Birthday Constituencies: an interesting idea.

For the past two weeks The Irish Times has been running a series covering the new Dail constituencies. It’s informative but depressing stuff, because in its accuracy it confirms everything that is wrong with Irish politics. The series highlights the fact that the vast majority of Dail constituencies are elected not on the basis of a debate as to how we will run our society, but a battle of parishes. In short, it’s not as much an election as a Viking raid, where a parish sends forth its most suitable candidate with a clear message: go to another parish and steal whatever you can from those f**kers and bring it back to us. We basically don’t give a toss what happens elsewhere in the country as long as we get our school or hospital.

And yet, here’s the thing: it’s a lousy system. Is there a single constituency where the sitting deputies will say, after 90 years, that their constituency has gotten its fair share? No. Every county in the country whines that it has been cheated out of its entitlement by politicians from more wily constituencies.

There is an interesting alternative. I don’t know the name of the chap who devised this system, although I understand he’s a physicist from Tipperary. He proposes we have twelve ten or twelve seat constituencies, elected by STV, with each constituency allocated to a month. Each voter is assigned to the month they were born, and vote that way rather than geographically.
Now, before you start rolling your eyes, just think about the concept for a moment. Suddenly, every TD has constituents in every parish in the country. Suddenly TDs can’t favour one school over another or one hospital over another. Now they have to care about national policy and setting common national standards that work because they all represent the whole country for real. And it doesn’t mean that TDs can’t help individual voters either. Do you really think Michael Lowry or Michael Healy-Rae won’t help a constituent in Dublin or Donegal if they are in the right birth constituency?

It’s a radical idea, but a fascinating one, and one that I would love to see the Constitutional Convention look at.

By the way, if anyone knows the name of the guy who came up with it, let me know so I can credit him.

12 thoughts on “Birthday Constituencies: an interesting idea.

  1. I’m no cheerleader for the way the Oireachtas currently (fails to) work.

    But below a certain size parties stop being governing parties and become issue parties; at least in our current political culture. To actually govern in the best interests of all, small parties often risk extinction. More than that, small parties are unlikely to provide a comprehensive opposition. They will focus on their issues and the soundbite issues, leaving lower priority portfolios unshadowed.

    Getting issue candidates elected is relatively easy – my suggestion for Seanad reform is all about turning it into an issue chamber (or policy chamber if it works well).

    But we also need to find a way of getting candidates elected (and re-elected) who will spend most of their time looking for problems in the administration of the country – problems that may not exist, and most likely won’t be newsworthy even when they do. How do you get re-elected for preventing problems?

  2. Not sure we were doing better when we had a two and a half party system. Bear in mind that it is the small parties that have provided nearly all the reforming ideas of the last twenty years.

  3. I love the idea, why not make it even simpler and attach voters to star sign constituencies – just like battlestar galactica. Everyone knows what star sign they are and I doubt they’d particularly want to swap. Plus how fund would it be with to hear the Ceann Comhairle say ‘the deputy from Caprica, you have 6 minutes’. Deputy: ‘Thank you Ceann Comhairle. Can I share time with my colleague from Aquarius?’

  4. Birthday constituencies are an interesting idea. But I’m not convinced that a little localism isn’t necessary to slow the natural tendency for a disconnected political class to develop.

    Of more concern though, is the idea of 10-12 seat constituencies. I think its reasonably well established that more seats leads to more party fragmentation. I do think PR and coalition Governments are better than FPTP. But 4-5 party governments, facing 6-8 parties on the opposition benches? With under 170 TDs? A recipe for disaster in my opinion.

  5. Daniel Sullivan had another suggestion:

    Personally I think a reformed Seanad is a better option and I have a proposal that would allow it to evolve in response to national concerns:

    If we are to have a referendum to get rid of 60 parliamentarians, I’d prefer to see them go from the Dáil. In that case however, we would need to rethink how the Government and opposition front benches are formed. The talent pool in the Dáil is too small already.

  6. Familiar with the concept of a Tragedy of the Commons? Ireland’s electoral system produces a massive one.

    Considering in isolation the localised and short-term interest of an individual voter in a general election in Ireland, it’s not too difficult to make out a case for voting for somebody like John O’Donoghue, Jackie Healy Rae, Pádraig Flynn or Willie O’Dea.  They all are, or were, masters at getting things for their constituency and constituents, while being completely useless and profligate when judged on a national level……. voting for (say) John O’Donoghue is like putting another cow on the common land; the individual voter receives the benefits from the additional “cow” through constituency goodies, while the damage to the common is shared by the entire Irish population.

    Electoral reform is vital if political and economic failure are not be repeated in each succeeding generation. We must get away from geographic voting, whether using the method you suggest, or one based on other arbitrary divisions of the electorate.

  7. That is a fair point, but I suspect quite a few people would vote for people from other counties.

  8. Good question. Given that you can run in any Dail constituency now, I suppose you could.

  9. “And it is vital to the national interest that the annual qualification date for this age-based freebie is moved to July, not May as currently stands”.

    I’ve proposed non-geographic constituencies before (in fact, had it once accepted as Labour policy for Senate reform in the long distant past when stuff short of abolition was still considered reasonable or ignorable by the general public). You’d need a counterbalance, I think, of a geographic nature to stop Dublin sucking all the air out of it (I say that as a Dublin politico). Perhaps a bicameral system with one chamber geographic and one non-geographic?

  10. HI Jason – really like this idea.

    Question: would all candidates have to compete under their own birth month or would there be freedom to stand in what ever birth month constituency you want?

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