To Ourselves, Article Sixteen

1.    1° Every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of twenty-one years, and who is not placed under disability or incapacity by this Constitution or by law, shall be eligible for membership of Dáil Éireann.

Rather then 18, the voting age, TDs must be 21. No reason especially for it, other than insuring that those running for high office have had the chance to seek a third level education. But even that seems like a weak reason. It’s just the standard threshold age. Non-issue, not many school leavers running for the Dail.

2°       i All citizens, and

         ii such other persons in the State as may be determined by law,

without distinction of sex who have reached the age of eighteen years who are not disqualified by law and comply with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann.

The voting age is set at 18, having been lowered by referendum a while back. 18’s a good age I think, though I’m receptive to those who would argue for it to be lowered further to 16. But, the fact is, it’s hard to get young people to vote and it won’t be any easier for the 16-18 demographic. The argument can also be made that only adults, as defined by the state, should have the right to elect leaders. 16 year olds don’t have many other legal rights. Voting is quite a big one, maybe the most important one. Not something that will change soon I think.

The ‘any other such persons’ line is interesting. Not sure what they refers too, since it seems unthinkable to give asylum seekers a vote when they aren’t citizens.

3° No law shall be enacted placing any citizen under disability or incapacity for membership of Dáil Éireann on the ground of sex or disqualifying any citizen or other person from voting at an election for members of Dáil Éireann on that ground.

The standard clause for gender equality. We elected the first female representative after all.

4° No voter may exercise more than one vote at an election for Dáil Éireann, and the voting shall be by secret ballot.

2.    1° Dáil Éireann shall be composed of members who represent constituencies determined by law.

2° The number of members shall from time to time be fixed by law, but the total number of members of Dáil Éireann shall not be fixed at less than one member for each thirty thousand of the population, or at more than one member for each twenty thousand of the population.

3° The ratio between the number of members to be elected at any time for each constituency and the population of each constituency, as ascertained at the last preceding census, shall, so far as it is practicable, be the same throughout the country.

4° The Oireachtas shall revise the constituencies at least once in every twelve years, with due regard to changes in distribution of the population, but any alterations in the constituencies shall not take effect during the life of Dáil Éireann sitting when such revision is made.

Here, we outline the basic voting procedure. Secret, one each. I know from personal experience though, that the system is a little broken. An acquaintance of mine (we’ll call her, ‘mom’) is registered to vote in both Clare and Limerick East due to a slight difference in the spelling of her name. So she could, legally, vote in Limerick, travel to Clare and vote again. But, I’m sure that’s just a blip in the system.

The working and revising of constituencies is outlined. This is, of course, crucial and occasionally controversial. We all remember the gerrymandering days in the north and the botched ‘Tullymander’ of the seventies that backfired so dramatically. The process has to be the same throughout the country, with the same number of TDs per so many thousands.

It has come up a bit recently, if the number of TDs is more than required. I disagree with that assessment personally. As stated above, TDs already have a huge amount of constituents to handle and making that number bigger (by reducing TD numbers) will not make government work any better.

12 years might be a bit much per review though. Considering how crucial even the slightest change can be in determining the make-up of the Dail. Demographics change fast in the modern world. I should know: in the next election my constituency and its neighbours are getting re-drawn in a huge way. Every eight years maybe? Ten max?

5° The members shall be elected on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.

If there is one thing I will defend to the death, and their isn’t many, it the PR STV system. I love it. No other electoral process gives you such an accurate picture of political opinions at the time of an election. The calls for it to be modified or abandoned get no respect from me. Just because very few other nations use it doesn’t mean we should abandon it.

First past the post is garbage, and doesn’t suit our multi-party system. The ‘list’ option, whereby we would choose some of our representatives on a national scale is the only thing I would be even slightly receptive too, but even that would threaten the inescapable law of politics: it is all local. A nationally elected TD will not represent my interests, especially compared to a Limerick one.

PR STV is fine. We get who we elect. I feel that much of the current rising dislike of the system stems more from dissatisfaction with who we elected. It’s the standard “It can’t be our fault!” excuse.

6° No law shall be enacted whereby the number of members to be returned for any constituency shall be less than three.

This ensures that even the smaller counties get a fair share of TDs, preventing them from getting drowned out in the Dail.

3.    1° Dáil Éireann shall be summoned and dissolved as provided by section 2 of Article 13 of this Constitution.

2° A general election for members of Dáil Éireann shall take place not later than thirty days after a dissolution of Dáil Éireann.

The President dissolves the Dail, and the election process lasts a month. This insures the fastest continuity between Dails, while allowing a suitably long period for an actual campaign.

4.    1° Polling at every general election for Dáil Éireann shall as far as practicable take place on the same day throughout the country.

2° Dáil Éireann shall meet within thirty days from that polling day.

The first part refers to those areas of the country, the islands really, that need to vote a bit earlier then the rest to insure that their votes are counted at the same time.  The Dail having to meet within a month of polling day insures that a government is set up within a short period of time. The negotiations can’t last forever. This makes sure that at least a minority government can begin governing and we don’t get caught in a governless cycle.

5.    The same Dáil Éireann shall not continue for a longer period than seven years from the date of its first meeting: a shorter period may be fixed by law.

The shorter period being five years. Even the Presidency is too long at 7 years. The Dail having that long a term would be crazy. Five is ok, but I would be in favour of lowering that to four. Five is a very long period of time (remember what it was like in this country five years ago?) and things change rapidly.

But changing it will not be up to us. For reasons best known to those in charge in ’37, they decided it was a legislative issue only. Hmm.

6.    Provision shall be made by law to enable the member of Dáil Éireann who is the Chairman immediately before a dissolution of Dáil Éireann to be deemed without any actual election to be elected a member of Dáil Éireann at the ensuing general election.

This is the big perk of the Ceann Comhairle position. The TD doesn’t have to be re-elected. Problem much? Not very democratic, though it is why the position is usually filled by someone with no controversy or risk attached to them (John O’ Donoghue is the big exception). I would definitely be in favour of a change here.

7.    Subject to the foregoing provisions of this Article, elections for membership of Dáil Éireann, including the filling of casual vacancies, shall be regulated in accordance with law.

This here is another one that’s been in the news recently. There is no constitutional obligation to hold by-elections within a set period of time. This is a bad thing. This means governments, as we have seen with the current Dail, can indefinitely put off by-elections they know they will lose, to retain their majority in the chamber. Bad, bad, bad. Undemocratic and immoral. Right now, as you read this, Donegal, Waterford and Dublin are underrepresented in the Dail. Not acceptable to me.

I’m sure this was a deliberate omission in ’37 and it rankles. Something to change, big time. Something along the lines of 30-60 days after the vacation of the position (It’s usually due to death, so some time to grieve and respect the family (who often run a candidate themselves) should be given.

Next up, financial issues.

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