As the Irish politicians get ready to go back to work after the Christmas break there are a few very busy months ahead. We all know that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is going to keep our TDs and Senators hugely engaged but along with that there are some clearly defined events coming down the tracks in 2019. There are a large number of questions being asked of Irish voters in the coming year with referendums, plebiscites, local and European elections.
On Friday 24th May voters will be asked to cast their votes in the Local Elections and the European Elections. The elections will be conducted under a single transferrable vote. After much consideration in recent times the boundaries for the local government areas will be as they were in 2014 with the exception of the lands transferred from County Cork to Cork City as provided for in the Local Government Bill 2018. There are 949 County and City Council Seats to be filled. The local elections are often viewed as a “report card” for the sitting Government but we know that the Taoiseach and leader of the Fine Gael party has said that he wants his party to be the largest party in local government. This will require a swing of about 30 seats nationally and for a sitting government is a very tall order.
The European Elections will be conducted as the Local Elections on a single transferrable vote. As a result of Brexit Ireland’s number of seats will increase from 11 to 13 and as a consequence there are changes to the number of representatives from two constituencies. These changes were as a result of the recommendations of a Constituency Committee which was established by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in July 2018. Dublin has no boundary changes but gains a seat with four MEPs to be elected there. South constituency gains a seat also and the five representatives will be drawn from a larger constituency after Laois and Offaly were moved from the Midlands North-West constituency and added to South. Despite the loss of the two counties the Midlands North-West remains a four seat constituency.
There are various referendums planned for the coming year. The timing of them all is not yet confirmed but what we do know is that the following will be happening…
Giving Irish citizens abroad a vote in presidential elections: At present the election of our president is tied to the Dáil elections. Only certain Irish people living abroad can vote in a presidential election. These include diplomats (and their spouses), members of the Defence Forces and members of an Garda Siochána. By passing this referendum it is proposed that Irish citizens living outside the republic of Ireland would form an additional constituency and they would cast their ballot through a postal vote.
Liberalise Divorce Laws: If passed it would result in the waiting time for a divorce being reduced to a period of two years instead of the current four. At present separated couples must be able to show that they have been living apart for four of the previous five years. The change would mean that couples would have to prove that they were living apart for two of the previous three years.
Women’s Place in the home: It was initially planned that this referendum would be offered to the people on the same day as the presidential election in late 2018 but the government pulled it in late September. At present Article 41.1 of the Constitution says: “The state recognises the family as the natural primary fundamental unit group of society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.” Article 41.2.1 says “In particular, the state recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” And 41.2.2 says “the state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”. present it appears that rather than removing 41.2 from the Constitution the question being asked of voters in this referendum could be to insert a gender-neutral clause which acknowledges the support that home and family life gives to society.
There are other referendums under consideration such as lowering the voting age in Dáil elections and referendums, Water Ownership and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The voters of Limerick, Cork and Galway will also face a plebiscite this year. A plebiscite is a smaller scale referendum in particular areas. In this case voters in Ireland’s second, third and fourth cities will be asked if they would like their Mayors to be directly elected. Interestingly voters in the capital are not being asked this question as it has been decided that before the option is put on the ballot paper a mini citizen’s assemble of Dubliners will be convened to discuss the merits.
So with all of this AND Brexit (and the legislation required because of it) there are indeed a few very busy months ahead for our TDs and Senators. We’ll need to keep those pencils sharp. All the while one of those busy TDs, Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform has embarked on a “listening campaign” to gauge feedback on the government’s ideas on how the electoral register can be kept up to date and how we would feel about the various methods including aligning out PPS numbers to it. The results of that should be published before summer.