Thawing snowman of democracy leaves us with a political puddle

Dail Chamber...referedum discussions.
Dail Chamber...referedum discussions.

World of Politics with Harry McGee –

Irish democracy can sometimes remind you of that cartoon where someone asks a guy who has clearly been beaten to a pulp about what happened. His response is: “You should see the other guy”.  We have a lousy system with a multitude of faults – but it is a less lousy system with less faults than any other parliamentary system I know.

Sure, it is parochial and parish pump; but at the same time it means that TDs stay true and connected to their own locality and can judge the political winds much better that way.

And yes, the multi-seat constituencies are political murder – and yet the deadliest and bitterest opponents are usually the candidates from the same party.

But that said, that spread of candidates that is allowed by this system and the single transferable vote ensures that the Irish parliament is more broadly representative of the support levels of political parties and groupings than any other.

It’s better all the same than the truly awful system they have in Britain. It’s just bizarre. It’s first past the post which leads to the pitch being queered in all kinds of ways. For example a party with 35 per cent of the vote can have a landslide there. Look at Scotland; the Scottish National Party were marginally ahead of all the other parties in the Westminster election in 2014 yet swept the boards.

Look at the Greens; millions of votes and only one MP. Look at UKIP; eight million votes and zero MPs.

That system was designed to give clean results, which it has in the main in recent years, besides 2010 when there was a coalition between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Our system worked really well when there were only two and a half parties. Now, there has been gradual demise of support for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael (it will probably be around 60 per cent at the next election; down from 80 per cent only 20 years ago).

When the snowman thaws, you are left with a puddle – and that is what we have now.

I remember Paschal Donohoe telling me last year that political volatility has become the new normal. The difficulty is it leaves us with very unclear results.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.