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[Constitutional Convention][9][1 Feb 2014] AOA 1 - Dáil Reform

  • #1
    Registered Users Posts: 7,266 ✭✭✭ RangeR


    Greetings. My name is Keith Burke. I'm from Kildare. I was chosen to be one of the 66 citizens of Ireland to represent the wider citizen base in the Constitutional Convention. Some broad information can be found here. It looks mostly accurate.

    I'm not an expert in law, the constitution or politics. I want to educate myself in the various proposals to better allow myself discuss it on the day. I also want to hear what the wider citizen base think about the proposals.

    The Convention are meeting on 1st and 2nd of February 2014 to discuss the first of two Any other Amendments. Through the process of private vote we have decided to discuss ...

    Dáil Reform

    Let's do this differently and not discuss what's currently in the Constitution. However, if you would like to see it for reference, it can be obtained here [PDF].

    Let's try think outside the box on this one. How do you see the Dáil being reformed to best benefit our country?

    Or do you think reform is not needed at all.


    I welcome your comments. Discuss.


Comments



  • RangeR wrote: »
    How do you see the Dáil being reformed to best benefit our country? Or do you think reform is not needed at all.

    where to begin reform?? we start with us, it's our society which has to change... forget trying to cure the Dáil's dysfunction as it is only a symptom of our society's dysfunction. every day the investigative news brings to light the level of greed, "I'm alright Jack", wink n' nod mentality here. we get the political system and politicians we deserve. happy with that? fine, let the Dáil continue as is.....




  • RangeR wrote: »
    Greetings. My name is Keith Burke. I'm from Kildare. I was chosen to be one of the 66 citizens of Ireland to represent the wider citizen base in the Constitutional Convention. Some broad information can be found here. It looks mostly accurate.

    I'm not an expert in law, the constitution or politics. I want to educate myself in the various proposals to better allow myself discuss it on the day. I also want to hear what the wider citizen base think about the proposals.

    The Convention are meeting on 1st and 2nd of February 2014 to discuss the first of two Any other Amendments. Through the process of private vote we have decided to discuss ...

    Dáil Reform

    Let's do this differently and not discuss what's currently in the Constitution. However, if you would like to see it for reference, it can be obtained here [PDF].

    Let's try think outside the box on this one. How do you see the Dáil being reformed to best benefit our country?

    Or do you think reform is not needed at all.


    I welcome your comments. Discuss.

    Hi. Only just spotted this thread a day before this is due to happen! :) It's one of the most important topics in terms of political reform. It's far from being a straightforward topic, which is perhaps why there have been so few responses to this thread.

    Some of our political scientists had a newspaper article a while back setting out some reasonable suggestions. Some of them are advising the convention so, no doubt, you'll be hearing more of these ideas.

    Westminster as a possible model

    So where to look for examples of effective parliaments whose structures we perhaps should copy? When we got our independence, we simply copied and kept copying (in the 1937 constitution) the Westminster system from across the water (the so-called "mother of parliaments"). But I have to say that looking at many of the Westminster examples around the world, they generally don't appear to be all that great. They mostly tend to be government dominated chambers, often with periods with high use of the guillotine. A principal problem is that governments can change the standing orders as they see fit, and generally do so. Australia and Canada would fit into this general template. However, both Australia and Canada are federal systems, so at least there's significant devolution of powers and regional parliaments with significant responsibilities, so central governments don't have all their own way. And Australia has an unusually powerful and very effective Senate, which acts as a check on the main chamber. Ireland, on the other hand, has both very weak local government and an almost meaningless Senate.

    However, Westminster itself is actually the best example of the system it originated. Historically, it has been quite an effective parliament. For example, there's a long history of successful private members bills (I think something like 1000 of these have been passed over the last 100 years, you could count the equivalent number here probably on the fingers of one hand!). However, the Commons has really got its act together over the past 30 years. Norman St. John-Stevas, leader of the House, under Thatcher brought in very significant reforms of their selection committee system, making them far more effective in scrutinizing government. Some more very interesting reforms have happened in the past 10 years. A Commons reform committee under MP Tony Wright in their "Rebuilding the House" report proposed several new reforms, most of which have been implemented, including:
    • election of the select committee chairs by secret ballot (by prior agreement of the parties, various chairs are allocated reasonably proportionately to the main parties, then backbench MPs from the relevant parties can nominate themselves to particular chairs, and the actual winners are determined by secret ballot over the entire House). The Commons already elects its speakers by secret ballot (unlike the Dáil)
    • election of ordinary committee members by secret ballot (each party gets proportionate representation on the committees, but secret ballot amongst these party MPs supervised by one of the Commons speakers, determines who actually gets on particular committees)
    • the creation of a Backbench Business Committee (elected by secret ballot of backbenchers) that controls the significant amount time devoted to backbench business (about one day a week when the Commons is sitting)
    • the creation of a House Business Committee composed of both government and opposition front benches and the backbench business committee, who would set the Commons agenda (the idea being to give the Commons itself greater say over allocation of its time).
    • an e-petitions systems (IMO perhaps the least interesting part of the report).
    Almost of all of these (bar the House Business Committee) have been implemented and seem to be working well. So in terms of Dáil reform these are maybe some things we could emulate. So, instead of having a poor copy of the Westminster parliament, we could take on board some of these reforms. None really require any constitutional change.

    German and Scandinavian Models

    However, alternatively, perhaps we should be looking instead to other effective but quite different styles of parliament. I'm primarily thinking here of German and Scandinavian examples. Most of these political systems, unlike the UK with first past the post (FPTP) and two big party blocks, have very proportionate PR list electoral systems with perhaps 7/8 main parties and generally quite tight party discipline. In electoral system proportionality we fall somewhere in between so perhaps could go either way.

    A noticeable feature of the Bundestag is that parliamentary time is allocated to party groups strictly according to their representation. A government with a 55% majority has to conduct all its business within 55% of total parliamentary time, it just can't hog as much time as it wants. It also can't just shut down debate by deciding not to sit (a qualified minority of a third of MPs can decide to recall parliament to debate an issue if they so wish). The German constitutional court is also allowed by their Basic Law to make rulings on its standing orders/parliamentary procedures. It can declare standing orders unconstitutional if it feels they contravene democratic principles. For example, the court in recent years upheld the powers of their budgetary committee in terms of their say in bailout payments to Ireland. That committee has rights to all government financial information (hence, why members of the committee often seemed to know more about our own government's budget plans than our own Dáil).

    Going down the route of placing constitutional constraints on or giving constitutional guidelines for standing orders in terms of proportionality and fairness might not be a bad idea, permitting the Supreme Court to rule on Dáil procedures. And maybe allow one third of TDs and/or the Ceann Comhairle to trigger a Dáil sitting for an important issue. However, the German constitutional court is appointed by two-thirds Bundestag and Bundesrat supermajorities (also giving the German opposition some say in these appointments). In our unreformed judicial appointments system where the cabinet (with some mere window dressing from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board) still directly makes these appointments there might still be a certain conflict of interest in this regards.

    I think the general principle of making standing orders harder to change is a sound one. In the Swedish case, their parliamentary procedures have semi-constitutional status. They can only be changed by either a three-quarters supermajority or otherwise the same procedure as for constitutional change (two identical votes separated by general elections, with a one third qualified minority of MPs able to trigger a referendum on the proposal on the same day as the general elections also if they wish). Making parliamentary procedures harder to change makes the speaker (Ceann Comhairle in our case) a more important figure. This position is also elected by secret ballot in the Swedish case. I suppose the idea of having a secret ballot is to make the position more a gift of the parliament itself and less a gift of the government.

    Perhaps a step in this direction might be to require an absolute supermajority of two-thirds of TDs to immediately pass any change to Dáil procedures. Otherwise, two identical votes passed by absolute Dáil majorities separated by a minimum time period would be required. IMO the minimum period should be at least three months. Such a setup would cut out any short-term and arbitrary chopping-and-changing of the agenda by the government. It would encourage more consensus.

    In an ideal world, I'd inject an element of direct democracy into the process, allowing these rules to be changed by either a three-quarters supermajority or alternatively allow a one third qualified minority of TDs to trigger a referendum on changes (with time restrictions, perhaps only allowing such a referendum to be triggered at minimum every two years). I'd suspect the mere threat of a referendum would be more than enough to encourage a Dáil consensus and there'd rarely actually be a public vote. Anyway, this is probably all a bit too radical and experimental (but the general principle of making the Dáil rules harder to change is a good one).

    And the election procedures for the Ceann and Leas Ceann Comhairle should be looked at. If the parliamentary rules were harder to change, then those refereeing the rules become of more significance. The constitution only requires they be elected by the Dáil, not how. Maybe a secret ballot and the form of that ballot should be specified. Or their powers and roles could be more explicitly set out.

    Ensuring that the opposition has adequate speaking time and control of the agenda is important. Unlike Germany, political parties/groupings don't have formal constitutional recognition. Equal time allocation for party groups isn't really something one could easily specify in the constitution. Maybe one could have a constitutional provision allowing groups of TDs above a certain minimum size (maybe 5) to register themselves with the Ceann Comhairle as a Dáil grouping and be entitled to proportionate time and other Dáil resources.

    For constitutional Dáil reform, IMO the status and nature of Dáil standing orders is the most important question: the constitutional framework that constrains them, how they are passed, their relationship to the legislative process, who gets to referee them, and how those referees are chosen.

    Legislative Delay

    Many countries have minimum allowable times between the first and last reading of a bill. Luxembourg is one example with a minimum three month period. This can be circumvented for emergency/special cases (with the consent of the Grand Duke and an advisory council), but the default is at least three months. I was surprised when the recent failed Seanad abolition amendment didn't include something along these lines (to replace the Seanad's theoretical 3-month potential delay of non-money bills). Am not sure though how one would build in such a delay with the Seanad still existing. The principal problem with the Seanad is that the 11 Taoiseach's nominees mean it is almost always government controlled. At least if it was sometimes opposition controlled, even this rather weak 3 month legislative delay would give a little extra bargaining power for amending legislation to non-government Oireachtas members.

    Parliamentary Inquiries

    An Oireachtas inquiries amendment could be a very valuable Dáil reform. However, it was very unfortunate that the government botched the recent amendment and its wording. I was actually against the failed inquiries referendum proposal, specifically the very dubious subsection 4 wording regarding the protection of rights.

    In general, merely giving rights to parliaments to set up investigatory committees doesn't seem to make that much difference in itself. However, several countries give certain rights to opposition MPs to initiate inquires. That does genuinely seem to make a difference. One example would be France where constitutional and procedural reforms in recent years now allow opposition parliamentary groups to set up inquires once a year (unless a 3/5 supermajority says otherwise). But perhaps the best example would be again the German Bundestag where one quarter of MPs can trigger a public inquiry. And the German constitutional court has upheld the rights of the opposition MPs on those investigatory committees. Those MPs can compel and chose and interview witnesses in their own right. And if a consensus finding cannot be arrived at in the final report, then minority dissenting conclusions have to be included.

    The relevant German basic law article is as follows:
    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica]Article 44 [Committees of Investigation]
    (1) The House of Representatives [Bundestag] has the right, and upon the motion of one quarter of its members the duty, to set up a committee of investigation, which takes the requisite evidence at public hearings. The public may be excluded.
    (2) The rules of criminal procedure equally apply to the taking of evidence. The privacy of letters and the secrecy of post and telecommunication remain unaffected.
    (3) Courts and administrative authorities are bound to render legal and administrative assistance.
    (4) The decisions of committees of investigation is not subject to judicial consideration. The courts are free to evaluate and judge the facts on which the investigation is based.[/FONT]
    Notice the strong protections of rights inherent in this article also. It's a pity the previous government wording was so poor, and therefore it's unlikely this topic will be revisited. But, ideally, we would have an article modelled after the German, both adequately protecting rights and allowing perhaps third or quarter of TDs to initiate and set the terms of at least a limited number of inquiries (maybe one a year).

    A Constitutional Framework for Oireachtas Committees?

    I suppose one could have a formal constitutional framework for the committee system broadly setting out the general parameters, powers, number and form of committees, structure of special committees like the PAC. Though a lot of this is probably best done more informally by standing orders or legislation.

    One could broadly mirror Commons committee reforms. Perhaps allocate the committee chairs to parties via a proportionate D'Hondt type method, require at least 2 or 3 candidates for each chair from the relevant party, and then a secret PR-STV ballot over the entire Dáil for who gets the chair. And secret ballots for ordinary committee composition also.

    I've thought that a very interesting experiment would be to have the specific standing orders/parliamentary procedures dealing with the structure and nature and regulation of committees to be only changeable by Dáil secret ballot. In general, passing legislation by secret ballot isn't probably a good idea (TDs should be accountable for their votes). But having a general constitutional framework setting out the general rules of the game for committees and then having the specific implementational details fleshed out by an organic law that could only be changed by a secret ballot I think would be a useful exception (again, maybe all a bit too radical).

    Some other types of topics may discussed at your meeting.

    Non-Oireachtas Ministers

    One topic that has been proposed (at earlier convention meetings also I think) is that a greater separation be encouraged between the cabinet and Dáil by having some or even all ministers not being Dáil members. Ireland is unusual in insisting all ministers be Dáil members (other than the provision for up to two Seanad members, which is almost never used anyway). In some countries all MPs have to propose alternatives who take their seat if they become ministers or a parliamentary speaker. I'm not sure how successful the idea of having parliamentary alternatives would be within our electoral system. Many countries that use them have PR list systems and hence minister often come high on the party list anyway and is much more likely to be reelected. Here, ministers, even if an alternative temporarily takes over constituency duties, is still going to be worried about reelection. I do think though that allowing a certain number of non-Oireachtas ministers would be healthy. That would probably have to be a minimum requirement rather than an optional extra (we can be seen from our almost non-existent use of ministers from the Seanad).

    And this was another surprising and glaring deficiency of the recent Seanad abolition bill, which didn't even hold open the mere option (let alone requirement) of two non-Dáil ministers.

    Curbing the powers of the Taoiseach relative to the Dáil

    I think it'd be naive to insert some constitutional ban on the "whip system". That'd be like the attempt to ban team orders in Formula One a few years ago. A degree of party discipline is necessary and any explicit ban would just force it underground (though it would still exist).

    I suppose, though, one could constitutionally curb or limit some of the carrots and sticks a Taoiseach can wield to keep his deputies in line (though maybe one shouldn't weaken the Taoiseach's role too much, there's a balance to be struck).

    Handing out parliamentary jobs is one great inducement a Taoiseach has to keep his TDs in line. Having a minimum number of non-TDs in cabinet would at least cut down on the number of ministerial jobs he could hand out. Of course, there are all kinds of other jobs. This reached its height under Bertie Ahern (though pared back on somewhat since): around 20 junior ministers, committee vice/chairs/convenors etc.. A government TD would have had to been really out of favour at the time to not have had some kind of job and consequent salary top-up. If the committee chairs and vice-chairs were elected by secret ballot then at least those would be jobs not in the gift of the Taoiseach (and would provide a non-government dominated alternative career/promotion structure for more independent-minded TDs). Perhaps the role of junior minister should be formalized in the constitution (it's almost exclusively a role created by just legislation at the moment) and the number limited (rather like the limit of seven parliamentary secretaries in the Free State Constitution). Perhaps a constitutional article prohibiting any extra payments and expenses to TDs except for specific exceptions such as the up to 15 cabinet ministers, limited number of junior ministers, committee chairs and the Ceann Comahairle (and his deputy) wouldn't be a bad idea.

    Another stick a Taoiseach has to beat his backbenchers into line is the threat of Dáil dissolution. One could constitutionally make dissolution harder. Some countries require an absolute majority in favour before this is allowed.

    In this regard, I also rather like two aspects of the Swedish and German systems. In Germany, the chancellor can only be removed a "constructive" vote of no confidence. That means that no confidence votes are only allowed if the name of an alternative chancellor is attached, who becomes the new chancellor if the motion succeeds. The German system is more or less a fixed term one (it's quite difficult to engineer a premature dissolution, it has happened but has required trips to the constitutional court, and is hence rare). However, the Swedish semi-fixed term setup is more appealing and less rigid. There are always ordinary elections in Sweden every four years. However, Swedish PMs can dissolve parliament and call extraordinary elections between those regularly scheduled dates. However, any new parliament so formed can only last up until the date of the next scheduled ordinary elections. This incentivizes fixed terms but does recognize that sometimes dissolutions are necessary. My ideal setup would be a combination of the Swedish semi-fixed term model (maybe with terms of five years) and a constructive vote of no confidence mechanism. This would also mean that the government wouldn't fall over the loss of any ordinary vote. Maybe this would help lead towards some relaxation in our use of a three-line whip for practically every Dáil vote.

    General patronage is another means of control: "vote with the government on this bill or your relative won't get that nice position on that state board". There are currently very few checks on this type of government patronage, and seeming widespread abuse. Proper vetting and independent ability to scrutinize and block ministerial appointments would weaken this means of control. Strong powers over appointments could be given to Dáil committees (particularly if committees became more independent of government). They could have a right of veto over all ministerial appointments. Another solution might be to have these appointments be made at greater arm's length from government, perhaps made instead by a public appointments commission, which could have constitutional status.

    Anyway, apologies for the length of this (it's a throw everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of post :) ) and the lateness of the reply (I hope you manage to actually see this before your meeting).




  • good contribution as always finbar but you could implement all those suggestions and the whip could be applied, were popele not threatened with being kicked out of the party entirely at the next election, so do they really deal with the whip? and any problem there is with it




  • The two attached photos summarise what we discussed.




  • as with the seanad only the taoiseach has the power to push dail reform, so was that discusssed


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  • as with the seanad only the taoiseach has the power to push dail reform, so was that discusssed

    I don't understand the question.




  • RangeR wrote: »
    I don't understand the question.
    so they suggested another committee so the taoiseach can pass these suggestions off to them and then blame them when nothing gets done, when its only in his power to push the reforms




  • Know it's too late now to make a suggestion but I will anyway.

    Give more power to local government, have larger constituencies to elect TD's and you might have less parish pump politics.

    You have a situation where Cork City is within three separate electoral districts which I think is a bit pointless. Bantry has far more in common, and would be much better served by being represented by a TD that also represented Dingle than by a TD living in Bishopstown in Cork City. Another example would be that Shannon elects different TDs to those who vote in Limerick City yet economically, socially and by any real metric they would be better served by having the same, probably stronger and less parochial politicians.
    I'm not fully sure how this would apply across the rest of the country but it certainly would have benefits for people in Bantry, Bishopstown and Dingle in Cork/Kerry and for the people of Shannon and Limerick City.

    We shouldn't be using GAA teams to determine how we vote in our TDs.




  • Standing orders need to be changed so as not to penalize independent politicians with regard to speaking time.
    Ideally losing the party whip shouldn't mean losing your "teeth" as a TD. The Dail is supposed to be a check on the power of the cabinet - right now, because standing orders penalize unaffiliated politicians, the cabinet is able to turn the Dail into a rubber stamp through party whips.
    This needs to change ASAP if democracy is to mean anything at all.




  • good contribution as always finbar but you could implement all those suggestions and the whip could be applied, were popele not threatened with being kicked out of the party entirely at the next election, so do they really deal with the whip? and any problem there is with it

    Expectationlost,
    I think there are limits to what can be done with political structures. There's a degree of truth to the notion that the electorate only ever gets the government it deserves. But I think that notion goes too far. IMO political structures and what they incentivize (or not) have an influence also. Many of the suggestions in the above post wouldn't really have a bearing on the whip. My general concern in it was a more effective Dáil and a better and healthier relationship between all the various constituent parts that make it up: the government majority, opposition, Taoiseach, cabinet (and lower-tier junior ministers), parliamentary procedures, chair (and vice-chair) of the Dáil, party groupings, committees and backbenchers. The secret ballot is the friend of the backbencher. In certain limited areas, particularly committees, it could be used to insulate ordinary TDs from the pressure of party whips. Or one could potentially weaken some of the carrots/sticks a Taoiseach can use to enforce discipline. But I think that's about it. Most of the rest requires a better political culture and requires Dáil backbenchers and the electorate to actually want this. There's only so much structures can do. As the proverb goes: "one can bring a horse to water but one cannot make it drink!" :)

    Some of the other suggestions would probably empower opposition party groupings to some extent. The supermajority and the qualified minority are useful tools in this regard. Party discipline in the German and Scandinavian countries, with their PR/MMP list systems, tends to be internally quite tight (though MPs do seem to receive a lot more latitude within their committee systems compared to here). Governing requires the hammering out of a coalition/compromise between several disparate parties. Their parliaments seem to be run on the basis of strict proportionality.

    Westminster systems also tend to have tight whips, e.g. Australia and Canada, and two major party groupings/blocks. As I've said above, the UK looks about the best example of this kind of system. Maybe that's because it has been around the longest. Maybe it's because of the sheer size of the UK parliament (it has an enormous parliament for their population size, 650 MPs, and even more than that in the House of Lords). Perhaps the sheer number of backbench MPs has led to pressure from below in them being given a useful role. Frequent big government majorities via their FPTP electoral system also means that a few government MPs rebelling isn't as big a deal.

    In terms of electoral setups, we stand somewhere in between with semi-proportional PR-STV (average constituency size of only 4). Therefore, I feel we should borrow some of the better elements from both of these rather different systems. At present, we have almost none of the more innovative elements of either (a kind of worst of both worlds).


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  • eMail in. Draft report attached. This will be submitted for Dáil review if there are no objections from the 100.




  • finbar10 wrote: »
    Expectationlost,
    Many of the suggestions in the above post wouldn't really have a bearing on the whip

    but you said they would




  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitutional_Convention_(Ireland)

    Check out who heads up Labours committee. Bacik, the unelected communist. Now, look at the other "representatives" and ask yourselves how many of them should ahve a say in the constitution.

    The chair seems to be one of the few sane people. I guess he has little or no input from his position.




  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitutional_Convention_(Ireland)

    Check out who heads up Labours committee. Bacik, the unelected communist. Now, look at the other "representatives" and ask yourselves how many of them should ahve a say in the constitution.

    The chair seems to be one of the few sane people. I guess he has little or no input from his position.

    You seem to have a huge chip on your shoulder with no facts to back up your spurious claims. I think I'll add you to my virtual ignore list.

    Unless you'de like to back up your claims.

    Was Bacik unelected? Or just not elected to your satisfaction?
    Is she a communist? Or are you just stirring the bucket?
    The mere fact that you say the chair is one of the few sane ones, means that the majority aren't. To that I take the utmost personal offence.

    I take back what I said above. You ARE on my ignore list. You didn't once contribute to any of the Constitution threads. I would have listened and debated your input but you'de just rather come along when it's all finished and spout, arguably, unsubstantiated rubbish.




  • Think I'll return the favour. The road to no-where isn't where I want to go.

    See you in the polls.




  • Think I'll return the favour. The road to no-where isn't where I want to go.

    See you in the polls.

    Oh please Phill, if you had a "silent majority" we'd still have Magdalene Laundries.




  • but you said they would

    Don't think I did. I made whatever suggestions I could think of for Dáil reform. The whip is part of that picture but I don't think it's the whole story.


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