Thursday, 18 December 2014
Fourth Report of the Constitutional Convention on the Dáil Electoral System: Statements
I am pleased today to provide to the Oireachtas the Government's response to the recommendations of the fourth report of the Constitutional Convention. The report is about the Dáil electoral system, one of the topics listed for consideration by the convention in the Oireachtas resolutions of 2012 approving the calling of the convention.
The Government acknowledges the interest of the participants and contributors and their engagement on the subject of the Dáil electoral system over two weekend meetings of the convention. This was, to quote the convention chairman, "a technical and complex" issue for consideration by the convention members. The decision of the convention was decisively in favour of retaining the current proportional representation-single transferable vote, PR-STV, electoral system, and the Government accepts the recommendation that the system be retained.
While voting to retain the current system, the convention made a number of recommendations for its modification. The convention chairman called this a "strong demand for changes" as part of a more substantial agenda of political reform. In that context in particular, the Government restates its commitment to reform of the political and electoral system. This is evidenced in the strong delivery over the past three and a half years on commitments in the programme for Government and the commitment in the Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 to further reform.
In the fourth report, as well as dealing with the Dáil electoral system, the convention made recommendations for constitutional change in regard to permitting the appointment of non-Oireachtas members as Ministers and requiring Dáil Members to resign their seats on appointment to ministerial office. A recommendation was also made in regard to direct democracy or citizens' initiatives.
I will now set out the Government response to each of the recommendations made by the convention in its fourth report.
I will begin with the recommendations for change to the Dáil electoral system. The convention recommended providing for larger constituencies with the smallest constituency size being a five seater. The Government is of the view that the three, four or five seat Dáil constituency arrangement has served the State well since 1948. It has provided for an appropriate balance in representation across the country while, at the same time, allowing for regard to be had to the terms of reference set in law for boundary review. The Government, therefore, will not accept the recommendation that no constituency should have less than five seats.
The Convention recommended the retention of more than 159 Members. In the convention report the recommendation to have more than 159 Members is associated with a range of one Deputy for every 30,000 or fewer of the electorate. The Government does not accept that such a ratio should be provided for and does not, therefore, propose to hold a referendum on an amendment to the Constitution in this regard. There is scope within existing legislation to provide for constituencies to return between 153 and 160 Members. The most recent constituency commission recommended an arrangement of constituencies for the election of 158 Members and the Oireachtas has provided for this in the Electoral (Amendment) (Dail Constituencies) Act 2013.
The convention recommended the establishment of an electoral commission. In April this year the Taoiseach advised this House of the Government's acceptance of this recommendation which reflects a commitment in the programme for Government. The preparatory work on this task has commenced in the Department and the Government Legislation Programme provides for the publication of an electoral commission Bill in 2015. Last night in the Seanad, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, spoke with great passion and enthusiasm and in some detail about his commitment to this issue. He outlined his intention to bring proposals to Government in January to commence the pre-legislative phase of the Bill and this was well received by Senators.
The convention then recommended changing from the alphabetical order of candidates on the ballot paper and giving greater access to postal voting. The Government proposes that in due course an electoral commission be tasked with considering these issues and advising in detail on the electoral and operational implications, including costs, of implementing changes in these areas.
The convention recommended that measures be introduced to improve voter turnout. The Government accepts this recommendation and will continue to seek to implement measures to achieve improvements in voter turnout.
The convention recommended extending polling hours and polling days. Under existing law polling hours can to be set for a period of at least 12 hours between 7 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. on any day of the week. However, in the context of any new arrangements for running elections that would be put in place when an electoral commission is established, the options for implementation of the convention recommendation to extend polling hours and to provide for polling on more than one day should be examined. The costs and the electoral and operational implications of such options would need to be identified in that examination.
The convention recommended improving the accuracy of the electoral register. The Government fully agrees that the highest levels of accuracy should be a constant and continuing objective for all with responsibility for the register. This includes the voting public, local authorities and the Department. The Department will continue to work with stakeholders on improving the accuracy of the electoral register. This issue also exercises county councillors at election time.
The convention recommended the introduction of a relevant education programme in schools. Much is being done in this regard. There is a civil, social and political education programme in place for post-primary schools. The new junior cycle student award is underpinned by 24 statements of learning which include that the student "values what it means to be an active citizen, with rights and responsibilities in local and wider contexts". Earlier this year, it was announced that politics and society is to be introduced as part of the suite of subjects available to students at senior cycle.
The convention in its fourth report also made a small number of other recommendations unrelated to the Dáil electoral system. The first of these was that there should be a referendum to permit the appointment of non-Oireachtas members as Ministers.
The convention recommended providing a right for citizens to petition on influencing the legislative agenda and to petition for referenda. In response to these recommendations, I would point out that constitutional referenda are relatively common in Ireland and that there is nothing to prevent citizens presenting petitions. The Government has also substantially opened up the legislative process to citizens both via the work of the convention itself and the various packages of Dáil reform that we have introduced since 2011.
As the Taoiseach recently said in this House, the convention has been a valuable innovation in our democracy. I also commend the members and staff of the convention for their work on this report and their work generally over the lifetime of the convention.
I join the Minister in paying tribute to, and thanking, the members and staff of the convention for their input over many weekends and in acknowledging the report. It affords us the opportunity to examine issues in a different light considering the recommendations that emanated from it. I am glad the Government made a comprehensive response to them.
I agree with the Government that we should maintain the current mix of constituencies and not be confined to large constituencies. The Constituency Commission only recently made recommendations regarding the number of Members and the ratio of representation throughout the country is consistent. The commission's recommendations were accepted by the House and these should not be altered in the immediate future.
The other issues, as the Minister of State said, could in the main be dealt with by an electoral commission. It is disappointing that the Bill to establish such a commission was not brought forward at an earlier date. I acknowledge the commitment to do so next year but the Minister of State did not outline a timeframe for that to be introduced. I ask that this be done speedily to ensure the commission is in place before the referenda announced earlier this week are held next May. It is important considering the failure by the Government to secure approval for amendments to the Constitution in recent referenda and. more particularly the apathy towards them, as reflected by voter turnout, indicates the need for a commission to meet urgently and make recommendations to address these issues.
I am conscious of the Government's commitment to reform but mindful of the lack of reform, despite significant statements during the previous election campaign and in the programme for Government, and the lack of follow through in that regard. The recent McNulty affair exposed the shallow nature of the Government's reform agenda and the misuse of that board appointment to maintain a slender Seanad majority shows the Government has not learned any lessons. The history of the Government's measures to date illustrates its failure to grasp the nettle of reform in a meaningful way.
I have said it on numerous occasions in respect of various debates relating to the passage of legislation across a wide range of areas, most recently with the passage of legislation to give effect to the amended charging regime associated with Irish Water. We know that this funding mechanism was devised by the EMC, which is a sub-committee of Cabinet and which does not have the sort of responsibility associated with such decisions which should in the main be made and agreed by Cabinet as a whole. It is very disappointing that this has been a strong feature of this Government's life and that the funding mechanism came from the pensions reserve, which meant that this Dáil had no role in direct questioning or seeking direct information pertaining to the setting up of Irish Water because of the fact that funds were raised in that way. We have seen the folly of that. The result has been a sorry debacle for the past 18 months. This was born within the EMC. There was no Cabinet participation. It is high time that the Government made a strong commitment that it will not use this body in the way it has used it previously.
Another area where, unfortunately, we have a systematic breaking of a programme for Government pledge is the commitment not to guillotine Bills. The record shows that 63% of legislation to date has been guillotined. The Government failed to implement its programme for Government commitment to allow for two weeks between Bill Stages in 78% of Bills. Topical Issue debates have been completely undermined by the failure of relevant Ministers to turn up in over 40% of cases. This is factual information that tells its own story. The Friday sitting could be described by many as mere window dressing to bolster sitting days without any real debate and with no votes associated with legislation being discussed. The Government continues to engage in cronyism in State board appointments ignoring the open public process. Again, a statistical analysis shows that only one in five appointments has come through the open process.
That is an indication from the Opposition's perspective as to the lack of commitment on the part of Government to follow through on the various promises made in respect of reform. I hope that when we see the effort, commitment and work of the convention in producing such a report and making such recommendations, they are considered in their entirety and that moves are made to address the recommendations continued in the report. I accept and agree with many of the Minister of State's initial responses to it. Having said that, the constituency review needs to be enshrined to meet on a more regular basis rather than on the ad hoc basis maybe after two terms. I would like to see that set in stone.
The electoral commission was promised last April by the Taoiseach, as the Minister of State rightly noted. The Minister of State now says that the Bill is being prepared and will be before the House next year. I can only ask that every effort is made to bring that here hastily and to give it the sort of remit that would be reflective of many of the recommendations contained here in respect of improving voter turnout, looking at polling hours and polling days and improving the accuracy of the register. These are issues that this electoral commission needs to be charged with in order to make firm, real and meaningful recommendations to which the Government must commit in the event of the commission being given the sort of teeth that are necessary to make it effective.
I reiterate my and my party's thanks to and appreciation for the convention, staff and those who participated. I thank them for bringing forward the report. The success of that will only be measured by the commitments that ensue from Government in order to address the issues that have been raised. I implore the Minister of State to carry out the commitments she has given here today.
I take this opportunity to thank the convention for its fabulous work. This includes not only the chair, Tom Arnold, and the staff but in particular, the citizen members, many of whom were engaging with a political concept they had never engaged with before in the detailed manner they did over a good number of weekends earlier this year and last year. As an experiment in participatory democracy, it was a worthwhile concept. It should be replicated along with whatever lessons need to be learned from operating it to deal with some of the other issues that Irish society needs to get to grips with.
The advantage of the convention is that it had a cross-current of all Irish society but it did not make decisions. It made decisions among its membership and sent reports to us for us to decide on matters. It made recommendations about referenda. At the end of the day, whatever comes of our deliberations on its reports, the referenda that come from that will be decided by all of the people. The weekends when I attended the convention were very useful because sometimes we have our own presumptions about where we stand. At each of the tables, there was a range of different members of the public as well as other elected representatives and it was good to be able to tease out some of the concepts and logic behind their positions. In this case, it was a very interesting debate that was facilitated by the expert panels in and around the proportional representation through the single transferable vote, PRSTV, and mixed-member proportional representation, MMP, systems. It got into the nuts and bolts of the various electoral systems in different parts of Europe and elsewhere. It addressed the benefits and pitfalls. For many of us, the political scientists were able to outline pitfalls of the approaches I and possibly others have around the voting systems. They were able to highlight pitfalls relating to the electoral commission being permanent or the ballot paper being in a certain format. Despite all of that, we then as a convention put the proposals to a vote and it allowed the members of the convention to make decisions which are reflected in the report.
One of the strongest recommendations made by the convention was that the electoral commission should be made permanent. The view was that it should be mentioned in the Constitution which would give it a standing and an independence over and above that which it enjoys at the moment and that it is not just to deal with referenda and elections as they appear. The view was that the electoral commission should have the power to ensure that, if at all possible, the electoral register is 100%. The aim was for it to be a rolling register and that it would play a role in designing the ballot papers.
One of the recommendations was that we should move from alphabetical ordering of ballot papers to a random ordering. This recommendation was endorsed by 67% of delegates at the convention. That is a significant proportion of a small group.
The convention also endorsed positions that I have long shared. It was originally intended under the PR-STV system to have constituencies of more than five seats, and only in extreme circumstances were there to be three or four seats. While the last commission has moved in that direction, thankfully it did not go so far as to propose constituencies of between six and nine seats. Constituencies for local elections are that large, but Dáil constituencies are smaller. The problems associated with such an approach were discussed at the convention. Deputies in a very large constituency might not be as accessible as might be preferred, notwithstanding the criticisms of clientelism. This was one of the more interesting debates at the convention. The citizen members of the convention asked Deputies about our workload. Some of them were originally critical of us for spending too much time on local issues, but when we explained that we would concentrate less on local issues if constituents stopped raising them with us, they told us they wanted us to deal with these issues. Concern was expressed about the potential for larger constituencies to become unwieldy in terms of representing communities. We might end up carving constituencies into smaller portions, much as happens in Britain, where one MP represents a small constituency under the first-past-the-post system. That would be the result if a constituency comprised counties Limerick and Kerry or two Dublin constituencies. For those of us who are political practitioners, it was interesting to observe how the nuances of politics can be lost on the general public. When decisions are made on the convention's recommendations, I hope we take account of the need for more education on how politics works. Much of the negativity towards politicians is based on ignorance. I do not mean this in a negative way; it is because people have not been taught about politics in school. Some of the negativity stems from media onslaughts on politicians and the assertion that we are in politics for our own good rather than to further the common good. An electoral commission should be enshrined in the Constitution, and the sooner that happens the better. It can be established on a legislative basis, but it would have greater standing and could be given other functions if it had a constitutional underpinning.
The Constitutional Convention was a useful exercise in democracy. The Good Friday Agreement envisaged an all-Ireland civic forum. If such a forum ever comes about, it should be modelled on the convention. It allowed us to grapple with ideas and concepts which could form the basis for us to legislate on what is happening in society. Such an approach might make us act more quickly than we would otherwise intend.
I was a member of the Constitutional Convention and was able to attend all of its meetings. Caithfidh mé a rá go raibh na cruinnithe go léir thar barr agus go raibh an comhrá, an díospóireacht agus an t-idirphlé eadrainn go léir dearfach. The convention's work went a long way towards improving public perception of Deputies and Senators. Many of the citizen members of the convention left with a much more positive view of our work after engaging with us closely at the various meetings. I acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the staff of the convention in making meetings run smoothly and in the excellent choice of venue at the Grand Hotel in Malahide.
We know that weak parliaments are associated with executive dominance, whereas strong parliaments tend to be linked with weaker governments and, consequently, more frequent elections. Where does Ireland stand in respect of those two scenarios? We elect Deputies to carry out all of the tasks of the Dáil as defined by the Constitution, which range from law-making to overseeing the Executive and holding the Government to account for financial matters and international affairs. It is important that voters elect people who can perform those tasks efficiently and fairly, with the best interests of the country at heart. Two matters that have a bearing on today's discussion were decided prior to the convention's meetings. The constituency report for 2012 decided that the number of Deputies should be reduced by eight, to 158, and the number of constituencies should be reduced from 43 to 40. These changes have since been enacted. It did not make sense to me to enact these changes prior to the establishment of the Constitutional Convention, given that it was going to deal with electoral reform. It would have made more sense to await the convention's findings before deciding what aspects of the 2012 report should be provided for in legislation.
The electoral system for the Dáil was discussed over two weeks. We had a range of interesting presentations, some of which dealt with alternatives to our current system. These alternatives included single member plurality, single transferable votes and a mixed member proportional electoral system. One presenter applied the three alternatives to the 2007 and 2011 elections and came up with different scenarios. The 2007 general election returned 78 Fianna Fáil Deputies. One of the alternative systems would have returned 142 Fianna Fáil Deputies and another would have returned 114. The number would have increased under any of the alternatives. The 2011 general election returned 76 Fine Gael Deputies. There would have been 114 Fine Gael Deputies under two of the alternative systems but a smaller number under the third. I acknowledge that it is not an exact science, but the alternative systems would have made for very different governments and parliaments. It was clear that independent candidates do best under PR-STV. I am glad, therefore, that the Government has decided to retain that system.
We had extensive discussions on doing things better, including greater efficiency, transparency and accountability. The question arises of whether changing the electoral system would contribute to such improvements. I do not believe the existing flaws and shortcomings are due to a particular electoral system or that changing it would have changed the way we do politics. That is a different debate.
One criticism of the proportional representation system is that candidates in the same political party vie with each other as well as with candidates from other parties and independent candidates. This can lead to an emphasis on the local at the expense of the national. It was suggested that abandoning PR-STV would allow Deputies to devote all of their attention to the tasks outlined for them in the Constitution.
However, we all realise how vital it is that Deputies are conscious of the effects of national policy and decisions on the lives of Irish people. Being involved at the local level should complement the national level.
One of the alternatives is the list system, but that still means that candidates from the same party will be in competition with each other. An interesting question was asked in 2011. Voters were asked if they would vote for the same person if the person was in a different party. A total of 32% said "Yes", 35% said "No" but approximately 33% did not know. After two weeks of debate there was a decisive result in favour of keeping the current PR-STV electoral system. To try to minimise the parish pump type politics they suggested constituencies of no less than five seats, which the Minister has rejected, and they were in favour of more than 159 Deputies. Another issue that was discussed very forcibly was the electoral commission, and there was a debate at most of the tables on the inaccuracies of the electoral registers and how that must be addressed.
With regard to voter turnout, we are aware of how difficult that is with the low turnout in this country. Some countries have voter turnout of 90% and more. The civic, social and political education, CSPE, programme is not working. It is not engaging young people. They are still disaffected and disinterested in voting.
On the matter of Oireachtas Members being members of the Cabinet, I firmly believe that is how it should be. They have a mandate as they are elected by the people. There was a suggestion that when a Deputy was appointed a Minister, he or she would resign his or her seat to concentrate on ministerial work.
The Constitutional Convention showed direct democracy in action. It was a good method of showing participative democracy. It was disappointing that Seanad electoral reform was not on the agenda, but we had a short discussion about it. I look forward to the new committee that is examining Seanad reform devising a democratic and fair system of electing Members of the Seanad, instead of the rather convoluted system we currently have.
I read the Minister's speech. Recently, members of the Constitutional Convention were invited to meet the Taoiseach. They were all still engaged and asking questions about what is happening with the work they did at the convention. My suggestion is that when all of the meetings have been covered in the debates in this House and when all of the recommendations have been addressed, there should be an opportunity for all of the members to meet together and produce a comprehensive paper on what happened with their work and recommendations.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter and to thank the people who were involved in the convention. Many people gave up their time and put a great deal of effort into being involved. That is very much appreciated and should be acknowledged.
I will focus on a narrow part of this report and what I consider to be a fundamental part of our democratic system, the electoral system for electing Members of the Dáil. There is much talk about Dáil reform and reforming how Deputies do their business, but we must also consider reforming how Deputies are elected to the House in the first place. One of the flaws in our system is the multi-seat constituency system. The PR-STV system has served us well over the decades. It certainly offers the opportunity for smaller groups and minorities in society to be represented in the House, but the multi-seat system has led to many difficulties and a lack of full potential being achieved in the House.
I will outline some of the flaws in the system. The first is the clientelism that arises. As long as there are multi-seat constituencies, too many Deputies will spend too much time on the wrong issues instead of focusing on the parliamentary and legislative issues they are elected to deal with. For example, if a constituent approaches a Deputy with a problem that is really more relevant to a citizens' information office, a member of the local authority or an agency of the State, the Deputy cannot tell the person that it is a matter for somebody else because the constituent will approach another Deputy in the constituency and one can be sure of two things as a result, that the other Deputy will do the job and the first Deputy will never get a vote again from the constituent. As long as that is the scenario, Deputies will spend far too much time on matters that should be dealt with by other people. That is a terrible shame.
Ultimately, very few people have the opportunity to be a Member of this House and to contribute to the formation of policy and making law. Unfortunately, when we become Members too many of us are inundated with paperwork and matters that are not fundamentally part of the job. The only way we can change that is by jumping together and putting in place a system that safeguards the Deputy and allows them to delegate that work. Do not misinterpret me, I work extremely hard in my constituency on a one-to-one basis with people. However, I know from speaking to colleagues that many of us would prefer to have more time to focus on scrutinising legislation, forming policy on matters such as creating jobs for our constituents and trying to resolve some of the larger problems in the country. That is one of the flaws in the system.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred to internal party competition and the amount of time Deputies spend looking over their shoulders at somebody else in their party, perhaps the hungry councillor coming behind who is dealing with local issues on the ground. That Deputy, therefore, must also focus on local issues when they should be dealing with bigger, national issues in this House. We learned this painful lesson in the last number of years. We have seen how Dáil Éireann took its eye off the ball and allowed some problems to escalate and spiral out of control which ultimately led to the country's collapse in recent years. A stronger Dáil must have Deputies who are able to spend more time on Dáil issues. We must focus on that.
The argument for a single seat constituency system is strengthened when one considers that, at present, Deputies are not necessarily elected for their legislative or parliamentary work. In some cases they are elected for the wrong reasons. In a single seat constituency system, where one Deputy is returned from a constituency, the people would focus on the Deputy who is doing the legislative and parliamentary work. That is a serious issue and it must be considered and debated. To that end, I introduced a Bill dealing with this matter in November 2012 and another Bill recently. In my Bill I propose that a referendum be held and that we move from the current number of three, four and five seat constituencies to a scenario where there would be 157 single seat constituencies. It would retain the PR-STV system, although it would be the alternative vote, AV, system in that case. The Constitution refers to the use of the PR-STV system in the presidential election, which is perhaps a slight mistake.
In the Bill I introduced in 2012, I proposed that the number of Deputies be reduced to 101, with one being the outgoing Ceann Comhairle. Unfortunately, the focus of the debate at the time was on the 57 Deputies who would lose their jobs. However, the intention was to change from multi-seat constituencies to single seat constituencies while retaining the transferable vote system. That is the reason the latest Bill, which is currently with the Bills Office, retains the current number of Deputies for the next election. I strongly believe it is part of the reform that is required. There are two elements of reform required in this country - electoral reform and Dáil reform. Electoral reform and how Deputies are elected to this House is crucial. It is something we must debate further and I hope there will be a Second Stage debate on that Bill.
I realise there are differing views on list systems and other systems, but the country would progress if we were able to give Deputies a better opportunity to focus on what really matters, such as creating jobs for our people and ensuring our country never slides back into the mess it has been in for the last couple of years.
Unfortunately, in this State we have a cycle whereby every 30 years we seem to crash into the worst possible economic disaster, recover and then crash again. This cycle will continue until we have more fundamental reform of how we manage matters. In the Oireachtas we are the managers of the country and when something goes wrong, the buck has to stop here. The system is flawed.
County Kerry will become a single five seat constituency after the next general election when I hope I will have the privilege of representing the whole county. We are a very proud people and like to wear the green and gold whenever we can. To do so here would be a great honour for the whole county. However, if I drive home from Dublin on a Thursday evening, it might take four and a half hours, if I am lucky. If I have to attend a meeting in Listowel and then Ballinskelligs, it will take a further two and a half hours. If I then have to attend an event in Dingle, I could be driving around my constituency for five or six hours because it is so large. In a single seat scenario a county such as Kerry would be split into five constituencies, solving the logistical problem of trying to get around the constituency. The same applies to other large counties with relatively small populations such as Galway, Mayo and Donegal. We need to consider the issue. Although there is an argument that it would suit larger parties, I do not agree. In the past ten by-elections many of the people elected have been from smaller parties or Independents. We would see people responding to candidates who presented a strong parliamentary agenda and wanted to do the larger policy work.
I would like it to happen for future generations. What we do here might affect future generations for the next 90 to 200 years; God only knows. I do not want to be part of a Government that knows we have failed fundamentally, yet fails to reform. It would set us up to fail again. I would like see to more fundamental reform than in the past four years and we still have an opportunity to do it. With possibly 16 months before the next general election, there is adequate time for the Government to move the reform agenda forward. I hope it will happen.
While I welcome the debate, I question its timing. The Constitutional Convention gave the issue two weekends; we are giving it 90 minutes at the very end of the term and as a result, nobody is here. This treats the convention's work unfairly because it put so much time into it and it is a serious issue. If we are serious about changing our political structures and systems and reforming the culture of politics, electoral reform is at the heart of it. To spend 90 minutes at the end of the term debating the convention's work is insufficient. However, as it is an opportunity to speak, we should do so.
I do not know if we have decided how we will treat the recommendations. From the Minister's statement, it seems a particular way is on offer. Do we accept all of them or do we cherry-pick and, if so, who decides? Given that the convention's work cannot be binding, does it become an academic exercise, albeit a worthwhile one?
On the issue of the smallest constituencies having five seats, in one of his speeches the Minister stated, "The Government is of the view that the three, four or five seat Dáil constituency arrangement has served the State well since 1948." Therefore, the recommendation was not accepted. Unfortunately, this shows a complete lack of imagination on the part of the Government and what does it say for the convention's work?
The recommendations that have been accepted such as the establishment of an electoral commission were to be implemented anyway. The establishment of an electoral commission was included in the programme for Government. Other recommendations such as postal voting or extending voting to weekends will be given to the electoral commission to consider. What, therefore, was the purpose of the work? Although the reports are very interesting and a lot of time has been put into them, if we are accepting only the recommendations that we were going to implement anyway and not thinking about the more imaginative ones because that is not how the State works, I am not sure what the purpose was. While I do not mean to talk down or undermine the work of the convention, I wonder about the thought process before we established the convention and put the work in motion.
Other ideas recommended in this and other reports are included in legislation proposed by colleagues and are not necessarily new. We may not have had to do all of this work to reach a point we were already at.
In responding to the convention's recommendations we cannot become paralysed by analysis. If we think through the different iterations of reform and what might be the consequences, we will find flaws. However, we will find flaws everywhere and cannot let it keep us from making changes that need to be made because something is not working and we know it. If we were led by fear all the time, nothing would change and the status quowould be maintained. The logic that three, four and five seat constituencies have served us well since 1948 is given as a reason not to change things. Reasons will be given to explain why having a five seat constituency is not in the interests of the State. If the current system is not working well, we should not be afraid to try something else, even if there is not a perfect system with which to replace it.
I was very disappointed that the convention did not recommend changing the electoral system in terms of multi-seat constituencies. Deputy Brendan Griffin gave an excellent explanation as to why the model was not serving any of us well. He referred to the multiplication of work. In a four seat constituency such as mine a person may contact every Deputy in the constituency, each of whom may contact the relevant person in a Department, which is unnecessary. It also drives the hyper-localism of Irish politics. Changing the electoral system in this way would be a great way of moving away from it. Unfortunately, the convention did not recommend it; however, it does not matter, given that the Government is making the decision.
I agree with the recommendation that the smallest constituency should be a five seater. In European elections the system works well. People vote based on a person's ideas and principles, not because they had met him or her or because her or she had come to the door. To vote for somebody on that basis is not necessarily bad and accessibility is one of the benefits of the political system. However, if we want to move to a position where people will vote for a politician based on his or her convictions and positions on issues such as marriage equality or abortion, we must remove the hyper-localism. If we are not going to do it through having multi-seat constituencies, we could do it by enlarging constituencies.
The recommendation on changing the number of Deputies in the Dáil to reflect the number of voters was interesting. However, I could agree with it only if we were to make voting mandatory, as in Australia.
While I agree with the point on the establishment of an electoral commission, we should have done it in the first six months. Had we established an electoral commission, we could have let it conduct all of the referendums over the course of our five years in government.
The extension of polling hours and days is a no-brainer. It happens elsewhere in Europe and should happen here. I agree with providing greater access to postal voting which also happens elsewhere in Europe and many other countries.
We should allow people living overseas to vote through the embassies. During a recent election in Romania there were huge queues to vote at the embassy in my constituency. It is very simple and should be done. It bothers people if they are away during an election. It bothered people particularly during the 2011 general election because they very much wanted to vote but could not do so. Our decision is to allow the electoral commission to examine the issue. Again, we are unnecessarily kicking it down the road and delaying it. However, I agree with the idea.
Improving the accuracy of the electoral register is very important because we all know it is incredibly inaccurate. People are on a number of registers around the country as they move about. This needs to change, not least because it does not give us an accurate reflection of the turnout, which is important because we need to know the level of participation in society and how many are coming out to vote.
We had a very good education programme in schools, whereby Deputies and staff from the Oireachtas visited them. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and I visited a school in Terenure together where we engaged with the students and told them what we did. Unfortunately, funding restrictions meant we had to cut back the programme. Education in schools is very important. When school groups visit Leinster House, they get a huge amount out of it and it is really brilliant. Recently, like many of my colleagues, I have started to have a question and answer session for students in the AV room, which gives them even more information. That is the best way to do it.
Because the facilities and the people to do it already are available here, the first step to take is to bring every school in here and to make sure every school has been.
The next point was not about electoral reform but about the composition of the Cabinet or ministerial positions and is to permit the appointment of non-Oireachtas Members as Ministers and then to require Members of the Dáil to resign their seats on appointment to ministerial office. I do not agree with that. If one desires the American system and the executive government style, that is a complete change from parliamentary democracy. What we have is quite good, because the person elected to the Dáil and who then is elected by the Dáil into the Cabinet is politically and electorally responsible. One then matches that person with an expert by making sure the Secretary General of that Minister's Department is the expert one would take from industry or wherever. One then puts the two people together, that is, the person who has the expertise and the experience and the person who has the political accountability and understanding. That is a great force and a good example of how this has worked was the pairing of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and John Moran, who formed a very good partnership at the head of the Department of Finance. This is what we should be working towards and what that would mean is not a change to how people are appointed to the Cabinet but changes within the Civil Service in order that people from outside can move more easily into the senior positions. People should be able to move in and out of the Civil Service to secure the best possible person in each Department at the very top. It should be open to a Minister, as he or she walks into a new Department, to say the best guy to run this Department is someone who used to run an airline and who would be perfect and then to bring in and work with that person. While the Minister would be politically responsible, that person would have the management and field expertise. I believe this is what people were trying to get at when they made such recommendations because they are of the opinion that something is not working. However, from my perspective, the fault lies in what can be done in respect of flexibility at the top of the Civil Service.
These were the recommendations on which I wished to speak. When Members speak on the next report of the Constitutional Convention, hopefully it will be the report on reform of the Dáil itself and hopefully much more time will be allocated to it. Moreover, I hope the Government does not prejudge the recommendations and tell Members which ones they must accept because were that the case, what would be the point of this entire exercise?
The main question the convention was obliged to decide in respect of our electoral system was whether to keep our system, that is, proportional representation by single transferable vote, PRSTV, or to replace it. The answer was a decisive "No" to replacing it and as the report states, "At the conclusion of the plenary meeting in June the result of the ballot was decisively in favour of keeping the current PRSTV electoral system". The vote was 79 to 20, which is in keeping with a national general election survey conducted in 2011. It was a substantial survey in which approximately 6,000 people were interviewed and again, the majority of the public was against moving away from PRSTV. Two referendums have been held on the subject in which the people opted decisively not to change to single-seat constituencies. Were one to introduce single-seat constituencies with proportional representation, which is called the alternative vote, it still would end up with the winner taking all and is undemocratic. That is the reason people wish to keep the PRSTV system, because it is the most democratic electoral system. Consequently, the two Deputies who spoke before me are very much out of sync with the view of the convention, with the view of the public and with decisions that people have taken by referendum. When we adopted PRSTV at the foundation of the State it was on foot of a civic movement. The idea was abroad in society that we were setting up a new State and should go for the best and most democratic system and we brought in PRSTV. Moreover in other assemblies, such as, for example, the citizens' assembly in British Columbia that was the model for our Constitutional Convention, the question was whether they would change their electoral system. They sought decisively to change to our system and in fact, a majority voted to do so in a referendum they held. It was just that the bar was too high, in that unlike our referendums, it was not a simple majority but the percentage required was much higher.
I very much disagree, as did the convention, with the view of Deputy Griffin that there is something wrong with our PRSTV in terms of how Members act as Deputies. Members are here to represent their constituencies in the Dáil, which is what "Teachta Dála" means. When Members legislate, as legislators they are supposed to bring what they learn from their constituents because Members are supposed to represent their constituents when they legislate. The two are not separate but are related and one informs the other. In that way, each citizen in the State is represented in the Dáil, as is each parish, town and village. All types of people are represented here when Members legislate and Deputies take on board their concerns when they do so. That often informs the debate and so it should, as Members cannot legislate in isolation from what they learn as representatives in their constituency work.
I believe it is a very democratic system that is serving us well. It gives voters a huge say at the ballot and does not mean they will keep the status quoas there was a decisive change in the last election, where something like 79 new Deputies were elected. Voters have huge power at the ballot box and they use it. Moreover, they use it according to national considerations. They of course consider how national decisions affect them as individuals and in their constituencies but they also consider the universality of the issues and vote in that way.
In addition, I note a survey of Deputies was carried out in 2010 and while this issue has been examined many times, the same answer keeps coming back but some Deputies keep ignoring it. They usually are Deputies from bigger parties who favour a single-seat model but that would mean that bigger parties would hold all the seats. That is how it works. Members should consider Britain and the results of the elections there.
It is not democratic. Moreover, all the evidence that was put to the convention members was that if one had single-seat constituencies, the smaller parties and the Independents would lose out. They would not be represented. While Deputy Griffin might think this is a good thing, I do not. Even though I might oppose them in many respects, one would not have had People Before Profit, the Socialist Party or the Independents in this Dáil. Moreover, Sinn Féin would not have been in the Dáil at the last election. It would discriminate greatly against everybody except the big parties-----
Only one constitutional issue really was at stake and that concerned the electoral system. All the other stuff is a survey of opinion and if one considers the recommendations about the modification of the constituencies to the effect that we should have larger-----
If one considers whether we should have larger constituencies, which was one of the recommendations, that is not necessarily something that must be done by changing the Constitution. It could be done by legislation. I would be in favour of that, as it of course would favour smaller parties much more, but it is much more democratic as well.
Changing the order of candidates on the ballot paper was one of the recommendations of the convention on the basis of a survey of opinion. I have my doubts about that because while I acknowledge there is a problem with people going from the top of the ballot paper to the bottom and there is a certain distortion in that regard, on the other hand, were the ordering all mixed up, I believe one would find people are accustomed to scanning the paper using their knowledge of the alphabet and the order in which it goes and finding the candidate for whom they wish to vote. Therefore, I question that second recommendation and it would warrant closer examination. As the Minister noted, probably the best place in which to give consideration to this recommendation is the electoral commission. As to one good thing in our system, I note that in Malta, they have PRSTV but it is ordered according to parties and consequently, voters simply stick within their parties and do not go across parties from one to the other. It is good that in our system, people move around whereby they might give their first preference to Fianna Fáil, their second preference to the Labour Party or whatever. This is a good thing about the system. While this makes the individual key to the process, a person's character is something people take into account when they vote for their representative.
As to how this worked, at the first session in May, the members of the convention considered whether we should examine other systems. They were open to looking at other systems and the one that got the majority was the mixed-member proportional system, MMP. The members of the convention ruled out list systems and so on and people were very much against those other systems. Consequently, the convention looked in detail at the mixed-member proportional system and when the convention members got the information about it, they could discern the pitfalls. They could see that it would be very difficult to have both multi-seat constituencies and people being elected on lists because in a way, as has been noted by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, one is replicating. As list systems involve multi-seat constituencies, one would have two multi-seat constituency elections. One still would have interparty competition within both systems because that happens in other countries. Moreover, even in the case of countries in which they elect on lists, it was put to us by the people who had studied the other systems and had lived in other countries that they have constituency work too.
This is the case for people even if elected on lists, unless the system is a totally closed one, as in the case of Israel. The pitfalls were examined and a democratic deficit was identified. Representatives still do constituency work. Other countries are moving closer to our system rather than the other way round. Our system rather than those of other countries is considered the benchmark.
On the other matters surveyed, while the response of government is pretty good I believe many of the issues should be dealt with by the electoral commission. In my opinion, the issue of whether Deputies should resign when they become Ministers was not adequately considered by the convention. During discussion on the issue by the group with which I was involved I learned that when Ministers in France step down and somebody else takes their place, because they want to run again in their constituencies, they run as local mayors in order to keep up their profiles. In France, the Prime Minister can become a Mayor of Paris. It all comes down to local level everywhere. It is a universal phenomenon that people vote for who they know, which I think is positive. I disagree with those who say that is not the case. However, I would be wary of the proposal that Ministers should resign. I do not think it is practical or that it would achieve the outcome expected.
On direct democracy, I believe there is a need for an audit in this regard. While direct democracy exists to a certain extent I do not believe the convention considered that issue in enough detail either. We should have an audit in relation to direct democracy, which was evident in respect of the Bill voted through the Dáil last night in relation to any proposal to privatise Irish Water. It is evident also in local government in the context of plebiscites and so on. We should first undertake a review of existing direct democracy and then consider what we can do to improve on it. I would be wary of direct democracy in the context of a vote on a homeless shelter in a particular area in that it might not be supported. Sometimes politicians have to do what is unpopular. That is democracy.
This is an interesting debate. I agree that it is a pity it is taking place at the close of session when there are few people around. I was not, unfortunately, a member of the convention but I took an interest in the debate and on the recommendations arising out of it. Like some of my colleagues, I come from a rural constituency. While many colleagues from the urban constituencies are interested in increased seat numbers and larger constituencies, representatives from rural constituencies know only too well the practical issues involved in representing a large constituency. If the number of representatives is increased so too will the geographical areas.
Deputy Griffin comes from County Kerry, which for the purposes of the next general election will become one constituency. When one takes into account all of the peninsulas and so on in that area, representation of that constituency by only one Deputy will be horrendous. It will be very difficult. As stated by Deputy Griffin, it will take many hours to travel the entire constituency. The same will apply in the case of Donegal. I have previously spoken about the European Parliament constituencies and the fact that virtually half of this country is in one constituency. In my view, a constituency of that size is too big. It means that often two Deputies from the same party must each focus on one particular half of the constituency. In my constituency Deputy Barry focuses on the northern half of Cork East and I focus on the southern half of it. While we do some work together across the constituency, that is how it works de facto. In a situation where there is only one Deputy from a particular party in a constituency he or she has to cover the whole constituency in order to serve the constituents who voted for him or her. It is very difficult to have to drive hundreds of miles to do that. I caution against larger constituencies with more seats.
I note that most of our European partners use a mixed list system of one type or another. There is a need for further discussion on that issue. It is often said that in politics there is too much clientelism, localism or parish pump politics. Deputy Tuffy mentioned in her contribution that we have to represent constituencies and we also have to legislate. I believe that in legislating we represent the whole country and not only our constituencies. Very often people come to us with trivial problems. I note that the convention indicated that we should strengthen local government and the role of the local councillor to provide that he or she can take on more local issues, thus freeing up Deputies and Senators to address the national situation. I believe that is an issue on which we should do more work.
Another issue discussed is the listing in alphabetical order of names on the ballot paper and the design of the ballot paper. Theresa Reidy of UCC has done a lot of work on this issue, on which I commend her. I noticed a flaw in the ballot papers for the local elections in terms of the location on the left-hand side of the ballot paper of the logos of political parties. The Independents did not have any logos and as such the box to the left of their names was blank. This meant that people who chose to record their vote on the left-hand side of the ballot paper were unable to vote for the representatives of any party because the box to the left of their names contained a logo and, thus, they invariably continued to vote for the Independents. That is a flaw in the ballot paper. People were supposed to record their votes in the boxes on the right-hand side of the ballot paper but some chose to do so on the left-hand side which meant they voted in many cases for the Independents. The advice from the returning officers was that it was a clear indication of voting preference. Many hundreds of people who recorded their votes on the left-hand side of the ballot paper were precluded from voting for party representatives because the boxes to the left of their names were filled with logos.
Very often a person will give their No. 1 vote to an Independent and then continue on in terms of preference. If that person chooses to record his or her vote on the left-hand side of the ballot paper and he or she is not too pushed about who gets the second, third and fourth votes and so on they will tick the following empty boxes. That is what happened. I ask that those who design the ballot papers ensure in the future that the boxes with no logos are blacked out so that people are compelled to record their votes on the right-hand side, thus giving everybody involved a fair chance. Design of a ballot paper is a serious matter.
According to some research because names on the ballot paper are listed in alphabetical order those whose surname starts with the letter A have an advantage because it is at the top of the ballot paper. It has also been said that those listed at the bottom of the ballot paper may also have a slight advantage. It has been proposed that names be randomly mixed up to ensure people get an opportunity to be at the top or bottom of the list as the case may be. As I said, design of a ballot paper is an important matter.
On the issue of a reduction in the number of Deputies in Dáil Éireann, I have heard it said that the number should be around 100. When the Irish soccer or rugby team plays an international match they have the same number of people on the pitch as the other team. In other words, in a soccer match against France or Germany and so on, there are 11 people on each team. There is an optimal number of people needed in a Legislature. If one removes Ministers, Ministers of States and then splits in two the number of Government and Opposition members then the choice for the Taoiseach, in terms of the number of people he can put in Cabinet, becomes limited. The workload for the remainder of us also increases. I caution against any great reduction in the number of Deputies.
I believe that an electoral commission is important. Perhaps the Minister will when summing up the debate indicate if it will be established prior to the next election, which presumably will be in 15 months time, and whether it will be operational for the purposes of that election. I would welcome a response to that question. On the extension of polling days and hours, I am not too sure about that. I think we need to do more to create an excitement around elections that would encourage people to come out and vote. In some countries - I think Australia was mentioned in this regard - there is a national holiday type atmosphere around elections.
On improvement of the accuracy of the electoral register, that is an old chestnut. Another issue discussed was that of greater access to postal voting. I have drafted a Private Members' Bill which I hope will address the issue of access to postal voting for people who are away on holidays on polling day. I would welcome debate on that legislation so as to make the small change required in that regard. Perhaps the electoral commission could be tasked with ensuring that people who present an airline ticket to show that they will be away on holidays on polling day are facilitated with a postal vote.
Education programmes are also important. Returning to the issue of the electoral register, there should be a programme of registration in schools or colleges for students when they reach 18 years of age or 16 if it is changed.
Has the Minister any proposals to encourage such a programme or even mandate it?
I agree with the convention’s proposals on the appointment of non-Oireachtas Members to Cabinet. It is already provided for but has only happened on a few occasions over the past decades. The proposal for Dáil Members to resign their seats on appointment to Cabinet happens in other jurisdictions. Perhaps Ministers are too close to the Dáil. In other jurisdictions where they resign their seats, parliament then becomes a little more independent.
Direct democracy initiatives are always very welcome. There are two types of reform, one of which is big bang reform. Many Members claim the Whip system is awful. I have been a Member for 18 years and there have been only three times when Members have agonised over the imposition of the Whip system. Most parties agree in their party rooms to be guided by the Minister or spokesperson on the path to take regarding certain legislation. Rarely, does the Whip become an issue. However, a significant reform has occurred unnoticed, namely pre-legislative scrutiny. I have the privilege of chairing the justice committee which, since the general election, has scrutinised 11 Bills, hearing evidence from over 420 people and non-governmental organisations. The committee has published eight reports. Its report on missing persons led to a missing persons day while its report on prostitution led to legislation in the area being brought forward. The same applied to its reports on community courts and domestic sexual violence. The pre-legislative scrutiny system involves much, so that when the Bill is finally published by the Government, it is actually a very good document. This has been the biggest change I have seen here but it has got no coverage. These are the kind of reforms we need to be addressing.
Like the Acting Chairman, Deputy Joanna Tuffy, I was a proud member of the Convention on the Constitution. I acknowledge the work of the chairman, Tom Arnold, as well as the secretariat and academic staff headed up by Art O’Leary. The work they did in galvanising the members of the convention to debate in a resourceful and tolerant manner is to be commended, as well as the way the convention arrived at its conclusions.
I am glad and relieved we are now debating the convention’s fourth report on the Dáil electoral system. The report is the culmination of the work of convention members over two weekends. On the first weekend, we examined the PR-STV system, proportional representation through the single transferable vote, and alternatives to it. The first recommendation was to maintain PR-STV but modify it. That decision shows the high regard people have for our current system. I agree with Deputy Tuffy on how our constituencies should be arranged and how we vote. Deputy Stanton and I have spoken about the whole issue around whether we should have single-seat constituencies elected by PR-STV.
The convention also recommended larger multi-seat constituencies and, surprisingly to public representatives, more Deputies elected, essentially having one for every 30,000. Talking to convention members, I learned they like the fact Deputies and public representatives are close to them in their communities, of them, from them, being involved and accessible. That is one of the hallmarks of our system that is to be commended. Whether it is Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Ann Phelan, Tuffy or Stanton, we are living in the communities we represent, we are from them, not aloof from them. This is to be welcomed and never to be taken away from our system of politics.
Another interesting point I learned from the convention was that many of its members wanted to see larger constituencies. Would that mean, however, that we would still be close to the people or would we lose touch with them? Aside from the simplistic view as a practitioner that we would have to cover more ground and service more people, a large constituency will make us more distant from the communities we represent.
Two weeks ago, I attended a conference in Washington D.C. Members from parliaments in other jurisdictions were stunned that Irish parliamentarians would knock on constituents’ doors every couple of days and hold regular clinics without appointments. It is interesting that we try to get a balance between being a legislator and, as Deputy Tuffy said, being a Teachta Dála, the messenger of the people. We must always strive to get the balance between contributing to legislation and having time to participate in debates and committee work. Having the privilege of being the chair of the health committee, I have come to appreciate the work I do in my committee which has given me a different perspective on being a Teachta Dála.
We do not sell the committee system well or advocate enough for it, however. We need to do that more. For example, today the health committee held two passionate meetings on Lyme disease and cosmetic surgery. If we did not have a committee system, we would not have heard testimonies about the effects of both. Equally, without the committee system we would not have been able to hold the HSE to account for five and a half hours last Tuesday night on many issues, an exercise which one could not do in this Chamber.
When people speak about reform of politics, I wonder do they know what they actually want. For example, if Deputy Ó Snodaigh came to my clinic asking me to advocate on his behalf to get him a medical card, his footpath or pothole fixed but I told him that as chairman of the health committee my only job was to be a public health advocate and legislator, he would belittle me in the media and social media, saying I would not do what he asked me to do. The convention supported the work we do in trying to get that balance. I accept we cannot always get it right but we do try.
I am very vexed by the electoral boundary commission’s changes to Dáil constituencies, in particular the changes it made to Cork South Central. It is not about me losing half my home area in the constituency or the reduction of one seat.
My issue is with the way it discommoded a community by putting it in a no-man's land where its members had nothing in common with other constituents in terms of geography or shared issues. This applies to many parts of the country where different communities have little in common other than the fact that they are from the same county. In the case I speak of a disservice was done to the people and to politicians because the boundary commission had an opportunity to bring real reform to how Deputies are elected and how constituencies are composed but the question was ducked.
The electoral commission initiative was supported by 97% of the Constitutional Convention, it is in the programme for Government, and the Minister of State said in her address to the House that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, will put it in place. The electoral commission is required because issues that must be examined include access to postal voting, increasing electoral turnout, the accuracy of the electoral register and civic, social and political education, CSPE, in schools to ensure people participate in the voting process.
I agree with Deputy Stanton and am not convinced by comments on the length of the polling day. Presiding officers say that there is very little voting activity early in the morning on polling days. We need to change the voting system to allow for absentee votes from people abroad on holidays or for work reasons. We must assist those who otherwise would be unable to vote on voting day. Other European countries and the United States facilitate such voting.
I thank the Deputy for reminding me that they facilitate such voting in the North too. Voting queues can be seen outside embassies around Dublin and early voting exists in the United States for various elections. This is a measure we should consider because it would be an exciting part of the electoral process and would mean real engagement.
The weekend of the Constitutional Convention was excellent and the major recommendation that we should take from the fourth report is the establishment of an electoral commission. We must plan for elections and referenda in a more detailed way and I hope the referendum commission would be part of an electoral commission as this would bring consistency, uniformity and a planned approach to elections.
I commend the Constitutional Convention on its work and I particularly refer to the non-elected members because they were so diligent and powerful in their approach that they refreshed me. The chairman, Mr. Tom Arnold, did this Parliament and the people of Ireland a wonderful service. I commend the report to the House.
The pre-legislative phase for the electoral commission begins in January 2015. The preparatory work for this task has commenced in the Department and the Government's legislation programme provides for the publication of an electoral commission Bill in 2015.
I have listened to the debate in the House and, while everyone is talking about electoral and political reform, nobody really wants to make radical changes. Changes to the ballot paper, postal votes and better planning for referendums are to be welcomed but when I speak to people outside Ireland they agree with how the Members of the Dáil are elected. People feel that the Dáil is reforming and that the proportional representation system means that people are represented who otherwise might not be. We sometimes forget that electoral systems evolve because of a nation's people. We have our electoral system, warts and all, but it serves the Irish people well.
I support postal voting because I know people who were devastated to learn that an election would coincide with their holidays. They felt very aggrieved and deprived so postal voting would be a worthwhile reform. I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh on the education system as much can be done in that realm on the importance of politics. The education system should teach our children how to perform as citizens. For example, they should learn that when one lives in a country with public services it is very important to pay tax. Our education system must teach children how important it is pay taxes when one lives in a country and avails of its services.
I thank Members for their contributions. It has been an interesting debate but, as Deputies said, it is a pity it took place at the close of business and will not be deemed as important as it actually is. I commend those involved in the Constitutional Convention on the great work they do. Debate on the way the political system functions is very important and we must continue to debate the reforms we can introduce to improve things.
I agree with Deputy Stanton's remarks on how well the committee system works because it serves these Houses, and legislation generally, very well. Deputy Buttimer also made this point. Outside these Houses, however, I have been told that people are dissatisfied that work is being done in committee rooms rather than in the Dáil Chamber. There is always a balance to be struck in politics and, like Deputy Buttimer, I do not think we have sold the work of the committees very well.
I recently visited Malawi and spoke to many politicians there but I was intrigued to learn that their problems were exactly the same as ours. As in Ireland, everything depends on constituency work and balancing one's legislative role with parish pump politics. Parish pump politics is a term we use to denigrate the good work that is done in representing one's constituents. We are elected to represent our constituents.
I recently happened to bump into some English people and they could not believe you could simply meet a Member of Parliament on the street. I stood and spoke to them and they said that would never happen in England. Irish people like their politicians to be accessible and we might live to regret it if we changed this radically. Politics is about people, not necessarily about running a committee system or presenting a ballot paper. This Dáil Chamber represents the people of Ireland and long may that continue.