Democracy is a beautiful thing.
So why do we only get to do it every five years?
Peter O’Neill writes:
Today is the day many of us have been waiting five years for. Today is the day that we, as citizen of Ireland, get the chance to exercise our democratic right to vote candidates into the up-coming 32nd Dáil.
Yet, it would seem those that are hoping, nay praying, for your vote wish to extend the ‘democratic process’ only so far. The joke about ‘only seeing a politician every five years only when they are looking for your vote’ doesn’t seem so funny but becomes more of a truism, a fact of life.
Politicos want your vote; after that, they want you to go away and leave them alone for the next five years – hopefully they can do well; maybe go on to form a Government, get a Ministerial position and then, who knows? But addressing the will of the people and what they want – no.
Let me give you an example: While watching Vincent Browne’s The Peoples’ Debate last Monday night every candidates running for the General Election and looking for YOUR vote was asked a very simple Yes/No question by the presenter, Mr Browne.
The question was: Are you in favour of a referendum whereby people can choose to repeal the Eighth Amendment?
Not: Are you in favour of repealing the Eighth? But: Are you in favour of a referendum to repeal the Eighth?
Out of 13 candidates nearly half of them, six, said: No – they were not in favour of allowing a referendum – with many of those negative responses coming from the usual ‘Establishment parties’. And herein lies the problem.
Due to the political system we operate in this country, the people who we elect to represent us will decide for us what is good for us – a moral yard stick decider for us, if you will. Or, more importantly, they will decide what ‘We’ the people are allowed to decide on! In other words: they will only allow referenda to go to the people on matters which suit them.
This could be seen ‘in all its glory’ on Monday night when a number of candidates claimed that repealing the Eighth amendment wasn’t an election issue, for them.
While the issue was only raised once during the three Leaders’ Debates, the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found that nearly two thirds of respondents, or 64%, were in favour of repealing the Eighth.
Maybe another example: the Marriage Equality referendum last year – the proposal for which came through the Constitutional Convention.
This grouping consisted of 100 representatives, made up of politicians and ordinary citizens, who debated on proposals submitted by the general public and then voted on their preference for such proposals and these were then passed onto Government who then decided what proposals they would ‘allow’ to be put to the people by referendum in order to alter our Constitution and change society – hopefully for the betterment for all.
And while the Marriage Equality Referendum was a very worthy exercise to those who supported it, we also had a referendum running congruently on the proposal to lower the restriction on the age of the Presidency from 35 to 21 years of age and this is the crux of the issue.
The Constitutional Convention voted by 50% to lower the presidential age, however, they also voted by a whopping 83% to reintroduce the concept of Direct Democracy (Articles 47 & 48) back into the constitution.
Yet, the Government decided lowering the Presidential age was the most relevant proposal to put to the people!
While the Children’s Referendum of 2012 was another worthy and worthwhile exercise for both the protection of children and democracy, however, the Abolition of the Séanad Referendum of 2013 was seen as nothing but a power grab by the Government.
So instead Án Táoiseach, Enda Kenny, promised reform of the Séanad, yet there was little or nothing to show for it at the end of his term as Táoiseach, while the proposal for Direct Democracy never saw the light of day.
Yet, the concept of Direct Democracy is not something new. It was in our very first Free State constitution. However, as Article 50 of that constitution allowed an eight year period for amendments to be made, under the Cumann na nGaedheal Government led by WT Cosgrave, articles 47 and 48 were removed from the constitution forever and, after eight years, so was Article 50.
Reportedly, 100,000 signatures were collected at the time to retain both articles 47 and 48, yet the will of the people was ignored and this is where the solution lies with useless referenda.
For over a year the grassroots organisation the One Year Initiative has been canvassing candidates running in the General Election in an attempt to get the candidates to sign up to the principles of Direct Democracy.
Its aims are simple: it wishes to empower citizens through concepts such as citizen initiated referendums, allowing people a veto to stop government implementing unwanted legislation and actually allowing the people to create their own legislation (Article 47); as well as create a safety net for citizens so that politicians can be held accountable (Article 48).
There are 133 candidates running who have signed up to the One Year Initiative, yet, unsurprisingly, there are no signatories from the ‘Establishment parties’,
But, imagine that, eh – a politician being held accountable and having to stand by their convictions in Ireland? Now, that would be a ‘change’.