benefit or otherwise, immediate or long-term, but it may be in opposition at some time and clamouring for a by-election. Moving the writs for by-elections should be out of the hands of the political party in power and made subject to legislation. By achieving this, we would eliminate uncertainty and doubt and circumstances in which constituencies do not have their full complement of Deputies.

I would obviously prefer to be developing my own Bill but at this point I am supporting Deputy Hogan. I appeal to all Members, regardless of the political party to which they belong, to support the Bill in the interests of fairness, justice and democracy.


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