19 July, 2007

That other election, again

Members of the Irish Senate are selected by three different methods. An Taoiseach directly nominates 11 members, NUI and Trinity graduates elect 6 between them, and councillors and members of the Oireachtas (incoming TDs and outgoing Senators) elect 43 members. It could be quite an interesting election this time round as the Government may have a slim enough majority.

Councillor Tom Kivlehan pointed out to me a curious aspect of the Senate Election. Each ballot is marked with a unique number on the back. Before I told him my number, he was able to guess it to within a few numbers. You can see the full list of 1096 electors here, but it seems that the identifying numbers aren't completely random.

I spoke with Deirdre Lane, Clerk of the Seanad yesterday and she tells me that they start with a random number, and then every thirty or forty names they add a few numbers to the series to put you off the trail. It still seems to me though that anyone with a sense for numbers and a copy of the electoral roll can identify a ballot from the back with a fair degree of accuracy, particularly if they are from a larger Party and had access to several electors' numbers from their ballots.

The rules for the conduct of Senate Elections state shown in the First Schedule of the 1947 Senate Electoral (Panel Members) Act emphasise the need for secrecy, but it seems to me to be easy enough to come close to identifying the elector from the number on the back of the ballot. Although the 'precautions for preservation of secrecy' in the Second Schedule states under 13 that "...ballot papers shall so far as it is practicable be kept face upwards..." it does seem that parties and candidates have a good sense as to who voted for whom. You would expect a good level of party allegiance in all of this, and this makes it easier to find out where most of the votes are coming from, but perhaps the individual ballot numbering should be made 'more' random in future.

Incidentally the Panels that select the candidates under this Act could perhaps benefit from a review. I've nothing against the Irish Greyhound Owners and Breeders Federation, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders , or even the Vintners Federation of Ireland , but maybe we need to reflect more of the creative, urban, environmental, and small business side of modern Ireland in the nominating bodies.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the Seanad needs major reform in the way members are elected. it needs to reflect modern day Ireland and the its social and economic demographics more accurately

arachne said...

I'm pretty ANNOYED that John Gormley is so impotent he cannot change the route of the M3. The route is NOT popular nationally, your former party leader campaigned against this route, and so did you - there's a photo to show that, which you must cringe to think about. This is not democracy. Funny how planning laws will bow to people like Jackie Healy-Rae, not the good guys! Maybe it's because you guys sold out on this in negotiations to form a government.

Ciarán said...

What would you have done?

arachne said...

Ciarán, I don’t know what message you were sending as you protested with the “Save Tara” banner. Did you believe the battle was lost as you do now? If so, why did you waste your time protesting? The legal situation has not changed since then. What has changed is that the Greens are in government. Dick Roche has said that the order he signed on his last day as Minister was signed WITH the advance knowledge of the Greens. John Gormley has said it came as a surprise. Somebody is lying. Trevor Sargent (or your negotiators, can’t remember which) actually said, at the time of the Greens’ announcement that they would form a government w/ FF, that Green supporters would be disappointed that the M3 would be going ahead on the route currently planned (so he knew that this issue was important to his supporters). In which case he is either:
(1) admitting that nothing could ever have been done about the route of the M3 and that he had until that point done nothing to quash supporters’ continuing hope OR
(2) that the Greens had given in on this particular issue in negotiations – the more likely scenario.
In scenario 1, the Greens were dishonest in not informing their supporters, before the election, that the battle was lost. And outside of Scenario 2, the battle must indeed have been lost before the election.
Scenario 2 suggests that John Gormley rather than Dick Roche has lied.
In answer to your question, “what would you have done?”: I would have been honest to my supporters that the M3 could not be re-routed if (i) that was the case and (ii) I knew that re-routing was among their dearest hopes – as you did. And having demonstrated to “Save Tara”, with all the prestige of a member of the Opposition in the Dáil (thus inviting the support of opponents of the route as currently planned), I would have made it my business to know what could be done about this issue if put in power. Why say, “vote for me if you want change here” when change is impossible and you know it? Only, I don’t know that it is impossible. I only know that now that you are in Government, you are saying “change is impossible”.
I know what you did in Eccles Street and I admire you for it. But if you can’t defend those principles in power, for me there is no point in voting for you.

Ciarán said...


sorry for the delay, didn't have access to the web on Inisheer, but I do now that I'm back in Dublin for a couple of days.

I don't cringe about it, I'm mad as hell that we didn't get all of what we wanted in the negociations, but that's politics, come to think of it, that's how most decisions in negociations are made.

I don't believe that we sold out, and after sixteen years as an elected representative with the Greens I thought long and hard about what was on offer.

Of course I didn't believe that the battle was lost when I marched on the first Save Tara March. Indeed, I'm still hoping that a major find, (and I mean major, not simply a souterrain) or a decision from Europe might allow the road to be moved, or dropped altogether with the alternative of improvements in the existing road being considered, and the Navan rail line being fast-tracked.

I certainly didn't know that Roche would sign it, and on the day that he did I got a text message and went into the Dáil chamber and told John.

For about half of the negotiation period we were hoping to get progress on Tara but it simply didn't happen. Even though we didn't get progress, we still hoped that if we held the Environment Ministry we could do something with the Lismullen order.

'Given in' is your wording, not mine. We were never going to get the Green Party's Election Manifesto written in to the Programme for Government, and our hand was weakened by the numbers game that FF were not dependent on our votes. No we didn't get what we wanted on Tara, and a host of other issues, but we did get a good enough Programme that on balance was worth voting for.

As you know we had no non-negotiables before the election, whether it be on disability issues, public transport, climate change, Tara, Shannon, immigration, building standards, local government reform, etc. It is dangerous to tie your hands in advance, that was the experience from Green Parties elsewhere such as Germany and New Zealand.

Change was not impossible, but you have to play the hand that you're given, and there is always hope that you can bring others around to your way of thinking.

Your comment of 26 July is confusing. I certainly didn't know that he would sign the Order and I don't believe John did either. It's important to note that the negotiations over the route of the road and the Order are two separate items that did not go in tandem.

Your suggestion that you would have made it your business to know what could be done about this issue if put in power is simplistic, how could any of us known the election result in sheer numerical terms, or the intransigence of FF on this issue in advance?