Enda Kenny on changes to the Oireachtas (again with Stephen Collins)

On Fine Gael’s plans for reforming the political system, Mr Kenny repeated his commitment to reduce the number of TDs and to abolish the Seanad. However, he expressed caution about changing the current multi-seat system of proportional representation.

“Many years ago, Liam Cosgrave favoured a single-seat system of PR and Dev tried to abolish PR twice and the people said ‘No’. So the Irish people are very conscious of their right to elect whoever they want to elect,” says Kenny.

He said that one of the dangers of list systems is that they have a tendency to develop into “old boys’ clubs”, with a self-perpetuating elite being offered to the electorate.

“I am not one who favours the appointment of people who have not been elected to positions of political responsibility,” he said.

Mr Kenny said many TDs spend a lot of time doing constituency work because they have no other role, adding that he had a commitment to change that by reforming the way the Dáil works and giving TDs a direct involvement in legislation.

“If you have a smaller number of really powerful committees and you give your national legislators the opportunity to do real work on legislation and give them a challenge and give them responsibility and targets, you will transform the way the Dáil operates.”

Comment: Question 1. Do you want the opinions and attitudes of the electorate widely represented in parliament?

If No – then use a single seat multiply transferable vote and you will get a skewed distribution of TDs with hardly any independents, Labour or Sinn Fein.

If yes – why not divide the country into massive constituencies for the Dail with PR. Say 16 ten seaters?

No list system because on reflection, I agree with Enda Kenny – it would invariably result in an old boys club on Will Carling’s “old farts” on the list. These would be ‘our betters’ and the types that people “Gentleman’s Clubs and Clubs that specialise in Boys Golf. The issue of a vote for all irish citizens wherever they reside should also be dealt with. The Dublin City equivalent of getting rid of citizens to suburban Mullingar, Naas, Newbridge, Drogheda and Dundalk. If people are out of sight, they are out of mind. Dublin City Councillors vote for low rise to develop Mullingar. I vote for height and density to develop Dublin  City core. Irish legislators operate oblivious to the consequences for forced emigrants. Mary Robinson lit a candle for the ‘deorai’ in the Vice Regal Lodge. We are quite capable of allowing overseas citizens a constituency of their own provided they register with the Irish embassy wherever. If a country is its people not merely a landmass, then we should do this. Let’s make all citizens equal for once. If the current electorate balk at this, then the issue should be shunted into the Seanad but not ignored.

Question 2. Why reduce the number of TDs? – Because many are useless in effect? Because they do nothing except vote in the lobbies and attennd local residents meetings?
Why reduce the Dail to 100 TDs? That will make the government and opposition have about 55 – 45 TDs respectively – not very many to have core competencies in many areas. This system will put a premium on advisers who will lead the elected around by their snouts. I thought we had got away a bit from government by programme managers?

Answer: – Remove whips from many areas of the Dail business and pass laws on their merits. Involve TDs in legislation rather than as mere rubber stamps for the executive cabinet.

In the Collins Interview Mr Kenny said “many TDs spend a lot of time doing constituency work because they have no other role, adding that he had a commitment to change that by reforming the way the Dáil works and giving TDs a direct involvement in legislation.

“If you have a smaller number of really powerful committees and you give your national legislators the opportunity to do real work on legislation and give them a challenge and give them responsibility and targets, you will transform the way the Dáil operates.”

My view is broader than Enda’s. I would include all TDs from all parties. It is arrogant to believe that any party has a monoploy on wisdom. There is no evidence of this being the case.

Solution. Define the areas of whipping for votes. The whip system is often the method of hiding behind decisions and blaming others. The Nuremburg excuse “I was only following orders” is not valid in an adult society. The whip should be used for votes on budgetry matters, votes of confidence, votes on wording of Referenda and little else. Dublin City council is a template for this system. You have to work cross party to get things through. Dictatorship does not work or operate.

Seanad Eireann – I watch Oireachtas Report bytimes and the level of debate in Seanad Eireann is substantial. The problem is that the system of election is elitist in gthe case of the University Seats and too indirect in the case of the Panels and open to cronyism in the case of the Taoiseach’s 11. I think that the Seanad should be reformed and not abolished. If elected I will argue that case so I am writing that here now. Should there be vocational panels in  the Oireachtas? Should there be people who have experience and knowledge of agriculature for example? O balance, I think yes. Same for service and manufacturing businesses, Justice, Education, Health, Labour, Local Government and Migration. This could be settled by having party panels for each of these disciplines. The votes of the electorate as a whole for registered political parties should determine the outcome. Defined eligibility rules should determine the names on each slate of candidates. The candidate ranked Number 1 on each parties panel should be elected first etc. Fifty candiates would be elected in that manner. It is possible to have universal sufferage for an independent panel of say 10 members who would need to have 1000 signed assentors to be nominated, all of whom would need to be citizens with PPS numbers. The electorate is well able to handle multiple ballot papers. The powers of the Seanad to twart the Dail in blocking legislation would have to carefully crafted.

That is my view.