Basic Law

In a attempt to appear radical, Fine Gael are pitching a series of constitutional amendments if elected into government.

Some are cosmetic. Reducing the president’s term of office from seven to five years, the right to petition the Oireachtas.

Some are welcome. More powers to (some) Oireachtas committees.

Some are sheer populism. Cut the number of TDs. Abolish the Seanad. The party might consider looking at the UK, where instead of abolishing the Lords, there are plans to make it more democratic.

Some are controversial within Fine Gael. Gender quotas. The oddly hybrid list proposal, limited to 15 TDs. Is it a coincidence that the cabinet contains 15 people?

Some are dangerous. I’ve already said what I think of cutting judges’ pay.

These proposals can be added to existing plans for constitutional amendments on children’s rights and blasphemy.

I’ve long felt Bunreacht na hÉireann could do with some properly considered revisions, in particular to those sections which grant basic rights with one hand, then take them away with the other.

But we won’t get that. Instead, I fear next the election campaign could turn into a bidding war as the parties outbid each other with pointless amendments to buy votes.

By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.


  1. hmmm, a lot of talk from FG about political reform, yet nothing about the political appointments to state agengies and boards, nothing about introducing any regulation to political lobbyists and nothing about removing unvouched expenses for TDs. Also nothing about introducing a transparent system of government in which spending, expenses and activities are freely and transparently in the public domain.
    Do you reckon any of them will actually propose these kinds of reforms?

  2. Petitioning our overlords sounds like a step in the right direction. I think we need something more kick-ass than that though. How about a constitution that grants the power to the electorate to recall from office certain ministers who are underperforming in their portfolios. Make the *%@^#!@s sweat.

    Jason Walsh is asking why Ireland is home to some of the most conservative politics in Europe. Our Constitution is one obvious answer. It makes my stomach turn to read (on wikipedia of all places) that our Constitution falls broadly within the Liberal Democratic tradition. I reckon the ghost of John Stuart Mill would be scratching his head in confusion if he were to attempt to match up all the Irish TDs who profess to belong to a Liberal Democratic tradition and the actual policies they support. John Stuart Mill was after all the man who authored the book, “The Subjugation of Women”. In the Liberal Democratic tradition (Ireland model), the KKK would be enthusiastically applying for membership.

    Frankly, we need a new Constitution, not an amended version of a deeply flawed one. We need a new Constitution that takes into account the precepts of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    As for a new electoral system, absolutely!! If I’m not mistaken, a sizable proportion of our TDs are farmers, or at least, state that their primary occupation is farming. However, percentagewise, farmers now constitute a much smaller percentage of the workforce. A party list electoral system will remedy that, enabling people from, shall we say, unorthodox professions (you know, not farmers or publicans), to be nominated and elected. I personally favour the open party list system adopted by the Swedes.

    As for the Seanad, get rid of the *&#%ing thing. The Vocational Panels are a bleedin’ joke. As you know, the Seanad is a place where those pampered and spoiled outgoing TDs who have been unjustly spurned and discarded by the little people (you know the electorate) can retire and still get paid for it. It’s just a talking shop. It’s like you’ve got David Norris and then there’s the rest of them. Okay, maybe, you have a few of them who are eloquent, like David Norris, who raise issues that are not broached in the lower house. So, David Norris should be in a unicameral chamber initiating legislation and not just talking in Seanad Eireann. Institutionally, Seanad Eireann is not inclusionary, it’s exclusionary. What about the Unemployed Vocational Panel? Where is it? What about the Victims and Survivors of Pedophile and/or Sexual abuse in Irish Institutions panel? Where is it? Instead, we’ve got 5 panels that can all be renamed the “We’ve got all the special esoteric knowledge which you the little people of Ireland don’t have ” panel. You know, the rationale behind these vocational panels is kinda akin to the rationale of those Wall Street Bankers who are unwilling to explain the fine detail of credit default swaps or tell you how much money the Federal Reserve Bank actually has to lend. That knowledge should be off-limits to the public. We don’t want to cause a panic or a run on the banks, now do we. No amount of tweaking with Seanad Eireann is going to make it work, so let’s get rid of it. A democratically elected unicameral chamber is just fine. The Republic of Ireland has a population of just 4.5 million people. We don’t need two chambers.

    Gender Quotas? Absolutely. Except make it stronger. Make it a third of all Dail seats reserved for women. I understand in India, of all places, such a proposal has now been tabled. Go for it.

    And Michael Ring. He’s complaining that “the super-rich with influence” will be elected if there was a party-list system adopted. [shakes head]. Michael Ring encounters one of those super-rich with influence every morning – when he looks at himself in the mirror.

  3. @{Paul
    We have a way to recall politicians who aren’t up to scratch. It’s called an election.
    There aren’t that many farmers in the Dáil these days. Teachers and lawyers (both branches) seem to be the main professions.
    I seem to be in a minority in arguing that the Seanad should be reformed, not abolished. The problem with the Seanad isn’t its existence, but its irrelevance. The way to fix that is to give it a mandate from direct election, and increased powers. There are few enough limits on the power of the cabinet, I’m not enthusiastic about removing one of the few that exists. Mend it, don’t end it, as the man said.

  4. If I’m not mistaken, measured by professional background, the bulk of members of Dail Eireann are 1)publicans, 2)farmers, 3)teachers or 4)lawyers (both branches). What’s inclusionary about that?

    Eddie Wall gave an interesting link last year on a post to the newsgroup,, in which a breakdown of the job backgrounds of TDs is given. If anyone can locate it for me, I’d be grateful.

  5. There’s a good visualisation here:
    [The full URL is

    Top occupation by a long way is Teacher, with Businessman, Farmer, Solicitor and Accountant and Public Servant being the other main categories. Treat those figures with care though. Brian Cowen is a solicitor for example, but inherited his father’s seat and gave up the day job within a year or so of qualifying at the Law Society.

  6. Nearly half are teachers and businessmen. Throw in farmers, public servants, solicitors and accountants and we’re talking about 80% of them.

    We should seek truth from facts. Fact is Dail Eireann is unrepresentative. We should make it representative and then we won’t need a Seanad Eireann.

    One excellent way of making it representative over time, I think, is to ditch PR-STV and adopt instead an open party list electoral system like the Swedes use.

  7. Paul,

    Dáil Éireann is representative. A representative parliament isn’t one that mirrors the makeup of the electorate, it is one chosen by the electorate to represent their views. The Seanad on the other hand is chosen by a restricted electorate, and is not representative.

    I’m not sure getting rid of PR/STV would make the Dáil more representative in the way you want. If anything, it would make it more difficult to get rid of unpopular politicians, since those they parties wanted to protect would be moved to the top of the list, where they were less likely to lose their seat.
    If you want to change the politicians in the Dáil, the tinkering with how we elect them isn’t the way to go. You need to think about how to persuade the voters to elect different people.

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