With ‘reform’ becoming the buzzword surrounding the upcoming referendum, Elizabeth O’Malley looks at advantages and disadvantages of the different forms of government.

Every argument surrounding the debate of whether to abolish the Seanad or not has invoked the word ‘reform’. Those in support of the Seanad’s abolition believe that getting rid of the house most associated with cronyism and elitism is the first step in achieving real change. Those against point out that simply removing the Seanad will not ensure any real reform of the Dáil, and may remove one of the only checks against the government.

With the public debate firmly focussed on what sort of government we want, the University Observer has compared and contrasted the different areas of governing in our search for the best system. By focussing on what kind of government we want in the future, we can answer the question of whether or not a second house fits into a reformed government.


Unicameral Government

Examples: Denmark, Finland and Greece, People’s Republic of China, Singapore, Israel, Uganda, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Iceland.

A unicameral government has only one house.


  • Bills are passed quicker as they only have to go through one house
  • Less expensive
  • Easier for voters to understand
  • More accountability (not as easy to scapegoat the other chamber)


  • Weaker power check on the executive
  • A streamlined bills process may mean more flawed bills being passed
  • Not as diverse, less minority views
  • Less deliberation


Fusion of Powers

Examples: Ireland, the UK, Australia, France, Canada, Japan. Note – governments with fusion of powers tend to be bicameral.

Fusion of powers concerns the division between the parliament and the executive. Members of the parliament are also in the executive, and being in executive power means having a majority in the parliament.


  • Less gridlock, more effective governing
  • Easier to pass legislation in a crisis


  • Less division between the different branches of government, to act as a check
  • Less requirement to listen to other voices


Federal Government

Examples: Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Austria, India, Russia, Brazil

All powers are vested in state or local government other than those specifically given to the federal government, usually military powers, foreign policy, taxation and infrastructure.


  • Those making laws are more aware of local problems
  • People will become more involved in their politics


  • It can lead to duplication, inefficiencies and contradictory laws between states and provinces
  • Less unity and stability


Presidential Cabinet

Examples: The United States

Most democracies have the Westminster cabinet system, in which ministers are selected from the party in power. Ministers are expected to publicly support the government in all instances. The cabinet are collectively responsible for government policy.

Under the Presidential cabinet system, ministers cannot be a member of either house or a sitting government. They can be taken from any walk of life.


  • Better separation of powers
  • Experts can be appointed to ministries
  • If a minister isn’t performing they can be let go


  • Laws aren’t written by elected representatives
  • The head of government doesn’t need to listen to ministers’ advice


Conscience Vote

Examples: The US, Australia, Canada

Ireland currently has a tight whip system. Each party assigns a whip in both houses in order to ensure that there are enough people there for the vote to make quorum and to pass bills. If they vote against the party they are likely to be expelled from the party.  In the US in particular, there is little control by the parties over individual politicians. The Liberal Party in Australia similarly allows a ‘conscience vote’.


  • More of a check on government
  • Politicians held to account for individual decisions


  • Gridlock
  • Government is held up by individual votes, which are often  traded for political favours


Case Study: New Zealand and Public Participation


Submissions concerning a bill or other items before a select committee may be submitted in writing (online) or you can ask to talk to the committee in person. The committee is required to read, and listen to, all submissions.


Anyone can petition the House of Representatives to act on a matter of public policy or law, or to set right a local or private issue. There are a set of rules surrounding petitions, but they only need to be signed by one person. A person of any age can petition the House.

Challenge A Regulation

People or organisations may make a complaint if they feel wronged by how a regulation operates. The Regulations Review Committee examines all regulations and investigates complaints. There are certain grounds for submitting a valid complaint.

Citizen Initiated Referendum

A citizen may initiate a referendum by gathering signatures from 10% of eligible New Zealand voters.