Dáil debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Electoral Representation (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)

That said, a key argument for retaining the current system is that it is easy for voters to understand.

There are various alternative systems available but, as with all systems, there are arguments for and against. One of the alternatives considered by some experts to be perhaps the most feasible is the method used in the European Parliament elections, as provided for in the European Parliament Elections Act 1997. It involves parties putting forward a list of substitutes, with the first on the list stepping up in the event of a casual vacancy. The obvious advantage of this for Ireland is that there is no delay in filling the casual vacancy and the inter-party balance in the Dáil would not be affected. On the other hand, the list system is open to potential abuse and could be used, at least theoretically, to parachute a relatively unknown person into the Dáil on the back of a popular candidate. Another alternative, advocated by some, is the countback method which would involve revisiting the ballot papers for the original general election. I understand this method is used in Malta and I look forward to seeing whether the joint committee makes any suggestions on it in its forthcoming report.

As I said, there are many alternatives and there may be more than those to which I have adverted. However, I appreciate that this is not the forum to debate the merits of different electoral systems. My intention is to give a flavour of the detailed analysis and debate that is required in deciding on how best to take forward our approach to by-elections. I am not persuaded that tinkering with the by-election provisions in the existing legislation, without fundamental electoral reform, is the best option. It is not practical to talk about piecemeal change without having regard to the wider implications. This proposal needs more measured consideration as part of a broader systematic review of the electoral system. Moreover, the Government would not be serving the public interest, nor the democratic process itself, if it accepted the Bill without sufficient thought, planning and consultation.

As I said, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution is due to publish its report on the election of Members of the Dáil shortly. Given the detailed debate and expert analysis of electoral theory and systems undertaken by the committee, I expect its work to provide a valuable contribution to the debate on by-elections. I await that report with keen interest. I hope the Opposition parties will show a unified approach and a willingness to engage on the wider electoral reform agenda that will best serve the needs of the country in the coming years. I am open to consideration of longer-term options in regard to the broader electoral reform agenda and will not be drawn on hasty proposals that could have unintended consequences down the road. For the reasons I have set out, I do not accept the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill currently before the House.

In respect of the three by-elections currently outstanding, I have made my personal views on the timing of these polls clear on a number of occasions. These matters will, however, be discussed by Government and will ultimately be a matter for the Oireachtas to decide.


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