Martin urges 'meaningful' political reforms

Wed, Jul 25, 2012, 01:00

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION:THE “SUBSTANTIVE and pressing issues” of political reform, such as an overhaul of the electoral system and Oireachtas reform need to be addressed by the constitutional convention, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin, speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, said if we were serious about renewing the economy, “meaningful political reform has to be at the top of the constitutional convention’s agenda”.

“And by meaningful reform I would contend that there are much more pressing issues to be addressed than lowering the voting age or slicing two years off the President’s term,” he said.

Mr Martin said that, in supporting the convention, he would like the Government “to show some badly needed conviction and not just tinker around the edges”.

On the electoral system, he said the Australian and New Zealand systems had many points of merit. Fianna Fáil would like to see the convention discussing proposals that would ensure TDs remained in close contact with the people who elected them, while at the same time delivering a diversity of expertise to the Dáil.

He claimed the issue of marriage equality had been referred to the convention “for the sole reason that Fine Gael and Labour were unable to agree a position”. “This is a kick to touch, which could mean that this important decision will not be taken in the lifetime of this Government. I think this is regrettable,” he said.

Mr Martin said he firmly believed same-sex couples should be able to marry.

On the Seanad, he said the Government’s plans to unilaterally abolish the Upper House outside the scope of the constitutional convention were “misguided and will only serve to tighten their one-sided grip on political debate and reduce the scrutiny of ministers and legislation”. Mr Martin said it would be a “worthwhile exercise” for the convention to examine a radical reform whereby members of the cabinet should not be members of the Oireachtas while they served as ministers. While serving as a minister, the individual would be replaced by an alternate whose name would be on a list published at the time of the election.

Labour TD Alex White said the convention was one element – and a central element, he hoped – of “a dynamic process of reform to reinvigorate our governance and our democratic institutions”.

He said he respectfully disagreed that the listed topics for discussion were “not weighty” and noted the provision for same-sex marriage was on the agenda.

“It simply cannot be said that the Dáil electoral system is anything other than weighty and critical.” Speaking at the same session, Donncha O’Connell, lecturer in law at NUIG and commissioner on the Irish Law Reform Commission*, said much could be done by way of legislation alone to reform local government and the Seanad.

He noted a “bare majority of the people voting in 1936 approved de Valera’s Constitution and that most women voting did not”.

“Seventy-five years later it remains the Constitution of this State. It is as enigmatic as Ulysses: everyone knows about its existence but few people know anything about it.”

*This article was amended on July 25th, 2012, to correct a factual error.