Dáil debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Electoral Representation (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the important matter of by-elections and I thank and commend Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this matter. She is following in the great tradition of the late Tony Gregory, whom we miss in debates such as this. However, the legislation is about the need for people to be able to elect their own TD. Blocking or postponing an election should never be an option in a so-called "free society". This is almost as bad as preventing Independent Members from speaking in the House. The country and the Dáil are either democratic or they are not. It is apparent the House is not and this is a national scandal, particularly in these difficult times when those of us who want to represent senior citizens, the unemployed, public servants and the sick and disabled are prevented from expressing their views and concerns, which is the key to this debate.

Let there be no misunderstanding that the failure to hold by-elections is wrong and it is totally undemocratic. Many of us may not like the results but this is about the people's choice. People died for the right to vote in an independent Ireland, which is something we should all reflect on in this debate. A series of independent candidates will run in the by-elections. For example, an excellent independent councillor is ready to stand and serve in Waterford. Councillor Joe Conway has a great local record and a great vision for the country. I urge people to be independent and to vote independent.

These by-elections are necessary. Thousands of independent councillors work for their constituents without recourse to political party structures all over Europe. More than 120 independent councillors were elected in the last local elections in Ireland. I believe that independent representation, free from political party influence, is more likely to be closer to the people and more responsive to their expectations than local authorities and the Government. It is important that independent candidates hold their nerve in the broader debate and are not bullied by the major political parties.

Currently, a time limit or other compelling factor cannot be used to require a by-election to be held when a seat becomes vacant due to the death or resignation of a sitting TD. Article 16.2.2 of the Constitution requires that there be one TD for every 20,000 to 30,000 of the population. There is no constitutional reason the law or Standing Orders should fail to provide that a by-election be held within a specific period of a causal vacancy occurring. The purpose of the legislation, which I strongly support, is to ensure a constituency is not left without a TD for an indefinite period. It is the constitutional right of our citizens to be adequately represented in the Dáil. Under the present system, a constituency may be left without a TD indefinitely and that is why I urge people of all political persuasions to support the legislation. Some day the Government parties will be in Opposition and by-elections will be on the agenda. They will value the right to ask the people to vote.

It is important that democracy is taken seriously. There is much discussion in the House about reform and the need for radical change in the future, which I support because it is essential, but part of any radical change is support for this legislation. It addresses the issue of democracy and it will give people the right to express their views, particularly in the current economic climate. I urge all Members to support the Bill.


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