Our un-democratic democracy

After a relatively unexciting election, Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell considers the seemingly impossible creation of a Dáil.

After a relatively unexciting election, our attention is being focused on the seemingly impossible creation of a Dáil. As it stands, there seems to be two options; the country goes to the ballots once more, or the government is formed using a mixture of the larger parties. To me, neither of these options seem to be a particularly democratic solution. The question I ask is which is the lesser evil? Is it less democratic to ignore the voice of the people and to call another election, or to form a government based on the elected TDs, despite having promised not to make deals with parties with particularly strong views?

The result of the last general election surprised even the most learned and high-profile political analysts. Few predicted that the swing away from the traditional Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael would be both so significant and so minimal - leading to a pretty even spread of the vote among the three major parties. Approximately 56% of voters chose to reject the two parties which had led the state since its conception and vote for other parties and candidates. However the problem which arises now is that since Sinn Féin appears unable to form a government with the other parties and representatives who are willing, a sentiment of remorse is circulating. I have heard some voicing regret for rejecting Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates, citing should they have the chance again they would vote differently. This sentiment irks me. Surely this is completely undemocratic? It perpetuates the idea that your vote isn’t of a value - it can be used as an ‘F you’ rather than an educated choice about who you want to represent your country. The idea of calling a second vote so that you can ‘vote properly’ is utterly irritating. We are lucky enough to live in a political landscape where the voice of each individual, no matter what persuasion or creed, has value. Although it is a right, it is also a privilege and should be treated with respect.

Furthermore, the idea of calling a second election after a ‘hung-Dáil’ sets an unreasonable precedent. A ‘hung-Dáil’ is the term used when a government cannot be formed after an election, due to the inability of parties which agree to hold a majority.  In Ireland, a system of proportional representation is used. This roughly translates to mean that if x% of the population votes to vote for a particular party, that the party will hold x% of the seats in the Dáil. In its essence, it is designed to result in the fairest government possible. However, this system of elections rarely leads to a simple majority in government. The last Dáil which was able to form a government with a single party was in 1977, when Jack Lynch of Fianna Fáil led the country as Taoiseach. To this day there has never been a government which has consisted of a single party. If a ‘Hung-Dáil’ became an acceptable occurence it could lead to repeated elections, as there would be no incentive for parties (apart from perhaps the financial cost of the election) to try and compromise to form a functional government. Not only would this be exhausting and frustrating for both the public and the candidates, but I fear it would lead to a reluctance to vote for smaller, niche parties. The system of voting in Ireland means that many views and parties can be represented. You could appreciate the temptation of voting for one of the larger parties to prevent going to the polls every couple of weeks. We only need to look at the narrow choice of candidates and manifestos across the Atlantic to get some foresight into what our nation could become. Whatever your persuasion, a varied and diverse group of political representatives can never be considered a negative thing. 

As I see it, the alternative to going to the polling stations again, would be a government formed between some mélange of Sinn Féin, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. This for me poses another political predicament. The hosts of the many leaders debates held across Irish broadcasting media seemed to have predicted the potential compromises needed to be made. Questions were repeatedly asked of party leaders, in particular Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, and Leo Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael, who would they be happy to form a government with. During the debates, both men vehemently denied any chance of compromise and working with Sinn Féin. Debates are held in order to give the public the richest understanding of candidates and to delve into the policies which will dictate the country. Voters who tuned in were educated and influenced by the information put forward to them. As a result of the debates, ballots were cast with an approximate idea of who their chosen candidates would agree to work with. It wasn’t long after the exit polls began to appear that parties began to recant what had been said in the election lead-up. As much as I feel that governments should be formed using the representatives elected, my qualm lies in the question whether it is democratic for parties to change sworn and ferocious political promises after they have been elected. 

As I have said, any resolution put forward thus far has not seemed particularly palatable in my eyes. Whatever the result, when gloomy I remind myself to be consoled by the knowledge that I live in this un-democratic democracy than the others that surround our island.