Sunday, 1 February 2015

For Our Peers, Life Should Mean Life

What do these Irish politicians, elected to the Dáil Éireann at the February 2011 election, have in common?

  • Jerry Buttimer (Labour, Cork South Central)
  • Ciarán Cannon (Fine Gael, Galway East)
  • Paudie Coffey (Fine Gael, Waterford)
  • Paschal Donohoe (Fine Gael, Dublin Central)
  • Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael, Dublin Mid West)
  • Dominic Hannigan (Labour, Meath East)
  • Michael McCarthy (Labour, Cork South West)
  • Nicky McFadden* (Fine Gael, Longford-Westmeath)
  • Joe O'Reilly (Fine Gael, Cavan-Monaghan)
  • John Paul Phelan (Fine Gael, Carlow-Kilkenny)
  • Shane Ross (Independent, Dublin South)
  • Brendan Ryan (Labour, Dublin North)
  • Liam Twomey (Fine Gael, Wexford)
  • Alex White (Labour, Dublin South)

[* McFadden died in March 2014]

At the time of their election, they were sitting members of the Seanad Éireann, a unique body whose members are chosen in different ways:

  • 43 are elected by councillors, Teachtaí Dála and Senators
  • 11 are appointed by the Taoiseach
  • 6 are elected in the university constituencies

One feature is the shuttling back-and-forth between the two chambers. One of the dramatic results of the May 2002 election - which saw the then main Opposition party, Fine Gael, have a dramatic collapse in support - was the fate of Mary O'Rourke, then the deputy leader of the leading Government party, Fianna Fáil, and Minister for Public Enterprise.

Despite Fianna Fáil increasing its share of the vote and number of TDs nationally, in Westmeath O'Rourke lost her seat to Donie Cassidy, a Fianna Fáil Senator (who was Leader of the Seanad) - interestingly, it was the elimination of McFadden which gave Cassidy enough votes to put him over the quota and seal O'Rourke's fate. For Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, the solution was to appoint O'Rourke to the Seanad, where she took Cassidy's role as Seanad Leader - effectively Cassidy and O'Rourke had swapped jobs.

In the May 2007 election, there had been boundary changes, with O'Rourke being elected in Longford-Westmeath, while Cassidy lost his seat - so there was another O'Rourke/Cassidy job swap, with Cassidy becoming Seanad Leader again.

Fitzgerald - now the Minister for Justice - has also had a chamber-hopping career. In 2002 she lost her seat in Dublin South East to the Progressive Democrats' Michael McDowell (who then became Minister for Justice). Interestingly, 3 of the 4 TDs elected there in 2002 at some point had been, or would become, leaders of their parties (McDowell, Labour's Ruairi Quinn, and the Green Party's John Gormley). In 2007, Fitzgerald contested Dublin Mid-West, but was unsuccessful (one of the elected TDs there was Mary Harney, at the time Minister for Health, who would a few days later replace McDowell as Progressive Democrat leader as he lost his seat to Fine Gael's Lucinda Creighton).

You might think this look at Irish politics has no relevance to British politics. And indeed it doesn't - yet.

The House of Lords Reform Act 2014 is a recent piece of legislation that allows life peers to resign from the House of Lords. In some ways, it is like the Peerage Act 1963 which allowed hereditary peers to disclaim their peerages, and then be eligible to become MPs.

Like the 1963 predecessor, the 2014 Act allows peers who have resigned to become an MP. No time gap required. There is one crucial difference - the 1963 Act banned ex-hereditaries from being given an hereditary peerage in the future (but they could, and some did, become life peers).

The 2014 Act does not ban ex-life peers from being given a life peerage later on.

We can now see why the Irish example is relevant. The 2014 Act - although no-one has used it this way yet - allows chamber-hopping.

Irish Senators comprise those who have lost their seats and are looking to be TDs again, and the next generation, those whom the parties hope will become TDs in the future, getting parliamentary experience. Senators do not become Government ministers - unlike members of the House of Lords.

Later this year, if normal tradition is continued, there will be a list of working peers. What is to stop a party putting youngish politicians on the list, with the promise that, if they work hard, follow the party line, then there is a frontbench post in the months to come, and then the promise of being parachuted into a safe seat for the May 2020 or May 2025 general election? With campaign literature stating I was responsible for the Widgets Act which brought new jobs to the Flydale North constituency and suchlike.

No comments:

Post a Comment