The Irish National Election Study revealed last week that Irish people would seem to be very reluctant to change from the Single Transferable Vote electoral system. That’s not surprising. One of the key points that those who support electoral reform tend to miss is that weakening the link between citizens and a broker between them and their government actually causes new problems of disconnection.
Instead, we need to focus not just on making the electoral system better, but giving voters a satisfactory alternative to TDs. What that means is that electoral reform on its own will not solve the problem. In fact, it is unlikely even to be accepted by the people in a referendum.
Let’s look at an alternative.
Firstly, we keep STV. It’s not the worst system in the world. But we reduce the number of TDs.
Secondly, we give voters a second bite of the cherry, alongside the constituency ballot. We introduce a second ballot paper in national elections, with a national open list, giving voters the choice to vote for a party list or individual candidates on it.
Thirdly, we bar Oireachtas members from being members of the Cabinet. Let them resign their seats, or let the Taoiseach (who should be directly elected) appoint non-TDs and senators. We have over 4.5 million people in this country. We honestly can’t find ministerial calibre people outside of Leinster House? Really? As for those who say this is undemocratic, that’s nonsense. The people of Mayo don’t elect the Taoiseach, the Dail does, as it would these ministers. If a being a TD is a full-time job, then TDs don’t have time to be ministers. If being a TD is not a full-time job, then let’s pay them a part-time salary.
Fourthly, and this is the important bit: We can’t fix the voting system without fixing the reason people vote for a local grafter: Because that is where the power is. We need to have elected mayors with budgets and the power to fix things in their counties. Do that, and people will go to them.
Our political reforms need to be effective. But they must also recognise what the Irish people both want and actually need from a political system.