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Three great things about the Irish Electoral System

by Aaron McCormack on February 25, 2011

“We don’t have a problem with our political system in Ireland per se – we have a crisis of values and a crisis of talent IN the Irish political system”


On the day that Irish people get out to vote, I thought it was interesting to reflect on the relative electoral systems that I have been familiar with.  Perhaps it is unfair to compare any electoral system to the US one – most non-Americans are aghast at the way “the world’s greatest democracy” has let that democratic system evolve.

There has been a lot of debate in Ireland in recent weeks about repairing a “corrupt” or “bankrupt” electoral system.  If we had a reduced number of TDs (MPs) or no upper chamber, or a French, or British, or some other form of electoral structures, would things have turned out differently? Of course not.  What we have is a crisis of values and a crisis of talent in the Irish political system.

But there are three things in this election that I have had cause to reflect on, that I think we should be thankful for and should preserve…

1. The strict limits on spending in elections.  I can’t begin to tell you what money has done to American politics.  Actually you are probably familiar enough.  It is getting all the worse since a recent court ruling is now allowing corporations to anonymously put unlimited money into the US political system.  As if there wasn’t enough of a problem with politics being run for personal and corporate gain….  In Ireland you can put a full national campaign on the ground in all constituencies for about $6m. That wouldn’t pay the bar bill to run for local state government in the USA.  What does our limit on spending give us? A more vibrant field of candidates with a more diverse range of views.

2. A multi-party system.  In the USA, in many places you have to state your party affiliation when you register where you live.  A little like Irish politics in the sense that there are long family traditions of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael adherence going back to the civil war in Ireland.  But in the USA your declaration can limit what primaries you vote in and create an unnecessary straightjacket.  Combined with the money issue, American politics is a duopoly –  Americans love free markets when it suits them, but in sports and politics things are run in the fashion of a closed-shop.

3. Multi-seat constituencies with a PR system.  This ensures a much more representative legislature as we all know.  The disadvantage can be some instability in terms of coallition governments, but Ireland has dealt fairly will with that.  It demands a more collaborative and honest form of government – I know that is hard to believe in Ireland with recent events, but we need to stick with it.

With all that said, I don’t think that this election will produce the new talent, values and vision that Ireland needs and deserves.

The barriers to entry in the Irish political system are very low.  Those of us who “ran out of time” to create an alternative this time around should start thinking about this on Monday.

From → General, Ireland, Politics, USA

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