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Will Labour Left contest the next general election?

19 December, 2012 1 comment

In 1944, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, disaffiliated from the Labour Party because it believed the party was being infiltrated by communists, specifically the selection of Jim Larkin as a general election candidate. Five TDs (James Everett, Thomas Looney, John O’Leary, James Pattison and Dan Spring) associated with the ITGWU left Labour to form National Labour. They contested the 1944 general election as a separate party, winning four seats (Looney losing), and five seats in 1948 (James Hickey gaining). It formed part of the Inter-Party government, led by Fine Gael’s John A. Costello as Taoiseach, and with Labour, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan. James Everett served as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and in working in government, their differences subsided, the National Labour TDs rejoined Labour in 1950 (Noel Whelan got the decade here wrong last Saturday, as well as Derek Keating and John Whelan’s names).

Could we see a similar short-term split? There are now five TDs (Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan, Patrick Nulty, Róisín Shorthall and Colm Keaveney) and one Senators (James Heffernan) who were elected as Labour but who have lost or resigned the party whip. They continue as party members, speaking at party conference, but if this situation persists at the time of the next general election, it’s possible that they would contest on a separate common platform. The analogy with National Labour is that they would aim to rejoin the party fully in due course, on a change of leadership, or shift in policy direction. There are others who might contest under such a platform, possibly under a banner as Labour Left. Cian O’Callaghan, current Mayor of Fingal, who has worked for Patrick Nulty, comes to mind. This would be intended as a temporary split, the name here reflecting the dissent of Labour Left of the 1980s and early 1990s, as opposed to that of Militant, which did split completely, and when its members were expelled, most prominently Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, they did not plan to return. 1

Tho another possible outcome is that Labour would leave the government, and that these rebels would contest as full Labour Party candidates. If this rate of attrition continued, Eamon Gilmore could face a vote of confidence within the parliamentary party within the next two years. I want to see this coalition last, so this is not an outcome I would like to see.

Note: Paragraph edited on a prompt from @CiaranLyng

How the Fine Gael lost the Dáil vote on abortion in 1983 while in government

23 November, 2012 2 comments

The events of the past week prompted me to look back to see how Article 40.3.3° was proposed in the Dáil, knowing that there was an odd circumstance in its passing as the only constitutional amendment that was not a government amendment. The speeches are interesting to read as a snapshot into Ireland of 1983, and Oliver J. Flanagan’s contribution stands out in that respect, as does the speculation from Fianna Fáil’s Dr Seán McCarthy as to whether the Taoiseach had been influenced by the “pro-abortionists in Young Fine Gael”.

Though further amended in 1992 to protect the freedom to travel and receive information, the substantive clause as still exists was inserted by the Eight Amendment to the Constitution Act, 1983,

3º The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Dr Garret FitzGerald was then leading a coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour, but only 13 TDs from the two government parties actually voted for that wording.

The wording above was drafted by the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign. There had been fears since the US Supreme Court had found a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973, and the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign was further mobilised in the aftermath of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979. By the third election between June 1981 and November 1982, they had secured commitments from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to introduce this amendment. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution Bill was first moved in the dying days of the Fianna Fáil government in November 1982.

Fine Gael initially accepted this wording and in the Programme for Government with Labour, it was agreed that Labour would have a free vote on the bill. It was moved by Michael Noonan as Minister for Justice in February 1983.

Fine Gael’s alternative wording

Peter Sutherland, the Attorney-General, subsequently advised of problems with the wording, and in April, Michael Noonan moved an alternative amendment,

Amendment One

3º Nothing in this Constitution shall be invoked to invalidate, or to deprive of force or effect, any provision of a law on the ground that it prohibits abortion.

This wording would have meant that the current legislation prohibiting abortion, the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, could not be deemed unconstitutional, and similarly for any possible subsequent legislation on abortion. This would thereby prevent a Roe v. Wade–like decision in the courts.

At the same time, a law to allow for abortion would also be consistent with this alternative amendment. This led to splits in both government parties. In Fine Gael, TDs who maintained their support for the original wording abstained in the vote on the alternative amendment. Labour allowed a free vote, and split three ways, between those who supported the original wording, those who opposed any amendment, and those who accepted that there would be a referendum and saw the Fine Gael alternative as at least better the the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign original wording.

Michael Noonan’s reasons for opposing the original wording seem chillingly prescient in the current context. This was on 27 April 1983,

Briefly, those defects are twofold: first, that the expression “the unborn” is very ambiguous; second, that the reference to the equal rights of the mother is insufficient to guarantee that operations necessary to save the live of the mother but resulting in the death of the foetus may continue.

On the first point, it is scarcely necessary to say that objection is not being raised simply on the basis that there is a certain degree of ambiguity. Some ambiguity is probably inescapable — language is not a precise instrument. The criticism in this case is the extent of the ambiguity, a criticism which is strengthened by the fact that it was obviously accepted in order to avoid argument.

On the second point, I would like the record to show very clearly what is being said by way of criticism — and what is not being said. It is not being said that the wording would be held to make the operations in question unlawful. Nobody could say with certainty what interpretation a court might put on the words. What is being said is that, on the ordinary meaning of words, that should be the interpretation and that therefore there must be a definite risk.

Of the opposition parties, Fianna Fáil maintained a strict whip against the alternative and in favour of the original wording and the two Workers’ Party TDs were against any amendment.

With this division between the parties, the amendment proposed by Michael Noonan was defeated by 65 votes to 87.

Between the parties:

  • of the 74 Fianna Fáil TDs, 73 voted against;
  • of the 70 Fine Gael TDs voted in favour, 60 voted in favour;
  • of 16 Labour TDs, 5 TDs voted in favour (Liam Kavanagh, Barry Desmond, Michael Moynihan, Seamus Pattison, Dick Spring) and 10 TDs voted against (Michael Bell, Joe Bermingham, Frank Cluskey, Eileen Desmond, Seán Treacy, Toddy O’Sullivan, Frank Prendergast, Ruairí Quinn, John Ryan, Mervyn Taylor);
  • both Workers’ Party TDs voted against, and;
  • both Independents, Neil Blaney and Tony Gregory voted against.

Workers’ Party amendments

The Workers’ Party proposed further amendments, but as there weren’t sufficient numbers in the voice vote, the house wasn’t divided, and all these were lost. Even tho they opposed the amendment altogether, they proposed them to make the amendment a lesser harm or clearer in its meaning, and these proposed changes to the original wording highlighted show the nuances to the discussion at the time.

Amendment Two

3º The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn human being and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Amendment Three

3º The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, subject to the right of the mother to life and bodily integrity, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Amendment Four

3º The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn human being and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable without interference with any existing right or lawful opportunity of any citizen, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Amendment Five

3º The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn human being and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable without interference with any existing right or lawful opportunity of any citizen, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. This subsection shall not be cognisable by any Court except in a case seeking to have section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, declared unconstitutional or contrary to any provision of this Constitution.

Original Pro-Life Amendment Campaign wording passes

After all attempts to change the wording had failed, the Dáil then proceeded to vote to retain the initial wording. This was a very strange vote; a vote to amend the constitution in which no Government Minister from the senior party voted. Nearly all the Fine Gael members who voted for the alternative wording abstained on this vote, while those who had abstained on the alternative voting in favour of this one. This motion passed by 87 vote to 13.

Between the parties:

  • of the 74 Fianna Fáil TDs, 73 voted in favour;
  • of 70 Fine Gael TDs, 8 TDs voted in favour (Michael Begley, Liam T. Cosgrave, Michael Joe Cosgrave, Joe Doyle, Oliver J. Flanagan, Alice Glenn, Tom O’Donnell and Godfrey Timmins), while 2 TDs voted against (Monica Barnes and Alan Shatter);
  • of 16 Labour TDs, 5 voted in favour (Michael Bell, Frank McLoughlin, Frank Prendergast, John Ryan and Seán Treacy) and 8 TDs voted against (Joe Bermingham, Frank Cluskey, Barry Desmond, Eileen Desmond, Toddy O’Sullivan, Ruairí Quinn, Dick Spring and Mervyn Taylor);
  • both Workers’ Party TDs voted against;
  • and of the Independents, Neil Blaney voted in favour and Tony Gregory voted against.

The Bill proceeded to the Seanad where, after the three Trinity Senators, Catherine McGuinness, Mary Robinson and Shane Ross, were unsuccessful in pursuing amendments, it passed, with only Fianna Fáil Senators voting in favour.

Referendum

The referendum was held on 7 September, 1983. The leaders of the two government parties, Dr Garret FitzGerald and Dick Spring, both called for a No vote; the leader of the opposition, Charlie Haughey, called for a Yes vote. It was passed by 67% of the electorate, carried in all  but five constituencies (all in Dublin), on a turnout of 54%.

GOP’s second place last time rule

1 January, 2012 Leave a comment

In 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party nomination, winning 23 states to Ford’s 27. Then in 1980, Reagan was the nominee.

In 1980, George H. W. Bush won 6 states, with Ronald Reagan winning the remaining 44. Bush was selected as Reagan’s Vice President, and after Reagan’s two terms was the nominee in 1988.

In 1988, Bob Dole won 5 states and Pat Robertson won 4 states, with Vice President Bush winning the remaining 41 states. Bush was elected president, contesting again in 1992. In 1996, Bob Dole was the nominee.

The pattern doesn’t hold between 1996 and 2000. Bob Dole win 44 states, Bat Buchanan won 4, and Steve Forbes won 2, whereas George W. Bush was the nominee in 2000.

In 2000, John McCain won 7 states to Bush’s 43. Bush was elected president, contesting again in 2004. Then in 2008, McCain was the nominee.

In 2008, Mitt Romney won 11 states, Mike Huckabee won 7, with McCain winning the remaining 31. Now Romney looks the most likely to win this year’s nomination, though it is by no means secure for him.

Presidential election votes

30 October, 2011 Leave a comment

This table lists all votes won in Irish presidential elections in order of absolute numbers. Of course this order ignores issues such as growth in the electorate and variance in turnout. But an interesting table, if just because it shows that the highest and lowest poll both came from this year’s election.

Candidate Year Vote %
Michael D. Higgins (Lab) 2011 701101 39.6

Brian Lenihan (FF)

1990

694484

44.1
Mary Robinson (Lab) 1990 612265 38.9

Erskine Childers (FF)

1973

635867

51.9
Tom O’Higgins (FG) 1973 587771 48.1

Mary McAleese (FF)

1997

574424

45.2

Éamon de Valera (FF)

1966

558861

50.5

Tom O’Higgins (FG)

1966

548144

49.5

Éamon de Valera (FF)

1959

538003

56.3

Seán T. O’Kelly (FF)

1945

537965

49.5
Sean Gallagher (Ind) 2011 504964 28.5
Seán Mac Eoin (FG) 1959 417536 43.7
Mary Banotti (FG) 1997 372002 29.3
Seán Mac Eoin (FG) 1945 335539 30.9
Austin Currie (FG) 1990 267902 17.0
Martin McGuinness (SF) 2011 243030 13.7
Patrick McCartan (Ind) 1945 212834 19.6
Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind) 1997 172458 13.8
Gay Mitchell (FG) 2011 113321 6.4
David Norris (Ind) 2011 109469 6.2
Adi Roche (Lab) 1997 88423 6.9
Derek Nally (Ind) 1997 59529 4.7
Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind) 2011 51220 2.9
Mary Davis (Ind) 2011 48657 2.7

Also, the following were elected unopposed:

  • Douglas Hyde in 1938
  • Seán T. O’Kelly in 1952
  • Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1974
  • Patrick Hillery in 1976
  • Patrick Hillery in 1983
  • Mary McAleese in 2004

Opposition to the cabinet confidentiality referendum held at the last presidential election

26 October, 2011 Leave a comment

At the last presidential election, held 30 October 1997, there was also a ballot to amend the constitution, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution Bill. This was to safeguard the tradition of cabinet confidentiality with explicit exceptions which sought to correct a difficulty which Justice Liam Hamilton found during the Beef Tribunal, when he was unable to question Ray Burke on his recollections of a cabinet meeting. With three tribunals of inquiry established in 1997 alone, this was of increasing importance.

It involved the insertion of a new Article 28.4.3°: -

The confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter –

  1. in the interests of the administration of justice by a Court, or
  2. by virtue of an overriding public interest, pursuant to an application in that behalf by a tribunal appointed by the Government or a Minister of the Government on the authority of the Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into a matter stated by them to be of public importance.

The amendment was supported by the five leading parties; the wording had originally been drafted during the lifetime of the Fine Gael–Labour–Democratic Left coalition, and the coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, which had been in government since June, carried the amendment bill forward, proposing it in September.

It was opposed within the Dáil by the Green Party, whose John Gormley described the attempt to railroad the amendment as “tantamount to blackmail” (The Irish Times, 28 Oct. 1997).

More notably and contentious politically, it was also opposed by senior figures within the Progressive Democrats. Party founder and former leader, Des O’Malley, then a backbench government TD, criticised the bill in the Dáil as being too restrictive. He spoke (Vol. 480, No. 4, Col. 680) of his own experiences of a Minister, and the effect the amendment would have on the ability of former ministers to write memoirs,

I was a Minister for 13 years and I know it is usual to speak with the Secretary. Will this now be illegal? Frequently it is necessary to speak with a number of civil servants about matters discussed at Cabinet. This is perfectly proper but the current proposal will make it illegal.

I am in the unusual position of having resigned, for good reason, on two occasions from Government. I know the procedure and the trauma occasioned by this. At present there is an absolute right for a Minister to explain to the House why he resigned from Cabinet. However, what is now proposed will preclude him from doing so. This is ridiculous.

It is a tradition in Britain and less so here that former Ministers write their memoirs. Two were written here in recent years by former Deputies Garret FitzGerald and Gemma Hussey. Both quote extensively from what was said and done at Cabinet meetings. In Britain, almost every former Minister writes his or her memoirs, quoting extensively from Cabinet discussions. Bona fide students of history need to know what discussions take place in Cabinet but now they will not be able to find out.

He criticized the rush of the bill, and called for it to be redrafted and delayed until the vote on the Amsterdam Treaty (which ultimately took place in May 1998).

Also outspoken was former Progressive Democrat TD (and future party leader), Michael McDowell. He publicly clashed with Mary Harney, then leader, after he wrote in an article for the Irish Independent that the proposal was “the predictable consequence of running the country out of the hip pocket and handbag of coalition leaders, without consultation or reflection”. He had also around this time criticized Mary Harney for rowing in behind Fianna Fáil and giving formal party support to Mary McAleese as a presidential candidate. He announced on Questions and Answers that he intended to allow his party membership to last until March. Significantly however, he would “not unequivocally rule out any future role in politics” (The Irish Times, 25 Oct. 1997).

The Irish Times editorial line was opposed to the referendum, with a heading “Vote No” to the editorial on the day of the vote and columnists Dr Garret FitzGerald, former Taoiseach, and Vincent Browne also wrote against it. Garret FitzGerald criticized the way that “the best that two successive government have been able to come up with has been a constitutional amendment for just two very specific and limited exceptions, outside of which the dangerous rigidity of Supreme Court’s ruling will continue to operate in a thoroughly perverse way”. He echoed O’Malley’s concerns of the right of resigning ministers to give an explanation, a right of a minister to discuss cabinet with civil servants, and the effect it would have on historians (18 Oct. 1997). Vincent Browne proposed an alternative constitutional amendment, “The confidentiality of government discussions shall not be a matter of Constitutional right but shall be regulated by law” (29 Oct. 1997), and expressed confidence that a further appeal to the Supreme Court would overturn their ruling of 1992.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties opposed the amendment on similar grounds to those of Des O’Malley and Garret FitzGerald mentioned above (The Irish Times, 27 Oct. 1997).

It would be a stretch to draw any direct parallels between the referendum on cabinet confidentiality and tomorrow’s referendum on Oireachtas inquiries, it is interesting at least to find Michael McDowell, the Green Party, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and The Irish Times, (and Vincent Browne as a columnist), again on the same side calling for a No vote. (And it was also Brendan Howlin who spoke for the Labour Party in the Dáil supporting the Amendment).

Ultimately, it passed by 52% to 48%, with 5% of votes spoiled. I would imagine that tomorrow’s vote on Oireachtas inquiries will be similarly tight, and again with a high proportion of votes spoiled.

Transfers in Irish presidential elections

24 October, 2011 2 comments

With seven candidates and none polling at 50%, there will be multiple counts in this election. The number of counts depends on how far apart the candidates are from each other at the lower end. If the candidate G is at 2%, F at 4% and E at 8%, then F and G can be eliminated together, as even all of G’s votes could not put F ahead of E. As many can be grouped in elimination as follow under this logic (as below, when Dana, Roche and Nally were eliminated together, as Nally and Roche could not together have put Dana ahead of Mary Banotti). The count will continue until one candidate reaches 50% of the remaining vote.

It is likely that there will a large proportion of non-transferable votes by the last count, as many might not fill their ballot to the candidates remaining by that point; for example, if someone voted 1 McGuinness, 2 Norris, 3 Davis, and left the rest blank, their ballot would not be in contention between the two candidates currently leading the polls.

Here then is a summary of the three elections to date with more than two candidates, to give an impression of the proportion of votes that were transferable to candidates in the last count, and how heavily they favoured particular candidates. In both 1945 and 1990, the Fianna Fáil candidate fared poorly on transfers, and in 1990, it was enough to push Robinson ahead of Lenihan on the second count. As polls this weekend stand (Irish Times/MRBI, SBP/Red C, Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes), Michael D. Higgins will have to both narrow the gap on first preferences between himself and Sean Gallagher, and win an a significantly greater proportion of the transfers than him on successive counts to win this.

1945

Candidate First Count Second Count Total
Vote % Transfers % of
transfers
Patrick McCartan (Ind) 212 834 19.6% –212 834
Seán Mac Eoin (FG) 335 539 30.9% +117 886 55.4% 453 425
Seán T. O’Kelly (FF) 537 965 49.5% +27 200 12.8% 565 165
Non-transferable +67 748 31.8%

1990

Candidate First Count Second Count Total
Vote % Transfers % of
transfers
Austin Currie (FG) 267 902 17.0% –267 902
Brian Lenihan (FF) 694 484 44.1% + 36 789 13.7% 731 273
Mary Robinson (Lab) 612 265 38.9% +205 565 76.7% 817 830
Non-transferable +25 548 9.6% 25 548

1997

Candidate First Count Second Count Total
Vote % Transfers % of
transfers
Mary Banotti (FG) 372 002 29.3% +125 514 38.8% 497 516
Mary McAleese (FF) 574 424 45.2% +131 835 40.8% 706 259
Derek Nally (Ind) 59 529 4.7% –59 529
Adi Roche (Lab) 88 423 6.9% –88 423
Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind) 175 458 13.8% –175 458
Non-transferable +66 061 20.4% 66 041

Note: The percentages next to the column for the second count give the percentage of the transfers received by the remaining candidates and those not transferred, not the percentage of total remaining votes.

Councils and the presidency

28 September, 2011 1 comment

This year saw a considerable jump in the number of county and city councils exercising their constitutional prerogative to nominate candidates for president. In 1997, the first year any candidate secured the support of four councils, eleven of the thirty-four councils supported candidates, between Derek Nally and Dana Rosemary Scallon.

This year, that figure has jumped to twenty-five, nominating four candidates between them, Mary Davis, Sean Gallagher, David Norris and Dana Rosemary Scallon. The bulk of these voted for Mary Davis (full breakdown below).

So we now have a field of seven candidates, with more than half nominated by Councils rather than by Oireachtas members: Mary Davis, Michael D. Higgins, Sean Gallagher, Martin McGuinness, Gay Mitchell and Dana Rosemary Scallon.

This system of nomination for the presidency has long been criticized. In researching the elections, I came across a report from The Irish Times of 26 May 1973, in which Labour Chief Whip Barry Desmond said of the “rather outdated Constitutional requirements … I would hope that in any further revision of our Constitution this question will receive objective review … with a view to broadening the democratic aspects of the scope of the nomination”.

Throughout the years, candidates who had made their wishes to contest known and who have received national media attention have failed in their attempts to win the support of councils: Alfie Byrne in 1938, Patrick McCartan in 1945 (who later secured the signatures of Labour and Clann na Talmhan TDs in an individual capacity), Eoin O’Mahony in 1966 and 1973 and Dana in 2004.

Michael Gallagher recently outlined alternative methods of securing based on signatures. If we were to move towards linking PPS numbers with the electoral register, it should not be difficult to prevent duplication and fraud, if signatories had to sign in with ID and be crossed off a database at their local Garda station. I don’t think our current system, with some sort of vetting procedure is so outrageous by international comparisons, but there is clearly demand for a change to the system to be explored. And particularly if the size of the Oireachtas is to be reduced, it will be more difficult yet to reach 20 Oireachtas signatures. We might consider a figure such as 20,000 electors, as is the case in Finland, or 50,000, which was the number who could force a referendum under the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

But while we have the current system, aspiring candidates should treat the system respectfully. Cllr Paul McAuliffe’s speech last night highlighted perhaps the biggest problem David Norris faced with councils. While his supporters had taken the time to write to him, he had not heard from Norris himself. While one might not agree with the current system, it does put either Oireachtas members or councillors in a position where they have to publicly consider the merits of a prospective candidate. Nominations from Councils are more anonymous on the nomination form, they are listed by locality, rather than specifying any voting record, making them amenable to Independents, presumably designed with that in mind. While we do have the system, we should consider what it does mean for a representative at local or national level to take their Constitutional obligation seriously, while retaining an expectation that they would facilitate a candidate in most cases. Had Norris picked six councils, which based on political alignment he believed he would have had the best chance with, and taken the time to meet with sufficient councillors there, he would likely have secured his nomination with greater ease. It would have been harder for the councillors in South Dublin or Cork to have voted against him had they had a meaningful conversation with him. Though it would have taken effort, it is how Mary Davis managed to secure such support.Here is a table summary of the Councils which nominated candidates in 1997 and for this year’s election:

1997
Derek Nally Carlow, Clare, Kildare, South Dublin, Wexford
Dana Rosemary Scallon Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Longford, North Tipperary, Wicklow
2011
Mary Davis Galway, Galway City, Kerry, Limerick, Louth, Mayo, Monaghan, North Tipperary, South Tipperary, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow
Sean Gallagher Cork City, Clare, Leitrim, Meath
David Norris Fingal, Laois, Dublin City, Waterford
Dana Rosemary Scallon Carlow, Donegal, Offaly, Roscommon

Sources for the table: Wikipedia, contact with Aisling Kerr in Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

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