An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Wednesday, February 25, 2004  

E-voting and ministerial orders

Have been v. busy for a few days but good news. I'm taking redundancy from my job and can devote myself to blogging and other non-revenue related activities.

So, Martin Cullen came back from his trade trip out East, attended his first cabinet meeting and told them all to stop panicking. E-voting will be introduced whether we like it or not. Apart from the substantive issue, it seems to me that this episode illustrates some of the dangers of having a party, Fianna Fail, which not only believes in its inherent entitlement to power, but has been in power so long that it no longer sees any necessity to achieve consensus on certain issues, since it believes that its interests and the national interest are now identical. Thus, we see the frequent use of government via ministerial order rather than legislation; the MO being the instrument found unconsitutional just two weeks ago. (This was in relation to the immigration bill - it wasn't the rules on immigration per se that the courts found unconstitutional, but the fact that they had been implemented by order rather than by primary legislation).

Were it not for that court case, e-voting would be introduced also by order. Now they are required to introduce legislation, which will of course be forced through on a guillotined debate under a 3-line whip. Making such a fundamental change to our system of voting without opposition consent displays the most extraordinary arrogance. This is particularly so since no one asked for e-voting. There is no compelling argument to dispense with the existing system. The only flaws in the current system are that surpluses after the 1st count are selected randomly for distribution and that in one constituency in each election there is a prolonged re-count. The first flaw is being carried into the new system and the second hardly seems worth the expense and loss of transparency required. Minister Cullen's claimed motivation is that the new system will eliminate spoiled votes. This argument is extraordinarily spurious since the number of spoiled votes in each election is insignificant and a good proportion of those are spoiled deliberately. Moreover, I am sure that many votes under the new system will also be spoiled but we just won't be able to tell, i.e. without VVAT (verifiable voter audit trail) a voter's intention may not coincide with the vote cast. Anyway, the point is that there was no public demand for a change. Fianna Fail just thought it might be a good idea and decided to implement it without either consulting or caring what the opposition or indeed, the hoi polloi thought about it.

Now, should one argue that e-voting may be a good thing and we're just luddites (despite the fact that all my software buddies are appalled by it) one should not overlook another piece of legislation rammed through last week. This gem abolished the Civil Service Appointments Commission so that recruitment to the service can now be conducted via agencies. In a 'what did the British ever do for us?' competition, top of the list would be our independent civil service and its neutral method of recruitment. This is now gone because FF can simply distribute recruitment contracts to their buddies who will recruit their buddies and the door to a politicised civil service is wide open. If you think this is Oliver Stonesque conspiracy stuff, just go back to the e-voting. Who got the €4.5m PR contract to tell us how easy e-voting will be? Why, none other than recently established Q4; an agency run by Martin Macken, former FF general secretary and Jackie Gallagher, former advisor to the Taoiseach.

One more point: connected as I am to local politics, I've had the opportunity to observe that despite the above praise for the independent civil service, staff in government departments and county councils seem overly subservient to their FF political masters. Not only have they been in power so long - 13 out of the last 15 years - but they seem likely to remain so for possibly another 7!

The bottom line: we have now reached the point where our democracy is being attacked from all sides. We have to get them out!! So gentle-registered-to-vote-in-Ireland-reader you have little choice: You can't vote PD since they are there to keep FF in power; you can't vote for Labour - remember 1994!; it would be morally irresponsible to vote for the vigilantes in Sinn Fein and the organic potato middle class protesters in the Greens: you have to vote Fine Gael. I know they are wimpy and terribly polite and boring: you know, being honest etc. But they are the only alternative government. Don't be too disappointed; Kenny is a lovely guy.

posted by Sarah | 16:33 0 comments
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