Constitutional convention to consider Dáil reform

Citizens body to look at alternatives to proportional representation system


The constitutional convention will meet this weekend to review the Dáil electoral system and ways of reforming it.

The schedule for the two-day session includes a range of academic presentations and roundtable discussions among the convention’s membership, which includes 33 elected representatives and 66 members of the public.

Given the range of options for reforming Ireland’s form of proportional representation, the convention is, for the first time, devoting two weekends to a single issue. A second session in June will conclude with a final ballot where members will choose what changes, if any, to recommend on the voting system.

At today’s meeting in Malahide, north Dublin, the convention will be addressed by Dr Muiris MacCarthaigh of Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Niamh Hardiman of UCD and Prof Michael Marsh of Trinity College Dublin, who will brief members on the political system and the state of public opinion on electoral reform.

Dr Adrian Kavanagh of NUI Maynooth will demonstrate how the 2007 and 2011 elections could have given different results under alternative electoral systems, while Prof Michael Gallagher of Trinity College will set out the arguments for and against reform. There will also be presentations by advocacy groups.

Ireland’s proportional representation-single transferable vote (PR-STV) system is not much used around the world. Malta is the only other country to use it to elect its national parliament, and in only a few other places – including Australia and New Zealand – is it used to elect local or sub-national bodies.

Among the arguments put forward by supporters of reform are that a different system would produce more stable government and that it would result in a closer correspondence between party vote shares and seat shares. The current system is also criticised for leading to an excessive focus by TDs on local rather than national issues.

Against this, advocates of retaining the current system object to the dismissal of all constituency work as a waste of time and argue that understanding of the everyday problems of their constituents enhances TDs’ work at national level.

Defenders of the status quo disagree that PR-STV leads to unstable governments and point out that most governments in Europe are coalitions. They also believe that Ireland’s system could be made more proportional simply by making constituencies bigger.

The Government has committed to responding within four months to each recommendation it receives from the convention.