Electoral system has served us well


Sir, – Brendan O’Donnell writes that an electoral commission should consider replacing our single transferable vote, multi-seat, proportional representation system on the grounds that it produces vagarious results, is a legacy of colonialism, and is shared only with Malta (Letters, August 12th).

On the contrary, I would argue it produces results broadly in line with the electorate’s preferences, in sharp contrast to the winner takes all system of first past the post operated in the UK which makes voting pointless in many “safe” constituencies and can award an overall majority to a party gaining less than 40 per cent of the vote.

It is also preferable to the archaic US “electoral college” system which has twice, in recent times, awarded the presidency to the candidate who lost the popular vote.

In addition, the US and UK systems generate an adversarial two-party system and political culture which fails to reflect the diversity of the electorate and which polarises debate between these two parties. As a consequence, they promote conflict rather than cooperation, and division rather than consensus building.

A case could perhaps be made for a European-style party list system which prioritises internal party back-room wheeling and dealing, but I think it preferable that the electorate can directly choose whom they wish to represent them.

If the diversity facilitated by our system, very occasionally, results in a delay in forming a government, that only reflects the diversity of views within the electorate, which can be slow to come to a consensus on some issues.

Ireland has, almost uniquely, avoided the extreme political polarisation seen in our neighbouring states, and our electoral system and the culture of collaboration and compromise it encourages must take some of the credit for that.

To be successful in Irish politics, you have to be able to attract not only first preferences, but lower preferences from other parties and candidates, and that puts a premium on being able to work with others rather than antagonising them. Divisive and polarising demagogues tend to do less well in such a system.

For all its complexities and faults , which includes a tendency towards clientelism and producing TDs better at articulating grievances than implementing solutions, I think our electoral system has served us well.

We tinker with it at our peril! – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.