Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Taxation without representation

Bunreacht na hÉireann sets the level of representation to which a constituency is entitled. Article 16.2.2 says
The number of members shall from time to time be fixed by law, but the total number of members of Dáil Éireann shall not be fixed at less than one member for each thirty thousand of the population, or at more than one member for each twenty thousand of the population.
George Lee's resignation raises again the issue of bye elections and the representation of the people. Lee was elected to the Dáil in a bye election held on 5 June 2009 and necessitated by the death of Séamus Brennan of Fianna Failure on 9 July 2008. So the constituency went eleven months without one of the five TDs to which it is entitled. If we assume a similar delay this time then we can expect a bye election in January 2011. Even if we are generous and assume that the people will be made to wait just six months and so have a bye election in August 2010 the constituents of Dublin South will still have endured seventeen months of under-representation since the last General Election (held in May 2007) - that would be seventeen out of thirty-nine months.

Why the delay? Fianna Failure lost a seat there and Fine GLee gained one. The government don't want to let voters do that.

The Donegal South West constituency has a population of 71,039 (see here [PDF]) and consequently is entitled to be represented by three TDs. It currently has just two sitting TDs, Mary Coughlan of Fianna Failure and Dinny McGinley of Fine GLee.

A Dáil seat has been vacant in Donegal South West since Fianna Failure's Pat 'The Stupid Nickname' Gallagher was elected to the European Parliament in elections held on 5 June 2009. That's a little over eight months ago.

Why the delay? The danger that a Fianna Failure TD might be replaced by one from Fianna GLee or even Labour. The government don't want to let voters do that.

So the government has been ignoring the constitutional entitlements of the people of Donegal South West for over eight months and there is still no date set for a bye election there. When the government keeps talking about a national crisis and patriotism, and keeps piling on the taxes, those who face the burden of taxation should have representation.

When it suits him, Dermot Torquemada Ahern is good at responding swiftly to what he sees as constitutional imperatives but when the precarious majority of a patchwork government might be under threat he and his colleagues are quite happy to drag their feet. There is no requirement on the government to move the writ for a bye election within any set period of the seat being vacated, and only the government can move the writ. If it doesn't suit them to do it, they don't do it. The Donegal South West bye election was debated in July 2009, but the government defeated the motion. Mary Coughlan went so far as to say, "In the interim, Deputy McGinley and I will continue to work on behalf of the people of Donegal South-West." In other words, sod the constitution, we'll do what we like.

Denying the people their constitutional rights is a political game. Is it any wonder that George Lee decided he'd had enough of the Dáil?

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