Time For A New Electoral System in Ireland

There has to be a better way of electing TDs

In the country of the bland, the one-idea man is King.

I think it’s plain to anyone that we elect a bunch of shuffling gobshites to our national parliament.  Numbskulls.  Goose-milkers.  Heron-stranglers.  Gobdaws.

If you doubt this, just take a look at how these porkers failed to pull their snouts out of the trough even while the economy was going onto the rocks.

They’re cretins.

Grunting illiterates in baggy suits, afraid to express a single creative idea.  A bunch of mindless, grasping drones, all looking over their shoulders in case someone back home dies and they have to rush off to the funeral for the votes.  A crowd of apes who can’t see beyond the furthest hedge in their constituency, who have no expertise in anything and no knowledge of how a modern democracy is supposed to work.

That, for the most part,  is what we elect to the Dáil.  A drab, shiny-arsed combed-over half-wit, whose only skill is the rat-like ability to detect a free dinner.  Homo Politicus Hiberniensis, with pronounced brow-ridge, sloping forehead and over-developed jaw.


Is it because we’re a drab, shiny-arsed, combed-over nation of people?  I don’t think so.

Is it because we don’t know any better?  Again I think not.  Most of us have travelled more, read more, experienced more and learned more than the fools we send to Dublin to represent us.

Why then?

My personal opinion is that the form of PR we use in Ireland has created this dominance of the mediocre.  The multi-seat constituency, combined with the single transferable vote has created a situation where we don’t elect parliamentarians.  We elect glorified county councillors with no global vision, no sense of perspective, no overview.  We elect gobshites who care more about some farmer’s planning permission, or getting a pothole filled or going to a funeral than they do about the economy or national infrastructure, or transport policy or education planning, or foreign relations.

We compound that weakness by selecting our government ministers from one half of this pool of half-wits, which is why we’re in such a pickle today.  Monkeys are all very well when you’re only spending peanuts.

Of course, the British first-past-the-post system is deeply flawed as well.  You could easily spend your entire life in a constituency and never even once be represented by an MP of your preference.  That’s not good either.

So what’s the answer?  How should we arrange our electoral afffairs so that politicians aren’t constantly terrified of missing a funeral in case they’d lose four votes which might cost them their seat?

How can we arrange our system so that politicians are free to govern the country instead of filling potholes?

Personally, I think there’s a lot to be said for the list system.



This came from John :

Those of you who are interested in changing the electoral system might be interested in attending this event next week at Trinity College.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee  on the Constitution will meet in public at TCD and then John Bowman will chair a session of discussion. See Elaine Byrne’s website for the exact detail (www.elaine.ie )

32 thoughts on “Time For A New Electoral System in Ireland

  1. I don’t understand why most of the fuckers have to be elected in the first place.Should not a minister for finance for example,be a qualified professional with a suitable C.V and the ability to do his job and his alone.We don’t need to like the minister and if he can’t produce results he gets fucked right out of his job as would happen to you or I.

  2. The culture starts with County Councillors. We have too many of them. County Limerick has 28. When this recession bit hard, Gormley (the bollocks) should have reduced the number to a third. 8 or 9 would be plenty to act a a board of directors of the County Council, and it would keep their minds focused on the bigger strategic issues. There should be a webcam at every Council meeting and Committee meeting, so that the public can see what is done in their name by their elected representatives.

    The abolition of the dual mandate should become a total cut. The current arrangement is that every TD, Minister and Senator gets the same documentation, draft minutes and reports about every Council meeting as current serving Council members get. The result is that TDs who theoretically withdrew from local councils to concentrate on national issues are now kept fully informed by the local administration of every fiddle-faddle that goes on at meetings, without having to attend those meetings, consuming enormous administrative resources in the process. The TDs therefore keep the ‘representations’ system going at full throttle writing letters and emails about trivia on behalf of constituents who couldn’t be arsed to write their own letters or make a phone call.

    The Civil War should be declared to be over. People who vote Fianna Fail because ‘we were always Fianna Fail, going back to my grandfather’s time God be good to him’ need to realise the folly of their failure to weigh the issues and vote intelligently according to the needs of our times.

    Deal-making at public expense with Independents like Lowry and Healy-Rae should be subject to audit and scrutiny. Why should the Taoiseah, who holds an executive office, be able to make a private and secret deal with state assets to ensure the supremacy of his political party?

    I think things will have to get a lot worse before they will ever get better, and they may never so do.


  3. Sorry Bock, but while most of that is right, _they_ are not the cretins. _They_ have figured out a gig that requires no results, no accountability, and which affords them and their families preferential treatment, economic security more-or-less regardless of prevailing economic circumstances, near-immunity from the law, and so forth.

    The cretins aren’t the Willie O’Dea’s of this Dail, the cretins _are the idiots who vote for them_.

  4. I’m suggesting that our current electoral system needs a complete overhaul if we’re ever to have a competent parliament. That isn’t to say that I believe it will ever happen.

  5. But it’s not the electoral system that’s the problem – it’s the idiots using it (ie. the voters). If they ever grew up for long enough to vote according to national interests instead of “erra, I knew his daddy” or “didn’t he say he sorted out little jimmy’s flu there last year?” or the like, then the system would work – hell, any system would.

    We could tear out the entire voting system we have right now, put every councillor, TD, Minister and Civil Servant out there up against a wall and shoot them, and bring in the swiss direct democracy system lock, stock and canton — and it still wouldn’t work because Irish people are fecking idiots when it comes to self-governance.

    Frankly, half the time I have to admit that we’d have been pragmatically better off if we’d never fought for independence.

  6. I agree, Bock, that the Irish system of the STV in multi-member constituencies serves to promote clientism and gombeenery. And the British system (also followed, generally, in the US) is 18th. Century primitive.

    But list-systems also have their problems. Here in Germany, there’s a mixed system with half the representatives elected on a first-past-the-post system, the other half chosen from lists, the total number of representatives thereby adjusted so that it represents the total percentage proportions obtained by the parties (which have to achieve 5% of the total vote to have seats in parliament at all [unless someone is directly elected – something that practically never happens]). The weakness in the system is the incredible power it gives to the parties. To get a realistic list position from your party, you have to have proved to be a loyal party warrior. On the other hand, real experts can be (and occasionally are) nominated to good list positions and can concentrate on legislating instead of their constituencies.

    A practical question is why cabinet members have to be members of the Dáil. Garret FtzGerald tried to buck this one just once, as far as I remember, by naming Jim Dooge a minister and concurrently appointing him to the Seanad. The outcry was deafening and that Government, thanks to John Bruton’s tax on childrens’ shoes, soon fell. But any Taoiseach has the option of choosing a number of the absolutely best people as cabinet members and appointing them to the Seanad. Then, not having to worry about their constituencies, they could really get down to doing their jobs.

    Somehow though, I can’t see the TDs of any Irish party putting up with this kind of thinking. I mean, Jaysus, giving away ministerial cars … for nothing?

  7. That’s right. Garrett appointed Jim Dooge – a professor of hydrology co-opted from the Senate – as foreign minister. Correct in principle. Wrong in application.

  8. The last introduction of a new Political Party being ’85 and the PD’s looked promising at the time, Now on reflection it was more of the same mind set, The troupe following the ex FF er as he was dismissed for “unbecoming conduct ” At the time Dessie O’Malley had fire in his belly and the title “Progressive ” and “Democrat ” sounded all forward thinking and brand new, They were’nt without strong policies but as always the same tired entrenched system and attitude would rule supreme.
    The Irish are completly enraptured in their admiration for the “Sly Fox ” coping mechanism, It’s prevelant in every contituency, in every Co Council in every commitee in every Town and Village, It’s as if they just need to applaud internally the ” Smart move ” As the ultimate survival technique, It’ seems irrelevant that it does’nt succeed in the running of a Country, These people from the extremly excessive numbers of Co Councillors have garnered all the sly skills necessary to keep them in the ” Gig “( Mark 3 ) which furnishes their lifestyles and humours their voters.
    Nothing will ever change until the mind set changes, Until people have the will to seek knowledge outside of their own particular clique, Until they get so tired of working to pay the wages of TD’s Senators and most especially Co Councillors.
    The people who have been elected to run this Country cannot admit that delgation is a skill, That investigation to execution is a skill, That communication is a skill, That going the extra mile is a commitment and also a skill, They are an unskilled force, Their arrogance and comfort zone provided by the electorate prevents them from seeking superior model’s as Mark at comment 5 mentioned The Swiss, or several other’s suggested in the past.
    I have a friend who is presently working on a software programme to save on Government spending, She has done exhaustive research and when completed she wants to present it on a commission basis and only if it work’s, She is working on it part time, only 5 weeks and is at 20 million, She is confident that a very small commission would let her retire for several lifetimes.

  9. Yes, the PDs were a big disappointment.
    Who can we vote for now?
    FF – no way. They’ve done wreck enough.
    FG – I just am not convinced. they’re a bit like the slimey uncle that rubs your cheek with his bristly face when you’re a child, to ingratiate himself to you, and doesn’t realise that it makes you hate him…
    Labour – Jeez I just don’t know? Welfare state and screw the PAYE fool?
    SF – not yet, no, maybe never.
    Independent – yes, but what poer do they have?

    We need a new party.
    I have the name – The People’s Party.
    Any candidates out there?

  10. Mairead; The Peoples Party has sort of a Socialist ring to it , I think.
    FG Enda way too smooth to have a bristle, but that was a fabulous description, He puts me to sleep.
    Labour; Dissapointing
    Sinn Fein; They tried the sexy cool approach but No
    Greens; Absolutly no way ever, burnt boats and all that.
    FF ; As their mandate is basically ” no response ” They simply have to go.
    We need people with the skills required, I like Shane Ross, but he is probably comfy in the Senate.
    It needs a total overhaul, A think tank of people who actually know how to get a job done, I can’t think of the guys name now but he was a property developer with grit and what definitly looked like a conscience, long blond hair, bit of a Tipp accent, saw him on Late Late show ( not allowed watch it when girls are here ! ) Mick something I think.
    There has to be more people out there with the ability to inspire some clear thinking.

  11. I agree with mark dennehy and norma. Democracy is about so much more than the vote. Education, dissemination of information, distribution of resources. We happen to live in neo-liberal times and now a bankocracy. For a long time Ireland has not had any meaningful political debate with parties rooted in the past and a population likewise. The problems this country has have been a long time coming and changing the voting system (which I think is a good one) won’t solve them.

  12. The need for casting off the ballast is almost too urgent to allocate the time required to form a new Political Party.
    When I suggested a “Think Tank ” I was serious, in trying to organise people with the skills and abilities to re route the present system, Not just to potentially form a PP but to design a new model and publish it for the people to present it to Government, Based on the practical application of a ” failed business ” When it’s not working the analysis and restructure cannot contain flawed policies based on the current thinking of
    ” We cannot do that until that is in place ” But what needs to be put in place never is. No business could survive that thought process, No worker would retain a modicum of respect for their Boss.
    Leadership needs to be defined in practical terms, not some isolated award bestowed on an unskilled CEO because he is related or connected to some unseen dysfuntional Political outdated deity.
    There have been shocking and revealing examples of this put up on this site and elsewhere in the media which has garnered intelligent and accurate commentry but now it’s time for focus and plan.
    We can condense all that commentry into structure in the formulation of a strategy, The beginnings of which I believe are demonstrated here.
    If the likes of Bertie can benefit further from flawed structures which no longer benefit the people who paid for and assisted that outdated structure to remain in place Then we the people can benefit from our experience, education and ability to determine our own future based on the present threat to same by addressing that structure from our reality of carrying the burden that those in power only watch from the sidelines.
    We need to become players and drive the team that is the Irish people to success, Anyone up for the job of Coach ?

  13. The system in Israel is the best. the whole country is one constituency and parties can select candidates based on their expertise rather than their relative level of celebrity in their home towns/counties.

    it would remove parochialism and do away with the possibility of independents holding a gun to the country’s head.

  14. Squid; What an astounding example !
    I fear though that ” Parochialism ” is not all you would get rid of …………
    Ah maybe i’m losing the ability to interpret irony.
    And, yes I think I will choose ” Parochialism ” over White Phospherous to-day anyway……..

  15. As a people we get what we vote for, and we can only vote for what is put forward for election.
    There’s very little choice really.
    There’s the “I’ll vote for you because my old Daddy voted for your old Daddy, and you’ll not forget my old Planning Permission problems” brigade, the “Republican” brigade, who like the faint whiff of Cordite from their candidate, especially if it’s 1920s Cordite) The “Keep a local man/woman in the Dail” to protect us all from the fekkers up there in Dublin brigade and the “Vote for a Gombeen Man” brigade, who just vote for some gobshite as a protest against the mainstream.
    Believe me Bock if there was an election in the morning, the FFers would still do well. We Irish are whingers, easily divided and easily led up the garden path.
    We are a conquerors wet dream (800 years of British Rule and then the Romans came to fill the vaacum)
    This divisiveness is bred into us as babies, Townsland, Parish and School come first, then Province (as we get older) Religion and lastly Country.
    We can’t blame the Politicians or the Clergy for taking advantage of us, and we saw them as our ‘comfort blankets for so long.

  16. The post is about our system of electing people to the Dáil. Whatever our shortcomings as an electorate, I think the current system lends itself to clientelism and ensures that the most inept and cynical are elected.

  17. This is what I suggested a few years back http://www.danielsullivan.ie/blog/?p=504

    “Let’s take for a moment the view that the Irish people really do need all these people helping them with form filling and ringing up the planning office and coming to their funerals. So let’s keep people in the system to do that but let’s also keep them the hell away from the drafting, consideration and voting involved in legislation.

    Take the number of TD 166 and for every 3 of them at present let’s try and suffice with just the 2 who will become what I would term public advocates. They will sit in a people’s chamber that gets to vote on legislation but only to reject it by a 2/3 vote. So, that’s 111 of them advocates to be elected by PR-STV. And then we should have 100 members of an actual legislature 80% of whom are to be elected by a list system on a provincial basis, and the remaining 20% by national list.

    And those in the latter chamber would actually be the only ones who could draft, debate and vote on actual proposed new legislation. And then members of the cabinet can be drawn from both chambers or none. But they must be approved by Oireachtas committee (much like the US senate hearings to approve cabinet members.

    And let’s pay the advocates more than those in the legislature so that people aren’t tempted to use it as stepping stone to get into the legislature as people currently use the county/city council seats. Pay the advocates 100K (after all they’re doing the work of 1.5 TDs and we pay TD’s 100K as of today) and the legislators just 80K say. Members of the cabinet get a top up to bring them up to 150K. And the top dog can have 180K and the use of a flat in town along with the lodge at Farmleigh for the family.”

  18. Bock, this is an excellent question. I wonder if you would consider this. The single, simple reform that would transform everything else, would be to ban politicians – elected by whatever method you can come up with – from making personal representations on behalf of named individuals.

    Some fruitful examples.
    Constituent: Can you sort out me passport? I’m going on my holiday next week?
    Politician: No, we have a passport office for that.
    C. My mum’s on a long waiting list for a colonoscopy, can you help hurry things along?
    P. Well, I cannot make any personal representations to her medical team, but since you have alerted me to the problem, what I can do is promote policies in the Dail that will shorten waiting lists for all Irish people.
    C. Our Jimmy’s in jail, and we want him allowed home for Christmas – he’s a good boy, really, and was always good to his mother.
    P. I can refer to you the correct authorities, and I can campaign through the Dail for fair visiting rights for prisoners.

    See the difference? Our politicians have an incentive to run inefficient services, which by their nature often don’t work, as it gives them local power and influence when they can make the services work – for individual voters.

    If politicians were unable, utterly banned, from making anything happen at an individual level, they would have to start looking at solving their constituents problems by implementing better policies, and providing more efficient services. They would also see the need to spend more time in the Dail doing their real jobs, instead of doing “constituency work” which essentially means keeping the parish pumps pumped and the local election machines oiled.

  19. My second reform, of course, would be to remove the ability of politicians to “opt out” of using the public services they run – whether public transport, public education, public health. If they run it, they have to use it.

  20. @bock @norma

    did you hear me praising israeli policy, no. then why drag it into the debate. I was referring to their electoral system and their electoral system only.

    try to read what I say before replying.

  21. Squid – I read what you said, and I replied as I considered appropriate,and as I’m entitled to.

    Try not to instruct me how to reply on this site.

  22. Squid; I maintain my stance regarding electoral system seperate from policies,
    It would be going off topic to elaborate further, However maybe you need to revisit the actualities of the electoral system you recommended.

  23. Totally agree with the List System idea.

    Also we dont need so many Local Authorities – Scotland has all of ten or so. We should do the same
    10 or so regions – and that is that.

    re: Jim Dooge – “Correct in principle. Wrong in application.” What do you mean by this?

    “We need a new party.
    I have the name – The People’s Party.
    Any candidates out there? ”
    The name is taken – by an anti-lisbon anti immigrant type from Longford.

  24. I’d be interested to know how many staff the ten Scottish local authorities employ and what their budgets are. Do we have those figures?

  25. That is quite a bit of research, but to start things off.

    Scotland elects 1200 local councillors/reps for 5 milion people
    Ireland elects 1600 local councillors/reps for 4.2 million people

  26. Sorry. I didn’t mean to put a burden on you. I was just wondering if the Scottish system had managed to make any improvement or if it was simply cosmetic. Anyway, the post was about the electoral system, and not the executive, so I was probably going off-topic on my own site. Brilliant. Well done Bock.

  27. I see what you mean – what motivated their reforms. It will be an interesting bit of research in the long term.
    I read that NI are also cutting the amount of Local Government they have too – initially they were going to replace their 26 district councils with 7 unitary authorities. Due to a fear of geo-ethnic tensions they are going to have 11 instead.
    I support the Snip Nua recommendation on Countie Councils – merge loads of them.

    I do reckon that this IS relevant to the overall discussion though – Reforming our political structures…

  28. We could merge the councils on the basis of one administrative area to serve roughly 3/400,000 people who are within one hours drive. The French departments are based on the central administrative town/city being with one days ride of the people in it. 25 councillors per administrative region along with a directly elected Mayor/CEO would be much better than the current inconsistent mish-mash. these regions could also serve as regional list sytem units for the 2nd chamber

  29. Those of you who are interested in changing the electoral system might be interested in attending this event next week at Trinity College.

    The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution will meet in public at TCD and then John Bowman will chair a session of discussion. See Elaine Byrne’s website for the exact detail (www.elaine.ie )

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