The first question here is the ratio of TD per citizen: according to 16.2.2 TDs must represent between 20,000-30,000 citizens. One of the major complaints against the current system is that this number is too low. TDs spend the majority of their time on constituency work and personal meetings with constituents rather than engaging in legislative work and running the country, because the small number of voters mean that local efforts are far more crucial for re-election than national efforts. Would this situation be changed if there were fewer TDs per citizen?
The number of TDs is currently governed by Article 16.2 of the Constitution:
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.
5° The members shall be elected on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
6° No law shall be enacted whereby the number of members to be returned for any constituency shall be less than three.
Arguments for change
- The current number of TDs provides little value for public money. The Dail would be equally as efficient, if not more so, with reduced members.
Fine Gael has proposed reducing the number of TDs by 20 – this would require no Constitutional amendment as the ratio allows ample scope for reducing the number of TDs. www.finegael.org/upload/NewPolitics.pdf
Dr. David Farrell recommends reducing the number of TDs to 120, arguing that this would also not require any constitutional amendments. According to Farrell, Ireland has one of the largest parliaments in proportion to population size, ranking 26th out of 78 for democracies for which comparable figures are available. Clearly, we could then manage with fewer TDs, as many other countries do. Farrell also makes the argument that fewer TDs covering larger areas would reduce the burden of constituency work and enable TDs to concentrate on national issues. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0325/1224267012683.html
Fintan O’Toole argues that increased powers to local government and a reformed Seanad would mean that the Dail could easily be made smaller and more efficient and proposes a figure of 100 TDs. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2010/1030/1224282293839.html
- Fewer TDs for larger areas would be more focused on national issues rather than parish-pump politics.
Dr. David Farrell makes the argument in the same article linked above. The same complaint has been voiced numerous times by others in the media, who lament that politicians concentrate primarily on local constituency issues and have no time for national issues, which is a key reason why Ireland has drifted into its current state of crisis.
Arguments against change
- Effective representation requires constituencies to be small enough for citizens to maintain adequate contact with their representatives. States with low population densities tend to have the smallest number of constituents per citizen. Ireland and Finland, the two EU countries with the lowest population density, also have the lowest ratios of TD/citizen. In practice, this means that people living in rural villages and outlying areas do not feel isolated from national politics. The argument is made by the Constitution Review Group (p. 39-40) http://www.constitution.ie/publications/default.asp?UserLang=EN
- The high level of representation allows greater democratic participation at the centre of government, gives visibility to public representation, and makes for a lively political culture. This argument is again offered by the Constitution Review Group (p. 40).
- A reduction in the number of TDs would make it more difficult for newcomers to break onto the national scene. National politics would then be dominated by the old guard.
- An extension of this is that a reduced number of TDs would increase the possibility of Ireland being dominated by insider cliques. High representation floods the Dail with numbers too great for any particular group to achieve or maintain dominance.
- The issue of TD efficiency has little to do with the number of TDs and far more to do with the weaknesses of local government and central government services, which require TDs to spend most of their time on local constituency work. This argument is made by Dr. David Farrell at the end of a paper for the MacGill summer school which can be found here: http://politicalreform.ie/macgill-papers/, although it should be noted that Farrell also recommends a reduction in the number of TDs, as mentioned above.
Questions for the National Convention
- Would a reduction in the number of TDs increase the effectiveness of the remaining TDs?
- Would a reduction in the number of TDs make it more difficult for smaller parties, independents, and newcomers to enter Irish politics?
- Would a reduction in the number of TDs create a sense of political isolation among those increasingly distant from their representatives?
- What is the optimal ratio of TDs per citizen?