Constitutional Convention strongly endorses principles of current electoral system

Convention rejects national party lists but backs requirement for TDs to resign Dáil seats when appointed to Cabinet

Constitutional Convention  chairman Tom Arnold described as “overwhelming” the vote  in favour of retaining the electoral system status quo. Photograph: Alan Betson

Constitutional Convention chairman Tom Arnold described as “overwhelming” the vote in favour of retaining the electoral system status quo. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Members of the Constitutional Convention have voted by a large majority to retain Ireland’s existing electoral system of electing TDs. The result, described by chairman Tom Arnold as “overwhelming”, saw the 99-strong Convention vote 79 per cent to 20 per cent in favour of retaining the status quo: electing multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation and the single transferable vote.

This was over the alternative of a mixed system where a percentage of the State’s deputies would be elected from national party lists, rather than at constituency level.

However, while favouring the retention of the current system, the Convention voted in favour of a number of significant changes, including allowing non-TDs to become ministers, and a requirement that deputies resign their Dáil seats upon appointment to ministerial office.

There was also strong support (59 per cent) for retaining the number of members of Dáil Eireann at 158 for the next election.

Large constituencies
Almost 90 per cent agreed there should be large constituency sizes, with a minimum of five seats per constituency. At present only 11 of the 43 constituencies are five-seaters.

There was also near unanimous support for the establishment of an electoral commission, and very strong support for direct democracy and citizens’ initiatives.

Electoral reform
The Convention, held over two days in Malahide, Co Dublin, was the second weekend session examining Constitutional electoral reform. The most feasible alternative system to have emerged from the first session, the mixed member proportional system (MMP), was discussed publicly and privately with briefings from political experts.

Michael Gallagher of Trinity College Dublin gave examples of MMP systems where half of seats were filled by single constituency elections on a first-past-the-post basis with the other half being allotted to candidates from parties’ lists.

Prof David Farrell of UCD, the chair of the expert panel, said those who wanted to be on the list had to keep “sweet” with the party leadership and not antagonise it.

Dr Gallagher said that independents would not be accommodated by the MMP system, struggling at constituency level and excluded from the list system.

Prof Farrell said supporters of MMP argued that it offered the best of both worlds because it resulted in some MPs who should have a focus on constituency work and other MPs likely to be focused more on national political issues.

Jane Suiter of DCU outlined to the Convention that Ireland and the UK were exceptional among other EU countries in that ministers had to be serving parliamentarians.