Government given four months to decide on voting reforms poll
Constitutional convention report recommends longer polling hours and larger constituencies
Voting taking place at the Constitutional Convention meeting in Malahide, Co Dublin in April. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
The Government has been given four months to decide whether to hold a referendum on overhauling its voting system.
Non-members of the Oireachtas could be eligible for a job as a minister under potential reforms, which will be up for debate until December 27th.
A spokesman for the constitutional convention, which published a report on recommendations made by its 100 members, said if the Government agrees, a public vote could be held 12 months from now.
“The Government has four months to respond by way of debate in the Oireachtas, to discuss the recommendations and to agree on whether to change the Constitution,” the spokesman said.
“If it so decides, it will have to set a new timeline for a referendum, which will happen during the lifetime of this Government. That could be as soon as the third quarter of 2014.”
The convention published a report on its fourth plenary meeting on electoral reform, which was held over two weekends in May and June.
Members, who were asked to vote on a string of reforms, indicated overall changes should be made.
More than half (55 per cent ) said non-members of the Oireachtas should be allowed to be appointed as a Government minister.
Some 59 per cent said Dail members should have to resign their seats when they become a minister.
The convention was also in broad favour of making changes to improve voter turnout - with 97 per cent favouring the establishment of an electoral commission, 89 per cent supporting extended polling hours, 91 per cent in favour of greater access to postal voting, and 100 per cent voting to improve the accuracy of the electoral register.
Overhauling the current proportional representation single transferable vote system was also recommended.
More than half (54 per cent) agreed the system should be changed, but almost four-fifths (79 per cent) rejected replacing it with a New Zealand or German-style mixed-member proportional representation system.
A large majority voted for the introduction of larger constituencies, with 86 per cent in favour.
More than two-thirds also supported changing the alphabetical order of political candidates on ballot papers.
The convention spokesman said the Government had given “an assurance of action” on the recommendations, which means it has from now until December 27th to consider them.
“The wheels of Government will now start turning,” he said.
“Various people will start looking at it in different departments, memos will be sent to Cabinet, time slots will be allotted for Cabinet to discuss whether they think the proposals are a good idea, whether they merit a referendum.
“There is no obligation for the Government to hold a referendum. All they are bound to do is to hold a debate.”
The next meeting of the constitutional convention will be held on September 26th and 27th, when members will vote on whether Irish citizens abroad should be allowed to vote in certain elections.
The convention was formed to be representative of Irish society and parliamentarians, with independent chairman Tom Arnold.