A former Green Party TD has called on the government to introduce legislation to set a minimum threshold for voter turnout in referendums to change the constitution before the result can be considered valid and representative of the people.
Dan Boyle, who represented Cork South Central for the Green Party between 2002 and 2007 and later served in Seanad Eireann as a Taoiseach's nominee, said he didn't believe that the constitution should be changed on foot of a referendum with a low turnout by the electorate.
Speaking in Cork where he had campaigned against the government’s proposed abolition of Seanad Eireann, Mr Boyle said that there was a definite need for debate about turnout levels in referenda on constitutional matters.
Welcoming the result which saw the No side win by 51.8pc to 48,2pc on a turnout of 39.17pc, Mr Boyle said some threshold on turnout needs to be set to determine whether a referendum result can genuinely be said to reflect a desire for constitutional change.
“The ability to change the constitution on a small turnout with a narrow result is something we need to be very cautious about and I think we need to have a wider debate about having a threshold like they have in several other countries,” he said.
“In those countries, there’s a requirement that a minimum amount of the electorate has to take part before it’s deemed to be a valid referendum and that is something I think we should be looking at here given the number of referenda we seem to have, especially in recent years.”
A former chairman of the Green Party, Mr Boyle said he believed a threshold of 40 per cent turnout would be a realistic figure and although it meant that 60 per cent of people were still not participating in the decision making process, it would at least be “closer to a more representative picture of what people are thinking.”
Some countries such as Belgium and Australia operate an automatic voting system where people can be fined or sanctioned if they don't turn out to vote and while he would not favour such a "stick approach", he believed it would be worth examining offering people an incentive to vote.
" I think we should be looking at what Mick Murphy, one of our local election candidates here in Cork has suggested with his idea that we should offer people incentives - with water charges coming in, we should give people an additional water charge allowance for taking part in an election."
Mr Boyle, who is running for the Greens in next year's local elections to Cork City Council, said he had no difficulty with constitutional amendments being revisited from time to time but he believed that generally proposals to change the constitution should not be made lightly.
I don’t have an issue with issues coming back time and time again - people will always have the right to say No but I think the putting of an issue on to a ballot paper for a referendum needs to be a bit more stringent,” he said
“Maybe we should be looking at a system where a proposal to change the constitution requires a two thirds majority in the Dail and the Seanad to put it before the people or maybe a petition system where 50,000 people or 100,000 people sign it as they do in other countries.”