Irish Constitutional Convention: Keep STV

Well, we had a nice discussion of the possibilities, but it is now moot. Ireland’s Constitutional Convention has rejected overwhelmingly the idea of considering a change from STV.

It did vote, also by a wide margin, in favor of making five the minimum district magnitude under STV.

25 thoughts on “Irish Constitutional Convention: Keep STV

  1. That’s good, STV is a great electoral system, and it works well in Ireland and even better that the district magnitude at the minimum is 5. What will the maximum be?

    The strangest quote concerns “Fifty-nine per cent said members of the Dail should be required to resign their seats following appointment to ministerial office.”

    Is Ireland abandoning the Westminster model of requiring cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister being required to be members of the Dail? It looks like Ireland is moving toward continental European norms. If Dail members have to resign to become ministers, would there have to be by-elections to fill their seats or would alternates take the seats filled by continuing the STV formula? If Cabinet Ministers resign or are dismissed by the Prime Minister, then could they take their seats back in the Dail?


  2. I am by no means sure how it would work in a multimember electorate system but the resignation on appointment rule was standard in Westminster systems until the last century. The idea, in a context of single-member districts, was to face a by-election where you went back to your electors to seek their permission for you to accept ministerial office.

    The rule was certainly in force in England in the nineteenth century. It was not removed from the NSW constitution until the 1880s.


  3. There have been periodic attempts to get rid of STV in the past in Ireland, usually pushed by Fianna Fail in favor of SMP (usually known as FPTP). Fianna Fail was always the dominant party, dominant enough to be really able to clean up under SMP but not dominant enough to ram the change through over the objections of the other parties and the Irish public. I have no idea who was behind the latest attempt to get rid of STV.


  4. Grant it, New York City used STV in local elections for awhile and then went back to SMP, but decisions about local government in New York City have never exactly been made democratically.


  5. @ 4, I believe that at least one city in the U.S. that used STV, possibly NYC, abandoned it after someone pointed out that a Communist might win a seat. Once that ball got rolling, no one really cared that the city went back to one party rule.

    As to Ireland’s STV, I am glad that they are keeping it and even more happy that they might get rid of the three seat districts. I could never understand the value of three seat districts. If Ireland had many towns or rural areas that would only have their own districts with three seats, that would be one thing. But somehow I don’t think that is what determined where the three seat districts would be gerrymandered…er, drawn.

    As to asking ministers to resign from the Dail, I imagine this would be done as in the Netherlands and suggested for Israel. The idea would not be to limit cabinet responsibility but to allow the Dail to do more work. The theory is that in a relatively small chamber, having too many ministers amongst the membership limits the ability of both to do their jobs properly. Ministers would be accountable to the Dail, but they would be free to concentrate on executive matters while their constituents are still represented by full time legislators.

    I can’t see them forcing by-elections on these ministers or for their successors. Doing so would drastically limit who can be appointed as minister. If some weird math came into play and a governing coalition formed from parties that finished second or lower in every district, they may end up loosing their majority when every ministerial appointment meant loosing a seat to the Opposition.

    (FWIW, if a parliamentary chamber is too small to handle both legislative and executive functions, would not the better solution be to increase the size of the chamber? I don’t understand why people in Ireland and many other countries seem to believe that a smaller parliament leads to better government.)


  6. @2, the requirement to resign and run in a by-election was still in place in Canada at the federal level in the 1920s. The practice was abandoned only after 1926 when newly appointed Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighen appointed a cabinet made up mostly of ministers without portfolio, who because of their lack of portfolio were not required to resign. Meighen was concerned that he would lose any confidence motion in the House while most of his cabinet was running to retain their seats. As it was, the Liberals criticized the appointment of “acting ministers”, which helped them gain support of other opposition members and the Meighen government fell anyway. These events were part of the constitutional crisis referred to as the King-Byng Affair.

    For Ireland, doesn’t this point to the question of what would happen in a minority parliament where the party numbers change because of the by-elections, and the effect that could have on a recently finalized coalition agreement?


  7. Mark: I don’t see how asking ministers to resign from the Dail, “would be done as in the Netherlands and suggested for Israel.” Both countries use a list system (and don’t even have constituencies), which means that ministers are succeeded by the next person on the list. The current way of filling a vacancy in Ireland IS by-election, so unless that is changed, or a special replacement procedure is provided for in the case of ministers, that WILL be the method for replacing ministers.

    The two alternatives I know of would be for the ministers to appoint their own replacements in parliament as in Sweden, or for voters to simultaneously elect a list of substitutes as they elect their regular representatives during the general election, as in Belgium. The former option seems more practical to me as the latter would add considerable unwanted complexity.

    As to district size: I am not particularly opposed to banning them, but Idon’t see any particular problem with 3- and 4-seaters. I think Ireland enjoys a sufficient amount of proportionality at the moment. As a sidenote, I will add that if BC-STV had used the Irish (3-5) district magnitudes, it might have had a better chance of passing.


  8. JD, You are correct in what you say about current laws about Irish by-elections. However, if ministers were to resign their seats with no changes to the system of by-elections, that could and probably often would change the composition of the Dail. My suggestion was that resignations followed by by-elections may not be what is being suggested. If ministers resign and by-elections are held without variation, ministers would either have to be chosen from safe seats or a coalition would need a large majority to put forward a government. Otherwise ministerial by-elections could often result in a change in government.


  9. How do the French handle this? I thought that the constitution of the Fifth Republic banned ministers from serving in Parliament (or just the National Assmbly?) at the same time, but they ran into the problem of still having enough of a parliamentary system in that all the leading politicians had seats in parliament. I remember that they came up with an OK workaround for this problem, but I forgot the details.


  10. If I’m not much mistaken, Ed, French ministers appoint a substitute deputy when they serve in the cabinet, but if they are sacked and/or wish to return to serve in the National Assembly they must win a by-election in order to do so.


  11. While they use STV in Ireland for European Parliament elections, the candidates run with a list of “replacement candidates”, so they don’t have by-elections. The Dáil chooses a replacement where willing or qualified substitutes are unavailable.

    So there is a precedent in the Irish use of STV for this sort of arrangement. Whether its a good idea is something else again-it would have made more sense to combine this with true party lists on the Dutch model.


  12. @JD, there is actually a provision where Deputies or Senators who resign to become Ministers (replaced by their substitute, or “suppléant”) may return directly to Parliament after one month, if they leave government before the end of the parliamentary term (a legacy of Sarkozy’s 2008 constitutional reforms).

    It is only in the case where they decline the opportunity that a by-election is held. Previously this sort of recycling could only be done if the suppléant resigned and the ex-Minister won the subsequent by-election.

    Thus the disgraced former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac could theoretically have returned to the National Assembly after his resignation from government over his involvement in a tax evasion scheme, but chose not to exercise this option.


  13. I wonder to what extent the European constitutions that mandate resignation originally adopted the practice from Westminster and then did not abandon it when Westminster did.


  14. Re district magnitude: It would be interesting if Ireland moves “up” to 5-seaters (I assume the minimum will also be the de facto maximum, even if the Irish Constitution does not insist on a uniform DM, as do Malta’s and [for Original States’ Senate delegations] Australia’s Constitutions) 15 years after Tasmania moves “down” to five-seaters after being at sixes and then sevens for over a century.

    (In 1998, Australia had nine seven-seat districts – all five in Tasmania’s Assembly, three of six in WA’s upper house, and one of three for the ACT Assembly. Now the last of these, Molonglo, is the only one that remains. As far as I know it’s the last seven-seater in the world. I once lived only 10-15 km too far north to be enrolled in it, once…)

    I assume Ireland might, if the Constitution were amended to raise the minimum to five, have one or two sevens in downtown Dublin but the main alternative would be six-seaters, especially given that the Irish like to follow county lines in drawing constituencies. Unfortunately, mixing odd and even DMs can distort the proportionality of the results – even if there’s no deliberate “Tullymandering” as in 1974.

    Completely barring even DMs (as in the ACT) might be off the table politically in Ireland, but I’ve advocated before the idea of tweaking the quotas so that rather than having the threshold for five, six and seven seats respectively being 4.5, 5.5 and 6.5 times the quota, you tweak it to (say) 4.5, 5.9 and 6.1 times the quota. Thus, a district with (say) 5.7 quotas would stay at 5 seats under this system (rather than jumping to six). On the other hand, it would jump straight to seven seats at 6.3 quotas. To have six seats it would have to have fairly close to exactly 6 quotas. 80% of the slots on the roulette wheel (so to speak) would favour odd-numbered DMs.


  15. Obviously even DMs are a problem if there are only two parties/blocs, or if DM is very small. But do we know if they significantly impact proportionality in other cases? It’s not clear to me that six-seaters with Ireland’s 3.5 effective parties would unduly advantage or disadvantage anybody.


    • I see the problem with even-numbered district magnitudes (M) when M=2 or M=4, but it is not obvious to me that it remains an issue when M=6 (other than, as Vasi suggests, if you have only two blocs).

      For what it might be worth, Taagepera, Predicting Party Sizes (Oxford, 2007), on p. 33, has an example for M=6 under various allocation rules on a party-size breakdown that is not too far at variance from what Ireland had in 2007 (48, 25, 13, 9, 4, 1). Droop and D’Hondt both give 3-2-1. I suppose these are most similar to what we would expect with STV, with caveats about transfer patterns. Hare and Ste.-Lague give 3-1-1-1. While the latter result is a bit odd, I don’t find any of these to be damning the even-numbered M, given M>4.


  16. Whether even DMs are good or bad depends a lot on their context and three factors in particular:

    1. MAGNITUDE. Chilean 2-seaters are a different beast from the 400-seat nationwide South African (“effective” [*]) district. An even DM under 18 means a quota above 5.29% and therefore cannot rule out a deadlock in seats if the Right out-polls the Left (or vice versa) by up to 5% in popular votes. I consider it as sub-optimal to deny a party or coalition a majority of seats with (say) 55% of votes as to give a party or coalition a majority of seats with only 45% of votes.

    Of course, once one has multi-seat districts of a Finnish or Italian size (15-25 seats or so each), even numbers of seats per district cease to be the main reason why neither Left nor Right wins a clear majority of seats…

    2. NUMBER OF EVEN-SEATERS. Having just a few sixes and eights might be tolerable because they won’t ensure deadlocks in too many places. In Australia, they would be unavoidable if PR is ever introduced (whether STV or MMP) since the requirement that each State have a whole number of MHRs closely proportionate to its population is “super-entrenched”, ie, it would need a referendum carried in every State to introduce a change like my proposal above @15. Otherwise it would be tempting to allocate districts rather than seats among States according to population and then stipulate that every district elects 5 MHRs, so that NSW would have ten 5-seaters instead of 51 single-seaters: once it ticked over to 52.5001 times the quota in population, it would go up to eleven 5-seaters, and so forth.

    Second best to having even DMs in just a couple of districts would be to have them in every district, to cancel out deliberate or inadvertent Tullymandering. This leads to the third variable affecting their desirability or lack thereof…

    3. CONSTITUTIONAL ROLE OF THAT CHAMBER. If the chamber is an upper house of review that doesn’t need to produce a consistent, cohesive majority (eg, Australian Senate, also proposed for a “Triple E” Canadian Senate), it may be no bad thing to require over 50.001% – or even over 52.5001% – to win a majority.

    Or if the chamber operates in a presidential system where the executive is chosen by direct vote, or at least outside the legislature (eg, Chilean Chamber of Deputies. I would actually propose something like this for the Australian Capital Territory, which is really more a big local council – three 6-seaters with STV, and a Chief Minister and Deputy chosen by ACT-wide AV, with only one vote between them. It might even work for Tasmania too).

    Or if the chamber chooses the executive through a proportional, power-sharing grand coalition (eg, Northern Ireland).

    But if the chamber is expected to elect and/or support a majority Cabinet, then I’d argue strongly against having any even DMs at all, whether patchwork (Ireland in 1974) or uniform (Tasmania before 1956), because it will mean deadlock at either the district level or in the chamber as a whole, and will discredit the PR system by amplifying the perceived tendency to “prevent stable majority government”.

    Needless to say all of the above applies only to multi-seaters with PR. With MNTV, odd versus even ceases to matter. With limited vote (other than SNTV), it would depend on whether magnitude plus number of votes allowed is an odd or an even total (these being equivalent to even and odd DMs respectively with list-PR, STV and SNTV).

    [*] ie, for allocation of seats among parties even if individual candidate are chosen in separate sub-districts.


  17. On the other question of whether Ministers (or Cabinet-level Secretaries) should be required, or even allowed, to be (or remain) members of the Parliament (or Congress)… there’s quite an array of buttons one can tweak on the constitutional dashboard. “Must be and remain” (Australia by law, UK by convention) and “cannot be or remain” (USA by law) are only two of the settings.

    Eg, other polities require only a certain number of (the most senior) Ministers to be MPs. Eg, in Japan, the PrM and a majority of the Cabinet. (In Ireland, the PrM, treasurer, and all but – at most – two Ministers must be TDs. Up to two Ministers may be Senators, but since 11 of the 60 Senators are appointed to the upper house by the PrM, so that’s not a big hurdle compared to “the PrM may appoint up to two non-MPs as Ministers”). I’ve sometimes thought that adopting a similar rule in NZ – that the PrM and Treasurer, and at least N other Ministers, must be district-seat MPs; the remainder may be list-MPs – might help allay some of the “zombie MP” criticisms of MMP.

    Incidentally, pre-MMP NZ was, I think, one of the very few democracies in the world where one could not become a Minister without facing the voters in a district somewhere. In Canada, Ireland and the UK, Ministers could be appointed to the Upper House by the PrM; in Australia, they can be appointed by a party to fill a Senate vacancy (eg, Santo Santoro served, and Bob Carr has so far served, in the Australian federal Cabinet without ever facing a federal election); in most European countries, Ministers are not required to be (or are required not to be) MPs.

    A rule requiring Ministers to be and remain MPs has two different and cross-cutting rationales: (#1) to make them more easily removed from public life by the voters, and (#2) to make them less easily removed from public life by the Head of Government.

    Rationale #1 only applies if all MPs are elected. One could argue that US voters have a better chance of preventing the appointment of, say, John Sununu or Dr Henry Foster to the US President’s Cabinet (by lobbying Senators to reject the nomination) than UK voters have of preventing the appointment of Lord Carrington or Baroness Warsi to the British Prime Minister’s Cabinet.

    Rationale #2 applies only if Ministers keep their seats in the legislature even if they are sacked from Cabinet (eg, Irish Senators). It wouldn’t apply if they have honorary/ ex officio membership of the legislature only if and as long as they held Cabinet office – as, for example, under the Confederate Constitution.

    I’m on balance (not dogmatically) in favour of a system where the highest policy-making executive officials have to at least go through the motions of facing voters (attenuated though this process may be in the case of Australian Senators) and where – if sacked from Cabinet by the Head of Government – they don’t simply vanish back into private life (like, say, Henry Wallace [*], David Stockman, or Donald Rumsfeld) but instead sit on the backbenches and make trouble for the PrM, Michael Heseltine-style. This point was made by Godfrey Hodgson in “All Things to All Men” (1980) and George Winterton in “Monarchy to Republic” (1986). Both emphasized that it means there are people around the Head of Government with an independent political power base, who can tell them things they might not like to hear, and who can remove a PrM who is seen to have “lost it”. Having a seat in the legislature (especially an elected seat) until the next general election gives them a measure of independence from the chief executive. By contrast, it is not possible for a US President to be “rolled in Cabinet” the way Prime Ministers occasionally are.

    On the other hand, it may be undesirable that because the PrM once wanted – say – Sayeeda Warsi to serve in Cabinet for the next few years, she now has a seat in the British Parliament for life, even though her subsequent comments (as shown by her comments on “Islamophobia” and the AV referendum) have revealed she’s not really up to the job, and she’s been unable to win elections by popular vote. Maybe the best compromise is for appointments to last only until the end of the current legislative term, so that mistakes can be rectified (an important goal for any constitutional system).


  18. [*] Demoted by FDR and then fired for real by Truman. Depends whether one counts the Veep as equivalent to a “Cabinet Minister” or not – mileage varies on this.


  19. Incidentally, one advantage of moving to a larger district magnitude with STV (assuming the parliament and Cabinet remain the same size) is it increases the likelihood that every voter will have a Minister as a representative for their electoral district.
    I’ve heard it mentioned by people active in the Proportional Representation Society of Australia, which is heavily pro-STV, that pretty much every voter in Tasmania or the ACT can go to a Minister’s electorate office and say, in effect, “I’m a voter on the electoral roll for your constituency. Thanks to the secret ballot, you don’t know who I voted for at the last election. Now, I have a problem I would like help with…” Even if your problem is with the Education Department while the Minister representing your district has a different portfolio, it still gives you some leverage with a Cabinet colleague of the Education Minister.
    By contrast, in Queensland, single-member districts mean Brisbane has few Ministers when the Libs/ Nats are in power, while Western Qld feels itself unrepresented in Cabinet when Labor is in power. (Landslides like 1974, 2004 and 2012 may give the parties seats in their opponents’ traditional territory, but these are usually inexperienced new MPs who probably won’t be there after the next election). MMP gives very indirect local representation for minority parties via list MPs who cannot be removed from Parliament by the voters in that particular district.
    Tasmania has only 5 districts and the ACT has only 3, yet both have proportionately large Cabinets compared to the number of STV seats (9 of 25 MLAs and 5 out of 17 MLAs respectively, ie 36% in Tasmania and 29% in the ACT. The ACT is unicameral; in Tasmania, Legislative Councillors rarely serve as Ministers, so in both cases the entire pool is STV seats).
    However, the proportion of Ministers to MPs is usually a sliding scale. A Parliament with 250 members is probably going to have fewer than 90 Ministers (eg, Iraq with 245 MPs has 35 Ministers). Ireland has 166 TDs and a Cabinet constitutionally capped at 15 members. The number of Dail districts hovers around the low forties or (more recently) high thirties, so on average only about half the constituencies will be represented by a Minister at any one time.


  20. Err, my bad. Iraq elected 245 deputies at the first post-Saddam election but now has 325. Does anyone know a polity with 170 or 250 seats for a cleaner comparison with ACT and Tasmania?


  21. A quick search of Wikipedia gives, err, Burma (!), Syria (!!), Saddam-era Iraq (!!!) and Milosevic-era Serbia (!!!!) as having 250-seat Parliaments.

    170-seat Parliaments fare slightly better, but the Wikipedia examples are all a century or more older – Austrian Constitutional Assembly, 1919; Greece, 1865; and Bulgaria, 1879.

    So I’m going to have to go with Canada 1933-1947 (245 seats, probably around two dozen Ministers [**]) and Denmark (179 seats, 25 Ministers, about half the ACT ratio) for a reasonably clean comparison with Tasmania and the ACT.

    Back in the 1970s, Japan, West Germany and France all had lower houses in the 490s. There must be certain “magic numbers” (independently of the cube root rule, since these three nations all vary widely in population)…

    [**] I can’t find figures but the group photo of William Lyon Mackenzie King’s 1945 Cabinet has about two dozen people. Mulroney’s 40 was considered a record, in a larger House. My point stands.

    Also, just as there can be a distinction between “number of seats in the lower house” and “total number of seats in the entire legislature”, there can also be a distinction between “Cabinet members” and “Ministers/ Secretaries who head a Department”. In Australia, with some exceptions (eg, early Whitlam), most governments distinguish between an inner Cabinet of the 18 or 19 most senior Ministers and an outer Ministry of another 10 or so junior Ministers. Sometimes the terminology varies, eg, I believe in the UK a “Secretary of State” for a “Department” sat in Cabinet while a “Minister” for a “Ministry” was in the outer circle.


  22. To clarify – It’s better, with a PR system, that odd rather than even numbers be the “norm” (ie, the magnitude for the majority of districts).

    But whatever the norm is, the “non-norm” should be as few districts as possible – ideally zero districts , but if that’s not attainable, then only one districts per region.

    Kind of ironic to say “proportionality is best served when the majority is all or nearly all the total, and the minority is held as close to zero as you can make it,” but there you have it. It avoids either an equity issue (partial deadlocks) or a governability issue (universal deadlocks).


  23. I always thought of an idea as to contrast the problem with “even-numbered magnitude seats”.

    If you have say 10 seats up for grabs, it’s not recommended to have a 10-seat district. Maybe a two-tiered system, where you have a district of 9 seats and an at-large seat up for grabs for the winner. Or a 7-seater and 3 seats allocated at-large.

    Even-numbered magnitude districts in proportional voting systems are a big problem in my opinion. How can a list that got 60% get the same number of seats as a list that got 30%?


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