All-party group to move on electoral reform
The Government has begun formal attempts to change the electoral system. It has asked the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, on which it has an in-built majority, to consider reform of the voting system as a matter of urgency.
The committee will later this month begin hearings on the desirability of changing the system of electing TDs by proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies.
The Minister for the Environment, Mr Dempsey, and the former Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, are among those who will be invited to meet the committee to discuss electoral reform.
The hearings on changing the current multi-seat proportional representation system, which may be held in public, will be incorporated into the committee's report, Parliament, which is expected to be published in April.
Along with examining the merits, or otherwise, of changing the current multi-seat electoral system, the report will examine the arguments for fewer TDs; the balance of responsibilities between the Oireachtas and the Government; reforming the Seanad; and the issue of Oireachtas representation for Northern Ireland and emigrants.
In its revised programme for government, published in November, the ail-Progressive Democrat coalition Government promised to "advance the process of electoral reform" before the next general election.
The All-Party Committee was asked to examine the electoral system so as to "enable TDs to more effectively fulfil their role as legislators". Mr Dempsey is the leading advocate within Fianna Fail of replacing the current system with a single-seat PR system which would incorporate a list-type scheme.
However, several of his party colleagues, including Mr Sean Fleming, a backbencher from Laois-Offaly, are likely to meet the committee to argue against any change.
Fine Gael has already rejected the need for change, while the Labour Party has expressed reservations about the Government's motives.
The results of a survey of all Oireachtas members, undertaken by the committee, would appear to indicate strong cross-party resistance to any change. Two-thirds of respondents said there was no need to alter the system. Among those TDs and senators supporting change, there were mixed views on what shape an alternative system should take.
While the Progressive Democrats favour changing the system, the Taoiseach has not indicated any preference.
However, Mr Ahern is understood to privately favour maintaining the present system but, like several of his party colleagues, is believed to support a reduction in the number of Dail deputies from the current 166 to around 100.
While any alteration to the electoral system would require a referendum, the number of TDs could be reduced from 166 through legislation.