Dáil Contribution: Electoral Reform Bill 2022: Second Stage

Dáil Contribution: Electoral Reform Bill 2022: Second Stage

Full Transcript:

I will pick up where Deputy Nash left off and congratulate the Minister on this Bill, which is a significant and overdue piece of work. I want to dwell briefly on something we take for granted, which is just how lucky we are to live in a parliamentary democracy. If one reckons across the whole of human history or even geographically, statistically one is very unlikely to have lived within a democracy of any kind and certainly not within a democracy as strong and as flourishing as this one. It is worth mentioning that democracy comes from the Greek terms demos, meaning people and cratia, meaning power. It literally means power to the people but even within accepted forms of democracy, there has often been a distinction made around which people are allowed to exercise the franchise. Even if one thinks back to Athens, which is considered the cradle of democracy, it was only adult male Athenian citizens who had completed military training who had the right to vote. The vote was limited to between 10% and 20% of the total number of inhabitants.

One of the strengths of this Bill is that not only does it preserve and strengthen the form of democracy that we have, the powerful form which is proportional representation through the single, transferable vote, but seeks to extend it. Here in Ireland women only gained a partial vote in 1918. They had to be 30 years of age and university qualified to vote at that time. It was only with the foundation of the State in 1922 that women gained equal voting rights to men. Many of the provisions in this Bill are aimed at extending the franchise to more women, to make it more possible for women to vote and for minority women and for young people, in particular, to vote, which is extremely welcome.

Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an tAire tiomanta don Ghaeilge agus go bhfuil suim faoi leith aige inti. Táim buartha nach bhfuil tagairt ar bith don Ghaeilge sa Bhille mar a sheasann sé, agus ba chóir go mbeadh. Ba chóir go mbeadh na soláthairtí atá san Acht teanga, go háirithe ó thaobh earcaíochta de, curtha san áireamh agus curtha i bhfeidhm sa Bhille. While there are several important provisions mentioned in the Acht teanga, the 20% recruitment target is of particular interest. I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle spent a lot of time in committee discussing this as well and we need to see it brought through into other Bills. I may put forward some amendments on Committee Stage, particularly relating to sections 8 to 10, when we set out the commission’s membership. There should be specific reference to language competencies within the commission. Also, section 16 which deals with issues of staffing should be amended to reflect the targets set out in the Acht teanga. There should be a 20% target for the recruitment of staff who are competent in the use of Irish. What competence in the use of Irish might be has been discussed in some detail previously. There are a number of other possible amendments but I know that the Minister has good relations with the Irish-language community and I encourage him to engage with them before the Bill reaches Committee Stage and to consider bringing forward amendments in his own right.

I want to draw attention to some of the provisions laid out in Chapter 7, which deal with Dáil and European Parliament constituencies. One interesting area that the electoral commission might consider is new proposals recently considered by the European Parliament as part of its contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe, specifically those relating to the creation of transnational, EU-wide electoral lists for use in the next elections to the European Parliament in 2024, which would have clear implications for this Bill. The proposals as outlined at the moment would see 28 seats to the Parliament elected on EU-wide basis by all 450 million Europeans as one polity, for the first time. It would be a true European election and those elected would be European representatives, as opposed to Members of the European Parliament, MEPs, from any given country. These proposals are supported by all of the main groups in the Parliament, from Greens to Liberals, Social Democrats to Christian Democrats but implementing such a system poses a particular challenge here in Ireland because we do not use list systems. How our electoral system would integrate and interface with this should be considered in the context of this Bill.

One of my Green Party predecessors in the Oireachtas, then Senator and now MEP, Ms Grace O’Sullivan, started this debate previously in the Upper House with a proposal for a single Irish constituency in future European elections, which is an interesting proposal. I am not sure I fully agree with it but it is certainly something that should be considered. We would all acknowledge that the current European Parliament constituencies do not naturally align. I do not know that I necessarily identify with what Ireland South means as an electoral constituency but whatever system we are using, it is likely that it will have to integrate a transnational element of some sort into it. A well resourced electoral commission could have an integral role to play in such efforts.

I want to spend a little bit of time looking at specific provisions in the Bill that I very much welcome. Sections 88 through 92 deal with disability and are very much about extending the franchise and in cases where it is needed, bringing the vote to the people. That is really important and reflects the character of this democracy and how seriously we view the franchise and how we want to see it extended. I take slight exception to what Deputy Nash said about this Government having no ambition to extend the franchise to younger people. The preregistration of 16- to 17-year-olds is a really important and proactive step that will help people of that age to really engage with the democracy and take seriously the franchise that others have fought and died for. I really welcome the provisions around the anonymous voter and people who may not, for various reasons including domestic violence and domestic abuse, be safely identified on the electoral register.

My time is almost up but I want to refer to the regulation of online political advertising, which is extremely important. Also, in section 52, the obligation on parties to give information regarding the register is important. We know that there are people who fundraise outside of the State and spend money outside of the State to try to influence electoral results within the State. That information is important and people deserve to know it. Also, the transparency in terms of micro-targeting is important. Of course, we should all speak to people where they are, in a language they understand, about the issues that they care about but they also should have the right to know why they were selected for that particular message in order that they are fully informed.