Keith Gaughan

An attempt at public introspection


Discouraging clientelism in Irish politics

· 2min

Ireland is a country of just over four million people, with a parliament consisting of 226 members in total, with 166 members in the the lower house and 60 in the upper, so for a nation of our size, we’ve a disproportionally high number of public representatives for a country our size.

The constitution places upper and lower limits on the number of representatives in the lower house in article 16.2.2, specifically one representative for every 20,000 to 30,000 of the population. The use of electoral constituencies is implicit in the language of the article, but does not specify the shape of those constituencies, nor whether they can overlap—these are all matters of statute rather than basic law.

As things stand, Irish politics is riddled with clientelism, with our politicians overly focused on getting elected again the next time an election comes around, so they spend far too much time acting as delegates from their constituency rather than as trustees of the best interests of the nation as a whole, which is what they ought to be. We need some way of breaking this cycle, and I think I’ve a way.

My idea is that fully one third of the representation should be elected nationally from a single national constituency. Doing this alone would be technically feasible due to so through an act to amend our electoral law, but the one sticking point is the use of the single transferrable vote (STV)—three-, four- and five-seater constituencies are enough of a pain to do the count on, never mind a massive national constituency that can elect over fifty TDs!

The use of STV is codified into the constitution. This has been a good thing because it’s avoided the situation where Fianna Fail could change the electoral law to use first past the post (FPTP) to get a permanent majority of the seats in the Dail. For a national constituency to be practical, a constitutional amendment would be required to specify the method used for electing from that constituency. In my mind, a party list system appear be the feasible method.

Do I think this would solve our problems? No, but I do think it would be a step in the right direction towards governments that worked in the best interests of the nation rather than themselves.