Despite the protests of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, the reality is that the political system could be reformed quite radically without having to go through a cranky referendum process. Here’s a number of changes that could make a difference and don’t need a referendum.
1. Implement the Zappone-Quinn bill, which would radically transform the Seanad. Indeed, it’s possible that such a reformed Seanad would eclipse the Dail in terms of national debate.
2. Appoint non-TDs as ministers of state. This is perfectly constitutional, can be done by law, as is only stopped by TDs who feel entitled to the extra cash.
3. Create 10 seat Dail constituencies. It’s a fact that large constituencies in any country allow for wider diversity. Again, the maximum size of Dail constituencies is decided by law, not the constitution. The Dail could create a 158 seat constituency if it wanted.
4. Let politicians’ salaries, expenses, pensions and severance packages be decided openly by an Oireachtas committee made up purely of opposition TDs and senators. Give them a chance to show what they do with a little power before we give them the big stuff.
5. Let the public initiate legislation and referendums by petition, with the Dail legislating to respect the result.
6. Hold multi-choice preferendums rather than single Yes/No referendums. Again, nothing in the constitution says you can’t. Why could we not vote for Seanad retention, abolition, or reform on the ballot?
7. Let voters choose which constituency they’d like to register in, with the option to vote by post. Every voter will still only have one vote, and there’s a better chance they can vote for a candidate they actually like. So what if a Tipperary voter living in Terenure wants to vote for Michael Lowry? Let him. It’s his vote.
Of course, all of these require political will, so don’t hold your breath.