30 July 2010
Brian Cowen in the dock
By-election bid at the High Court
BY ELLA O’DWYER
IF Brian Cowen really does believe in democracy then he should not have had to be dragged into the High Court to try and force him to hold the South-West Donegal by-election more than a year after a Fianna Fáil seat became vacant. Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty was talking to me as he awaited a High Court ruling on the very day An Phoblacht went to print.
And Pearse Doherty has challenged the Fianna Fáil leader to go to Donegal South-West to explain to the people why he is opposing moves to hold a by-election there and stopping them having their full entitlement of TDs.
The seat became vacant after Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher was elected to the European Parliament in June of last year. Since then, the Government has refused to move the writ for the by-election because Donegal South-West, Dublin South and Waterford are three by-election challenges Fianna Fáil fears losing and eroding further its small Dáil majority.
An Oireachtas Committee made a recommendation in July that by-elections be held within six months of a vacancy arising. Pearse Doherty says this is surprising given that the TDs on the committee previously voted against Sinn Féin in the Dáil on the issue.
“It stinks of hypocrisy,” he told An Phoblacht.
“Sinn Féin has tried twice to have the writ moved in the Dáil to have the by-election called. The last time was in April and there was a tied vote. The Ceann Comhairle used his casting vote to have the motion rejected.
“While I welcome this Oireachtas report, it reeks of stinking hypocrisy on the part of the seven Government members of the committee, particularly the five TDs who could have ensured that the by-election took place if they had voted in favour of the motion which Sinn Féin put forward in June.”
This judicial review will be very important, the Donegal senator said.
“It’s about holding the Government to account. Just because a government is in power doesn’t give it the right to abuse that power. They are in breach of the Constitution and now we are forcing them to answer our accusation. They will have to come with a written affidavit outlining their case and we hope to get the go-ahead for a full hearing on the issue.”
• Pearse Doherty has called on Green Party leader John Gormley to explain clearly if he is opposed to the holding of the three outstanding by-elections in Donegal South-West, Dublin South and Waterford.
“The Green Party went into Government with a promise of upholding democratic accountability. So far they have failed.
“If John Gormley is not opposed to these by-elections then he and his party should be putting pressure on their Fianna Fáil partners to ensure that the by-elections take place at the earliest opportunity.”
Making a modern democracy
Pearse Doherty at the MacGill Summer School
SPEAKING at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal at the end of July, Pearse Doherty took the opportunity to again highlight the by-election issue and other concerns about the way government works.
“There should be no requirement to go to the courts on such an issue - a time limit for the holding of by-elections should be set down in law.”
He went on to outline other flaws in the system.
“Our electoral system and the Oireachtas are not fit for a modern democracy.
“The electoral system has given us an Oireachtas that is largely male, middle-class and middle-aged. It is not surprising that it is so unrepresentative.”
The Sinn Féin senator has a number of proposals designed to overhaul the current electoral system:–
- Abolish the current Seanad;
- Reduce the voting age to 16;
- Larger multi-seat constituencies;
- Voting rights for Irish citizens living abroad;
- Holding elections at weekends;
- A time limit for the holding of by-elections set down in law;
- An independent Electoral Commission;
- A new Constitution to accompany electoral reform;
- The Dáil to play a stronger role in holding the Government to account;
- An end to positions on state boards being doled out as rewards to supporters of whichever party happens to be in government.