Labour TD says Minister 'butchering Constitution'


A GOVERNMENT backbencher has accused the Minister for the Environment of “butchering the Constitution” without proper analysis in his proposals for political reform.

In a sharp attack on Phil Hogan, Labour TD for Dublin Mid West Joanna Tuffy said the Houses of the Oireachtas had brought the State out of a civil war, secured a peace process, with great achievements and successes along the way.

“At the whim of a spin doctor, the next opinion poll or the focus group he met last week, the Minister just turned around and decided to cut the number of TDs and abolish the Seanad,” Ms Tuffy added.

Given the State’s economic problems, there was a need to start naming the ideology behind ideas. “The idea of reducing the size and cost of government is a right-wing ideology and Tea Party philosophy,” she said.

Ms Tuffy warned that the gender quota initiative would probably fail on constitutional grounds, adding that she reckoned the Seanad would never be abolished.

“It looks like the Minister is already kicking it to touch,” Ms Tuffy added. “I would not be surprised anyway if, at the end of the day, the people rejected its abolition.” Ms Tuffy said Mr Hogan’s biggest achievement would then have been to cut the number of TDs by between six and 13.

“That will be it, even though the Minister could be looking at so many challenges now under his portfolio, including so-called local government reform,” she added.

She said she did not wish to use the word “reform”, because it was being debased by its use as a euphemism for cuts.

There was a need, said Ms Tuffy, to empower local government, while other issues such as climate change should also be a priority in the department.

“In his words and actions, the Minister is undermining the value of representation, which is the core of democracy,” she added.

She said political scientists had a rule known as the cube root law of assembly, which was 166 TDs for Ireland. “The same formula would show the UK and other countries are over-represented, and not Ireland,” she added.

She said it was the Oireachtas that set the number of TDs, not a commission, adding that the Minister was abdicating his responsibility and engaging in a cowardly act.

Ms Tuffy was speaking during the resumed debate on the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2010, which provides for a constituency commission to reduce the number of TDs, reduces spending limits for presidential elections and makes it compulsory for by-elections to be held within six months of a vacancy.

Mr Hogan said he would remind Ms Tuffy that he had received legal advice from the Attorney General on the matters involved.

The programme for government contained a commitment to radically overhaul the way Irish politics and government worked.

“I am committed to working with my Government colleagues and, indeed, with all members to implement these measures in full,” he added. The Bill represented the first step in the Government’s electoral and political reform agenda and he looked forward to further debate at its committee stage.

The Bill was referred to the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht.