Wednesday 19 December 2018

Calls for electoral reforms to encourage higher participation

Specially-convened Citizens' Assembly (stock photo)
Specially-convened Citizens' Assembly (stock photo)

Ed Carty

The voting age should be dropped to 16 and referendums should be held on weekends to encourage higher turnout, the Government has been told.

The specially-convened Citizens' Assembly held a series of debates and votes on the subject with all 99 members backing a proposal for referendums to take place on Saturdays or Sundays.

They also backed calls for greater availability of postal voting and the automatic inclusion of eligible voters on the electoral register.

The Assembly recommended that the Referendum Commission, which is set up to provide information to the public, should be allowed to give an opinion on significant issues that come under factual or legal dispute in the heat of a campaign, including on social media.

The members also called for it to be developed into a permanent Electoral Commission.

Retired judge Mary Laffoy, chair of the Citizens' Assembly, again praised the work of the volunteer members and the experts who gave presentations or advised the debate over the two days.

She said the members had made important recommendations.

"I will aim to finalise the report of the Assembly on this topic and furnish to the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible," she said.

Among the other proposals which got the overwhelming support of the assembly, above 80%, included greater provision of voter education on referendums, freedom to vote in any polling station and spending limits for parties, groups and individuals campaigning in referendums.

They also recommended that the Government should not be allowed to fund one side of a campaign and that more than one referendum could be held at the same time.

The Citizens' Assembly recommended that the Government or Oireachtas should act on the outcome of a referendum within five years.

And they also backed the idea that a citizens' initiative, a type of petition, could be used to put an item on the agenda for decision by the Oireachtas.

The idea of compulsory voting was roundly rejected.

A smaller majority of the Citizens' Assembly, between 50 and 80%, recommended a ban on anonymous donations and said the Government should equally fund both sides in a campaign.

Similar margins also backed the option to allow voting in the weeks before the poll; online voting; and people to vote even if they have been out of the country for five years or less.

The Citizens' Assembly recommended that more than two options could appear on a referendum ballot paper but in those cases the outcome should be determined by the Single Transferable Vote system.

The Citizens Assembly was set up to examine five issues.

The weekend meeting on the issue of referendums was moved forward in a bid to avoid confusion if a date is set for the vote on the future of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The next meeting of the Citizens Assembly will be on March 3 and 4 when it will examine the issue of fixed-term parliaments.

Press Association

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