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Political Reform Delivering a new Political System

Reform Alliance


Contents Introduction

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Executive Summary

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1. Performance Related Pay for Politicians

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2. Term Limits for Ministers

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3. Reducing Power of Permanent Government

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4. Abolishing Taoisigh and Ministers’ Pensions

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5. Giving Ministers of State Real Responsibility

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1. Reforming the Whip within Irish Politics

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2. New Democratic Budgetary Process

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3. End Guillotine of Debates

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4. Enhancing Committee Powers

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1. Fairness in Party Funding

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2. Removing Ministerial Interference from SIPO

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1. Safeguarding against electoral Fraud

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2. Same day elections for Dáil and Seanad

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3. Fair Campaigning for Elections

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A.

B.

C.

D.

A results driven Politician

Reforming how the Dáil Works

Transparency for Party Funding

Improving Democratic Participation

1


Introduction Earlier this year the Reform Alliance held a national conference in the RDS, bringing together members of the public and experts in specific policy fields. The purpose was to generate debate on three topics - Politics, Economy and Health. At that time we undertook to develop proposals to introduce reform in those fields. This paper represents one such proposal. Our proposals represent radical but achievable reform of politics in Ireland. If implemented they would transform decision making in this country.

It is our desire that these ideas will be taken on board by the current Government so that the Irish people can be provided with the “democratic revolution” they were promised in 2011. The reforms are by no means exhaustive, and they try to stay within the existing constitutional framework, so they can be implemented in a very short period. All that is required is the political will to do so.

The party political system, electoral system and democratic institutions of the State play a fundamental role in influencing and shaping the economy. An overly centralised party system in Ireland, combined with the weakest parliamentary structures in Europe, too often results in vested interests running riot over political decision making. This is why political reform is so fundamental to our future.

Our proposals include: 

Performance Related Pay for Politicians

Term Limits for Ministers

Reducing Power of Permanent Government

Abolishing Taoisigh and Ministers’ Pensions

Giving Ministers of State Real Responsibility

Reforming the Whip within Irish Politics

New Democratic Budgetary Process

End Guillotine of Debates

Enhancing Committee Powers

Fairness in Party Funding

Removing Ministerial Interference from SIPO

Safeguarding against Electoral Fraud

Same Day Elections for Dáil and Seanad

Fair Campaigning for Elections 2


Executive Summary A.

A results driven Politician

1. Performance Related Pay for Politicians We propose to link a TD’s and Senator’s salary increase or decrease to average earnings in the private sector, and other indicators of sustainable improvements in economy and society.

The taxes that pay politicians' salaries and fund our public services depend on the productivity of workers. Productivity and sustainable improvements to the economy and society should be the sole focus of politicians when elected to the Dáil and Seanad.

2. Term Limits for Ministers Under our policy, cabinet members would only be allowed to serve consecutively as Ministers for one sitting term plus two years.

This policy would be combined with ensuring that any Taoiseach must appoint two cabinet members from the Seanad as is permitted by our Constitution, and thus bringing in independent expertise to Government.

3. Reducing Power of Permanent Government Every new Minister shall be allowed run a competition to appoint a new Secretary General of a Department and his or her Assistant Secretaries can be rotated immediately after the appointment of a new Minister. The Secretary General position should be open for outside appointment and all must be subject to approval by the relevant Oireachtas committee.

Ministerial advisors must also be approved by an Oireachtas committee, where their appointment and expertise in the relevant field can be assessed. One Oireachtas member should be made an unpaid parliamentary private secretary to each Government Minister, as in the UK, New Zealand and Canada.

4. Abolishing Taoisigh and Ministers’ Pensions In future no former Taoiseach or Minister should receive any pension on top of their ordinary Oireachtas pension.

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5. Giving Ministers of State (Deputy Ministers) Real Responsibility The newly titled ‘Deputy Minister’ should have a clear defined role to be a deputy to the Senior Government Minister in a Department. The Deputy Minister should be part of the cabinet Minister’s Advisory Committee team and have real authority in implementing the programme of his or her senior Minister.

Currently Ministers of State are appointed with titles that are designed to appeal to key sectors or areas of public concern, but have no clear substantial power. We propose that Ministers for State should become the Deputy Minister in a singular government department. Substantial interdepartmental matters should be addressed at cabinet sub committees and interdepartmental groups.

B.

Reforming how the Dáil Works

1.

Reforming the Whip within Irish Politics

By reforming the whip system, either by constitutional amendment or party consensus, Ministers will be forced to actively persuade a majority of members of Dáil Éireann that any new law and its provisions are in the best interest of the Country as a whole.

TDs and Senators in government or opposition will collectively play a genuine role in creating policy without fear of hampering their own party career ambitions. This promotes new thinking and prevents “group think” which the Nyberg Report identified as being a key cause of Ireland’s economic collapse.

2.

New Democratic Budgetary Process

All Members of the Oireachtas should be provided with an opportunity to make their own individual proposals on taxation and expenditure in advance of a budget. This process should be conducted through committees and both houses of the Oireachtas, commencing the first week of July.

Firstly, Committees should be given a full opportunity to scrutinise expenditure options in each Government Department, with the Finance Committee teasing out different taxation options with the Minister for Finance. Both Chambers should then be allowed time to debate the budget options in advance with each line Minister.

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3.

End Guillotine of Debates

Governments should not be allowed to fast-track legislation and cut off debate unless there is a certification from the Attorney General asserting the urgency of a Bill. It should then be approved by the Ceann Comhairle who would be elected by secret ballot in the first instance.

The Irish Water debacle is the perfect example of how the fast-tracking of legislation leads to bad policy. The legislation underpinning its operation and management structure received just 6 hours of Dรกil scrutiny after which it was guillotined by the government.

4. Enhancing Committee Powers The Chair of every parliamentary committee should be elected by secret ballot of the committee membership and all Committee Chairs should be divided proportionately between the Government and the Opposition. The appointment to parliamentary committees should be overseen by the Ceann Comhairle, and not the government.

Each member of the Oireachtas should be entitled to serve on one committee only.

C.

Transparency for Party Funding

1.

Fairness in Party Funding

The allocation of Taxpayer money to political parties should be based on the total Members of parliamentary parties at the end of each calendar year. Currently parties are in receipt of taxpayer money for people who are no longer members of that party.

2.

Removing Ministerial Interference from SIPO

Amend current legislation to ensure that all political party accounts are published annually.

The Minister for Environment and Local Government has not yet approved the guidelines to make it obligatory for all political parties to publish their full audited annual accounts every year. This omission demonstrates why legislation regulating political parties needs to be amended to avoid ministerial interference now and into the future.

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D.

Improving Democratic Participation

1.

Safeguarding against Electoral Fraud

In order to improve levels of turnout and reduce the potential for electoral fraud arising from the current arcane system of electoral registration, we propose that voter registration be based upon the allocation of Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers when eligible voters reach 18 years.

2.

Same Day Elections for Dรกil and Seanad

Dรกil and Seanad elections should be held at the same time in order to bring more legitimacy and relevance to the Seanad. These elections should be conducted on the principle of one person, one vote.

The Minister for Environment and Local Government could simply announce that when the next Dรกil election is called, he will issue an order that the Seanad election will take place at the same time.

3.

Fair Campaigning for Elections

A newly established electoral commission should be charged with the distribution of official material which details all the candidates running in each constituency along with an approved profile of each.

Local Authorities should be empowered to assign specific designated areas for posters during election or referendum campaigns. Erecting posters outside the designated areas would be an offence. This material should be posted to each voter with their polling card well in advance of Election Day. This would eliminate the cost and duplication associated with the current Litir um Toghchรกin which is sent to each home by every candidate.

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A.

Results Driven Politician

1.

Performance Related Pay for Politicians

(i)

Background

Between 2004 and 2008, the salary of a TD increased by 25%. During that same period, average earnings in the private sector increased by 17%. In other words, TDs salaries were increased at a rate that was 8% higher than increases to average earnings in the private sector.

Ministerial pay increased at a rate that was 10% higher than average earnings in the private sector.

Despite the bubble economy growing at what we now know to be unsustainable rates, the then government felt TDs and Ministers’ salaries should rise at an even higher rate.

(ii) 

Proposal Our proposal seeks to link a TD and Senator’s salary to a number of independent indicators that verify sustainable improvements in the health of the Irish economy and society. These would include but not be limited to:

(iii) 

o

Average Private Sector Weekly Earnings (CSO)

o

Total Employment in the Economy

o

UN Human Development Index

o

Ireland’s Competitiveness Scorecard

o

European Commission Macroeconomic Assessments of Ireland

Implementation Much like a sustainable index or quality of life index, a formula would be constructed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that would include all of the above indicators. TD’s or Senator’s salaries would then be benchmarked against these indicators. If the overall quality of life index starts to go down, members’ salaries would go down.

If the index was rising, salaries would increase, but only at a maximum rate that is equal to average private sector earnings increases. The index should be measured and reviewed on a 12 month basis.

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2.

Term Limits for Ministers

(i)

Background

Article 28 of the Constitution states that the Government, which is the cabinet, shall consist of not more than 14 Government Ministers plus the Taoiseach. The same Article also provides that two members of the cabinet, excluding the position of Minister for Finance, may be appointed from the Seanad. This has only occurred on four occasions since 1937. Between 1997 and 2011, a period of 14 years, there were just 31 TDs who served as Ministers, and not a single member from the Seanad.

Internationally, the turnover of Ministers in Ireland fares poorly compared to other countries, for example in the UK between 1997 and 2010, there were a total of 50 different cabinet government Ministers.

During a much shorter period in Germany, during the Schröder

Government (1998 to 2005), 26 different members served as government Ministers. 

Under the Constitution the Taoiseach must appoint 11 nominees to the Seanad and two members of the Seanad can be members of the cabinet. Despite this constitutional freedom for Taoisigh, only four Senators have ever been appointed Ministers, with Dr. Garret Fitzgerald being the last Taoiseach to appoint one in 1981 (Dr. Jim Dooge).

(ii) 

Proposal Ministers in cabinet could only serve a maximum consecutive period of one term plus two years. Two members from the Seanad must be appointed into the cabinet to bring independent expertise to government.

This policy would have helped to avoid the inertia and group think which was a major cause of our economic downfall.

(iii) 

Implementation We do not envisage any change to the Constitution being necessary. Legislation would be needed that takes into account the constitutional power of the Taoiseach and sets out a binding framework for the appointment of Ministers from the Seanad.

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3.

Reducing the Power of Permanent Government

(i)

Background

In Ireland, all government departments are run by a Management Advisory Committee (MAC). This comprises the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretaries of a Government Department. It does not necessarily include the government Minister, nor does it include Ministerial advisors.

In practice, what this can mean is that the MAC becomes the permanent government and the elected Ministers’ role is diminished. In the European Commission, there is a similar structure of management called a “Cabinet” but the difference is that the Commissioner appoints members of his or her Cabinet, and the Commissioner always convenes meetings.

(ii) 

Proposal The balance of power between permanent government and elected government must be radically altered and this can be achieved by bringing more accountability to the civil service and ministerial advisors.

We propose a European Commission “Cabinet” style system of accountability where: o

Minister would chair all Management Advisory Committees in their Department’s.

o

Ministerial advisors must attend Management Advisory Committee meetings.

o

Secretary General and Assistant Secretaries in Departments must reapply, in an open competition, for their positions every time a new cabinet Minister is appointed to a government department.

o

Secretary General, Assistant Secretaries and Ministerial Advisors must be approved by the relevant Oireachtas committee with no government whip.

o

New Deputy Minister would replace Minister of State and attend MAC meetings

o

A TD would be appointed as an unpaid parliamentary private secretary to each government Minister like in New Zealand, the UK, and Canada. The role of the unpaid parliamentary private secretary is to be a conduit between parliament and the cabinet Minister.

(iii) 

Implementation The Government could use the upcoming cabinet reshuffle as an opportunity to implement these proposals and bring fundamental reform to how Government Departments operate. 9


4.

Abolishing Taoisigh and Ministers’ Pensions

(i)

Background

Last year, 119 former Ministers and Taoisigh received a total top-up pension of €3.7 million in addition to the ordinary Oireachtas pension.

Our proposals on term limits for Ministers will mean that more members will hold Ministerial office.

(ii) 

(iii) 

Proposal All Ministerial pension top-ups, which cost the state €3.7 million a year should be abolished.

Implementation For future Taoiseach, Ministers and Ministers of State (To be replaced by Deputy Ministers), repeal all sections of the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938 which provide for Minister and Taoisigh pensions.

5. Giving Ministers of State’ Real Responsibility (i) 

Background Currently, most Ministers of State have extremely limited delegated powers and unclear lines of responsibility.

Equally, it is not at all clear which civil servants are responsible for implementing the delegated functions of a Minister for State where they do exist, and how this relates to the overall responsibility of a Cabinet Minister.

When the Government first appointed a Minister for State with responsibility for Primary Care, her only legal responsibility was for legislation such as the 1961 Poisons Act, the Control of Clinical Trials Act 1987 and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (Fees) Rules 2008 and 2010. None of these statutes relate to the provision of Primary Care.

When her successor was appointed, despite actually being provided with strengthened statutory powers, the Minister for State contended that the withdrawal of GP only cards and medical cards had nothing to do with him even though his title is Minister for State for Primary Care.

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(ii) 

Proposal The newly titled ‘Deputy Minister’ should have a clearly defined role in being a deputy to the Senior Government Minister in a Department. The Deputy Minister should be part of the cabinet Minister Advisory Committee team and have real authority in implementing the programme of his or her senior Minister.

(iii) 

Implementation Amend section 2 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1977 to make it obligatory that functions and powers be delegated to a Deputy Minister when appointed and to clarify lines of responsibility for Deputy Ministers to the Cabinet Minister.

B.

Reforming how the Dáil Works

1.

Reforming the Whip within Irish Politics

(i)

Background

In the last 30 years, just 54 individual members of Dáil Éireann have voted against their party, representing just 3% of all TDs elected during that period. Two thirds of those TDs who voted against their party in the last 30 years were consigned to the backbenches for the remainder of their political career.

In the UK, party “rebellions” go back centuries. In 1924, a total of 73 Labour MPs – almost four out of every ten members of the Parliamentary Labour Party voted against the Government over the right of strikers to claim unemployment benefit.

More recently, in the first year of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government in the UK, government members rebelled on 52% of votes and in opposition Labour saw rebellions on 20% of all votes.

(ii) 

Proposal Amend the Constitution to make all members of the Oireachtas responsible only to their conscience when carrying out their work and duties.

The culture of the whip in Irish politics has created a permanent group think which ultimately contributed to our economic collapse. While a Government must be able to maintain discipline

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on issues of confidence and financial stability, this should not apply to every vote which takes place within the Oireachtas.

(iii) 

Implementation The party whips should generally allow for the removal of whips on Committee & Report stages of legislation. This would encourage all members of the Oireachtas to actively participate in these legislative stages, but more importantly, force Ministers to take on board amendments to legislation from both sides of the House.

Each party in receipt of public funds should permit members to disassociate themselves from a party position if that conflicts with a member's conscience.

Approve the Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill 2014 to hold a referendum to amend Article 15 of the Constitution to read that:

“The members of each House of the Oireachtas shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience.”

2. New Democratic Budgetary Process (i) 

Background Prior to the 2011 general election, Fine Gael published a ‘New Politics’ policy document in March of 2010 pledging that if elected, they would reform the budgetary process.

“In Government, Fine Gael will implement a Responsible Budgeting Initiative that will make the budgeting process much more transparent and give the Dáil a clear and meaningful role.” 

Despite European oversight of Ireland’s budgetary process, the Irish Parliament essentially plays no role except to listen to the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform deliver their speeches on budget day.

In France, government must present to parliament, its overall budget orientations for the upcoming year 6-7 Months before the start of a new fiscal year.

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In Sweden, the government presents proposals for budgetary policy in April, eight months before the new fiscal year.

(ii) 

Proposal All Members of the Oireachtas should be provided with an opportunity to make their own individual proposals on taxation and expenditure in advance of a budget.

All Oireachtas Committees should be provided with a full opportunity to scrutinise all expenditure options in each government department in advance of budget publication.

The Finance Committee should debate different taxation options with the Minister for Finance.

Both Houses of the Oireachtas should be allowed time to debate each line Minister’s proposals in advance of the budget, and suggest alternative proposals before the Budget is presented as a fait accompli.

(iii) 

Implementation The Taoiseach should direct every cabinet Minister to present each of the expenditure cuts and new spending options that are being considered, and provide members of the Oireachtas an opportunity to assess and debate each proposal. This process should begin in July.

Parliamentary Business should be arranged so that sufficient sitting days in the Oireachtas calendar are set aside after the pre-budget committee sessions to allow every member of the house to contribute on each departmental proposal. Similarly, days should be set aside for the Minister for Finance to discuss pre-budget taxation options.

On a more permanent basis, approve a bill which would make provision for annual ministerial expenditure ceiling programme reports and an annual statement of financial risks.

3.

End Guillotine of Debates

(i)

Background

In most other European parliaments, such as Denmark, Finland and France, the agenda is set by the Chairperson of the parliament.

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In Ireland, the government exclusively sets the Dáil agenda, deciding on the order of business, length of debates, who gets to speak, and whether to fastrack legislation.

In Finland, Netherlands and Sweden, it is forbidden to curtail debate and fastrack legislation on any measure.

(ii) 

Proposal Hold secret ballot for the election of Ceann Comhairle and disallow any “guillotine” of debate in the absence of the Attorney General’s legal justification and the Ceann Comhairle’s support.

(iii) 

Implementation An amendment to the Constitution may be necessary for a secret ballot to elect the Ceann Comhairle, while the ending of the “guillotine” of legislation could be done by new legislation providing more power to the office of the Ceann Comhairle.

4.

Enhancing Committee Powers

(i)

Background

In the UK House of Commons, and in Norway, party leaderships do not directly control the allocation of committee seats.

In Norway, each legislator serves on one and only one committee. The Norwegian parliament has very similar numbers of parliamentary seats as Dáil Éireann, 165 members for 13 committees.

In Ireland, party leaders control the nomination process. Individual members may express an interest or be appointed on the basis of interest or expertise but ultimately allocation of seats on committees is at the discretion of the party leader and whip. Members who were elected under parliamentary party banners in this Dáil and Seanad, but were subsequently expelled saw themselves removed from all committees.

(ii) 

Proposal The Chair of every parliamentary committee must be decided by secret ballot of committee membership and the chairs should be divided proportionately between government and opposition. Each member of the Oireachtas should be entitled to serve on only one committee. 14


(iii) 

Implementation New legislation for the office of Ceann Comhairle should include clear statutory frameworks for committee chair elections, membership and appointment process.

C.

Transparency for Party Funding

1.

Fairness in Party Funding

(i)

Background

Taxpayers’ money is currently being allocated to the political parties based on individuals who are no longer members of those parties.

(ii) 

Proposal The allocation of Taxpayers’ money to political parties should be based on Members of parliamentary parties at the end of each calendar year. Currently parties are in receipt of taxpayer money for people who are no longer members of that party.

(iii) 

Implementation Amend the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Act 2014 to read that:

"(2) Where a member of a party elected to Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann ceases to be a member of that party, the percentage amount of the allowance paid in respect of him or her to his or her former party shall be deducted from that party’s parliamentary activities allowance.".

2.

Removing Ministerial Interference from SIPO

(i)

Background

The country's six biggest political parties received almost €13m in taxpayer funding last year.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail promised to publish their annual audited party accounts online in their election manifestos. Neither has delivered on that pledge.

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Despite enacting legislation which would force all political parties to publish their full audited party accounts in 2014, the current Minister for Environment and Local Government has refused to sign the guidelines of implementation set out by SIPO for that publication. The net result is that it appears political parties are under no legal obligation to publish those accounts.

(ii)

Proposal

All audited party accounts should be published annually and from the year 2010 to-date.

The SIPO guidelines should be accepted in full by the Minister for Environment and Local Government. The Public Accounts committee should be charged with probing the secretary generals of each major party regarding their expenditure of taxpayers’ money in the years 2010 to-date.

(iii) 

Implementation Amend section 89 of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 to remove the power of the Minister to interfere with SIPO’s independence in publishing mandatory guidelines regarding the publication of audited financial accounts.

Amend section 86 (2) of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 to make a requirement that historical accounts from 2010 onwards are required to be published.

D.

Improving Democratic Participation

1.

Safeguarding Against Electoral Fraud

(i)

Background

Professors Sinnott and Coakley cited in a submission to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2008 in favour of creating an independent Electoral Commission. In their submission, they noted that the experience of Northern Ireland is that enforcing strict identity standards for the individual seeking to be put on the electoral register, greatly reduces the risk of electoral fraud.

(ii) 

Proposal Under the auspices of a newly established independent Electoral Commission, people who reach the voting age should be automatically added to the electoral register using the PPS system.

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(iii) 

Implementation Firstly, legislation needs to be introduced establishing an independent Electoral Commission which includes an explicit statement of its independence.

In tandem with the establishment of an Electoral Commission, the necessary legislation should be drafted to overcome privacy concerns from the Department of Social Protection. This legislation should empower the Electoral Commission to be allowed use PPS numbers in the context of an electoral register.

2.

Same Day Elections for Dáil and Seanad

(i)

Background

The 2011 Dáil election took place on Friday 25th of February 2011, while the Seanad elections commenced just over a month later on Thursday 7th of April 2011.

(ii) 

Proposal Dáil and Seanad elections should be held at the same time to bring more legitimacy and relevance to the Seanad. These elections should be conducted on the principle of one person, one vote.

A decision on how the election of Seanad members should be conducted needs to be arrived at. This should be done in conjunction with recommendations from a new Electoral Commission and from the Task Force on Seanad reform.

(iii) 

Implementation While reform of the Seanad may require another referendum or considerable degree of legislation, holding the Dáil and Seanad elections on the same day is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

The outgoing Minister could simply issue an order that the Seanad election take place at the same time as the election to the Dáil. There is no constitutional prohibition on allowing every citizen having a vote in Seanad Eireann elections.

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3.

Fair Campaigning for Elections

(i)

Background

With over 2,000 candidates running in the recent local and European elections, the total number of posters erected across the country is likely to have been at least half a million.

There are currently only two regulations governing the erection of posters:

i.

Section 95 (14) of the Road Traffic Act 1961 states that the erection of posters on directional signs and traffic light poles is an offence.

ii.

Section 19 (7) of the Litter Pollution Act 1997 was amended by the Electoral (Amendment) (No.2) Act 2009, to introduce a 30 day time limit prior to an election taking place, during which election posters can be displayed.

Unlike Ireland, local governments in Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands provide space for posters. Candidates are allowed to put one election poster on each billboard next to the posters of the other parties.

(ii) 

Proposal A newly established electoral commission should be charged with the distribution of official material which details all the candidates running in each constituency along with an approved profile of each.

Local Authorities should be empowered to assign specific designated areas for posters during election or referendum campaigns. Erecting posters outside the designated areas would be an offence. This material should be posted to each voter with their polling card well in advance of Election Day. This would eliminate the cost and duplication associated with the current Litir um Toghchain which is sent to each home by every candidate.

(iii) 

Implementation Amend section 19 (7) (ii) of the Litter Pollution Act 1997 to reflect local authority designated poster rules.

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Reform Alliance Political Reform