TDs: Only a fifth of their workload relates to lawmaking duties…

In the wake of last night’s Second Republic debate at Leviathan, here’s another good reason to take a long look at the current democratic arrangements in the Republic are fit for purpose…

…politics at national level is not a priority for the majority of TDs. When they do contribute to national politics, 26pc of their time is spent attending Dail committees. Preparing changes to laws and speaking in the Dail accounted for just over one-fifth of their work at national level, while asking ministers questions about legislation takes up just 13pc of their time.

Okay, real dog bite man stuff, but… here’s the interesting thing.. there appears to be a real appetite for change amongst those homebird politicians…

Over 40pc of those who replied to the questionnaire believe that a new voting system should be introduced to change the way TDs are elected. It is a marked increase in the appetite for change, compared to a similar survey in 1999 when just over a quarter of TDs wanted a new system.

The preferred new means of electing TDs was a ‘mixed system’ whereby voters typically cast one vote to elect an individual TD and a separate vote for the party of choice.

It’s hardly surprising… Ireland has had floods before, and heavy snows and persistently freezing temperatures… I am sure it’s even had bridge collapses too… but there is a quiet panic inside the political classes that this lack of national focus in political life has left the country in a parlous situation that cannot be just be blamed on the parochial stupidity of council councils run by opposition parties…

May Mark will believe me now… Cut to the last ten minutes of our podcast discussion on the deleterious effects of STV PR…

  • Jimmy Sands

    Given the oft repeated statistic that the Dail sits fewer than 100 days a year I’m surprised it’s as high as that. Halve the Dail, scrap the Seanad and make the survivors work full time.

  • Marcionite

    Its a problem that lies at the heart of most parliamentary systems. The local MP is serves the function of social worker, campaigner, party lobby voting fodder.

    Local government powers should be souped up and salaried and given strong powers to deal with local issues. TDs/MP’s should only have the remit of dealing with national issues. Constituency issues should only be in the hands of local councils.

    A code of ethics should prevent Councils from lobbying their TD/MP and also, TD/MP should never have served as a councillor but the role of councillor should be promoted to be on a par with that of TD except one is local, and one is national.

    Also, members of the executive should not be drawn from the legislature. They should be appointed from fields outside politics but subject to approval and constant scrutiny from legislature committees.

  • Greenflag

    marcionite ,

    ‘They should be appointed from fields outside politics but subject to approval and constant scrutiny from legislature committees.’

    You mean like all those ‘experts’ that are non elected and get appointed to former President Clinton’s and Bush’s and Obama’s executive and use their expertise to help destroy their economy and indeed the entire world economy ?

    I’m somewhat relieved to find that our TD’s spend only 20% of their time on legislating . Imagine the destruction they’d have wrought if they focused 100% of their time on legislation ?

    A wise man was quoted as saying that it’s perhaps not ever a pleasant thing to see how laws and sausages are made .

    ‘Where there is law there is injustice’

    Thrasymachus 3rd century -Greece

    ‘Where there is no law there is even more injustice ‘ Greenflag 21st century 😉

    And when the law is an ass as it often has been then it needs changing .

    In medieval England it was legal to hang 5 year old children for theft . In 18th century Britain it was legal to work 6 year old children in textile factories and in mines . In 19th century USA it was legal to buy and sell slaves on the ‘free market ‘

    In 21 st America it is legal to employ somebody at minimum wage -dismiss them at will and without cause -not pay them overtime and not allow them to have paid vacation -deny them sick pay and fire them if they want to join a union -In addition they can be refused a wage increase regardless of inflation and if they don’t like all of that they can be fired to join the other 27 million jobless .

    Of course they are ‘free’ . As we say in Irish mar dhea (mawr ya) -translation – ‘sure -of course ‘

  • Alias

    It deliberately misses the point that circa 80% of all new legislation originates in the EU and not in the regional puppet parliament, i.e. the Dail. If the State now seems impotent in policy and power it’s because it is.

  • Marcionite

    It was President Clinton’s rescinding of the
    GGlass-Steagall Act of 1933, opening up the market among banking companies, securities companies and insurance companies. The Glass-Steagall Act prohibited any one institution from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and/or an insurance company. (thanks to Wikipedia)
    that was instrumental to the financial crisis

    And beside, tell me this , how would a jumped up town councillor be able to run an Education Dept?

    Why do we assume that elected representatives have the ability and knowledge to head large complex Ministries overseeing areas of responsibilities that they only have a man/woman-in-street knowledge off?

    Under the US system, the executive do not come from party politics but from a lifetime of working in the field to which they are appointed to the Ministry for overseeing. They may make mistakes but they make them from a point of view knowledge, and not postulation or ignorance or even latent student politics.

    As for your later points, interesting as they may be but are you citing ancient legal excesses perpertrated by England and the US as a reason for assuming that nothing those nations do now can ever be good enough to take as a good example?

    There are many employers here in NI and RoI and in GB who would fire a person or make life hard for them if they joined a union. But this is off the topic..

    the topic is about the time spent in Dail by TD’s and the time they spend on local as opposed to national matters

  • Can’t anyone count? Most of the 26% of the time in Dail committees is working on legislation – the rest is on investigating issues to see whether we need new legislation. Add that to 20% speaking in the Dail and you get a total of 46%.

    Then add in say, one half of their questions to Ministers (half on constituency issues, half on implementation of laws), to make a grand total of approx. 51%. So more than half their time is spent on law making activities, not just 20%.

  • Greenflag

    marcionite .

    Apologies for straying somewhat but I’m a considered agnostic in the department of expecting better government if the plebs would only elect men of near genius or even those of life long practical experience .

    The elected politicians yes even the jumped up town councillors have their ‘mandarin’s (the permanent government on call ) And yet even that sometimes is not enough to save some from political embarrassment .

    I can only imagine what it must be like to be a highly educated civil servant at Stormont and having to kow tow to somebody who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and that the Lord communicates via the Holy Spirit in lolling tongues ;(

    As to why do we assume elected representatives have the ability to run complex government departments ? They say so at least in the pre election manifesto stage 😉 Deeds of course and accomplishments are another story .

    BTW Clinton’s rescinding of Glass Steagall was instrumental to the current crisis but it was not the first instrument . That scalpel was incised into the economy in the early 1980’s or as far back as the mid seventies .

    As the USA is now following the latest Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to spend as much as they want on supporting or opposing candidates it’s at least questionable whether the USA will remain a democracy at all over the next few election cycles . The vast majority of Congressmen and Senators already owe their election to their financial backers -i.e the insurance companie’s , banks , drug corporations , NRA and oil and tobacco companies so what’s coming will be even more of the same . The USA is on a fast track to becoming the world’s first corporate state.

    The UK has an effective two party system with the chances of a coalition (i.e with the LD’s) being iffy at best although next time out it may happen . Both the Tories and Labour have enough ‘safe ‘ constituencies each that they can parachute in people of particular expertise without disturbing unduly the democratic sensibilities of local voters . In Ireland thats much more difficult given our multi seat system and PR which favours ‘minority’ parties and independents . If Ireland had a FPP system as the UK FF would have been an effective one party government for the period 1932 to the present . The UUP 1920 to 1972 in NI comes to mind .

    The best example imo for Ireland to look at in relation to getting a higher standard of TD into the Dail is to look at the German list system which allows for direct election by the voters and a list election by the parties based on the party percentage vote .

    I cannot recall the working occupations of all our Irish taoisigh – but I suspect that apart from Sean Lemass who left school when he 14 the rest have been either solicitors, teachers and one economist Garret Fitzgerald and an accountant Bert Ahern and yet when one takes a hard look at the governmental performance of the lot of them I for one have really only been impressed by Sean Lemass the least educated and least ideological of the lot .

    There is a lot to consider in tampering with the people’s ‘democracy’ by those who look askance and particularly in NI at what the electorate puts into office . But then for NI there are ‘extenuating circumstances ‘ as joe canuck pointed out above I think ?

  • DerTer


    Kindly provide an accurate and reliable source for your point “that circa 80% of all new legislation originates in the EU”

  • Neville Bagnall

    When politicians already suffer from accusation of being disconnected from their electorate, why is it thought that its a good idea for them to become even more disconnected?

    Given the fact that the Oireachtas works with a westminister whipping system, rather than a congressional caucusing system; given the dismal record of opposition amendments being adopted; why is it thought that the problem with the legislature is the electoral system rather than the parliamentary procedures and traditions?

    Given that most legislation is drafted by professional departmental officials, parliamentary draftsmen and barristers (even opposition bills and amendments) and not by the legislators themselves (who usually just outline and/or approve the policy) and is frequently constrained by international obligations and best practice (be it EU or international) why do we think more experts will solve the problem?

    I can agree that the executive needs to have expertise, but in the westminister system the executive expertise is embodied in the permanent government of the civil service.

    The legislature should be embodying the roles of Leadership, Jury and Ombudsman. Acting as a guide and check on the experts of the permanent government.

    I want my government and parliament to be made up of ordinary people with a close connection to the electorate.

    I want them to demand that legislation is examined in enough detail that a non-expert can make a judgment that on the balance of probability it is good law. They are my representatives. I want them to do the job I’d do myself if I had the time.

    Anything else is technocracy, not democracy.

    The role of the electoral system is to ensure that we are governed by people like ourselves. Not experts and not a political elite.
    I do not see how changing from a system that essentially demands our leaders are thoroughly embedded in the area they represent can improve the representative nature of our legislature.

    I think that if you want to improve our legislature (and without doubt it needs improvement) then it is the legislature that needs to change, not the electoral system.

    I think the following would have much more effect than changing the electoral system:
    a) Plenaries 52 weeks a year. Institutionalise pairing for holidays/leave.
    b) Constrain to its current level or reduce the amount of legislation passed.
    c) Have more detailed examination of policy and legislation at green/white paper and bill committee stage. (i.e. less speeches and more evaluation of evidence, law and amendments)
    d) Loosen the whip for any non policy-strategic votes.

    It seems to me that the chief-whip has it too easy and that changing the electoral system will only make the job easier. I suspect that the quality of law and the legislature is inversely proportional to the difficulty of the chief-whip’s job.