FG front bench split over list system


THE FINE Gael front bench was deeply divided over a proposal to introduce a list system to select some TDs during discussions on its major document on political reform, according to senior figures in the party.

The original policy document presented to the shadow cabinet last month included two key proposals on Dáil electoral reform: a reduction of the number of TDs by 20 to 146; and a new list system “for the election of a limited number of people with particular expertise gained outside of politics”.

It suggested that approximately 15 TDs be elected in this manner and that the proposal be put to the Irish people as part of a super-referendum constitution day.

However, when the party front bench considered the proposal, it rejected the idea. Some TDs said privately this weekend they had been under the impression that the concept had been abandoned. But the party spokesman said this had never been the case.

It had been agreed at front-bench level that the party would begin a consultation process with its membership and the electorate before making a final decision on the list system.

Over the weekend, party leader Enda Kenny told The Irish Times the party would await the report on electoral reform due later this year from the all-party Committee on the Constitution. Mr Kenny said that if elected to Government, Fine Gael would also convene a constitutional forum within 100 days of assuming office, at which the list system and other major reforms proposed by the party, including the abolition of the Seanad, would be discussed.

Mr Kenny confirmed he would launch the document immediately after the party’s national conference in Killarney next weekend.

The proposals contained in the 67-page document are expected to form a major part of his leader’s speech on Wednesday.

“It’s a massive programme for politics,” said Mr Kenny. “I am very pleased to get the document adopted as Fine Gael policy.”

Several prominent members of the party said they opposed the list on the basis that it was elitist and divisive. A number of TDs also said they were not happy with the manner in which the parliamentary party was asked to approve the document, without catching sight of it, but on the basis of presentations made by one of its key authors, environment spokesman Phil Hogan.

The strongest public criticism of this was made by Dublin South East TD Lucinda Creighton who told Newstalk that backbenchers were expected to play the role of “performing monkeys” with respect to the document.

Ms Creighton’s objections to quotas for women candidates did force part of the document to be withdrawn.

Yesterday, the party’s energy spokesman, Simon Coveney, accepted that some TDs had reservations about the list but he believed it had merit. “Yes, there are examples of list systems being abused. But I look at it in the context of the abolition of the Seanad. There is merit in getting people into politics, who might not otherwise stand, who have something to offer on policy, or legislation or expertise,” he said.

The party spokesman said “New Politics” was “a radical document that goes to the heart of the political system. There were strong views on some proposals, which you would expect.

“It’s fantastic that we got through such a radical document and it is now Fine Gael policy,” he said. He added it was standard practice for a front bench member to make a presentation on new policy at party meetings, rather than publishing a document.