Saturday 5 October 2013

Seanad stays

Democracy has had an airing this weekend in Ireland.  Yesterday we held two simultaneous referendums and the results of the first one are now counted.
It's all over bar the shouting, and the Fine Gael driven plan to streamline the government by abolishing the country's Upper House has been defeated by a tiny but statistically highly significant margin.
Is a small margin significant? Our own constituency had one of the slimmest No margins: 400 more people said No rather Yes out of a ballot of just over 20,000.  In Cork SW, the margin was almost the same but in the other direction.  You can carry out an 2x2 contingency test to see if the desires of those in the rural Midlands are significantly different from those on the Atlantic fringe.

Ta Nil Tot
Ta 20516 20931 41447
Nil 12920 12463 25383
Tot 33436 33394 66830
The ChiSq on this is 12.4 and the probability is 0.0004
So a similar margin across the whole country is definitely meaningful.  But is it really democratic to (not) change the Constitution on the expressed opinion of 20% (40% turn out) x (50% Yes/No) of the electorate?  The electoral process is in any case tribal rather than democratic. In Carlow Kilkenny you'll vote for a candidate from your own townland/parish/county unless you know he's sinned against the holy ghost.  This is what comes of shoe-horning neighbouring counties, which are probably long-standing GAA rivals, into the one constituency.  The largest swing in favour of the constitutional change, by a large margin, was declared in Mayo the county constituency where our Taoiseach Enda Kenny is TD.  People will take 5 minutes extra going home from work to drop into the polling station to please a powerful neighbour.
Stop-press: the results are out on the other referendum: we now, by a 2/3rds majority, have the green light to set up a Civil Court of Appeal to spare the Supreme Court from having to re-re-adjudicate on Mrs Doohickey's suit against Tesco for the mouse she found in one of their meat pies.

The people have spoken, but at some cost.  There are 6000+ polling stations across the country to serve an electorate of 3.2 million:  potentially 500 people might come through the door over the 15 hours when the station is open for business (7am-10pm). Although, according to the wireless, one box came in with 20 No votes and 22 Yes.  Polling stations have a mix of Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks and they are at the desk the whole day.  A pal of mine from the other end of the county has a family who have been filling these posts since the foundation of the state.  These worthy and conspicuously honest people get paid about twice the minimum wage, so just manning the booths costs the state nearly €3million.  The referendum commission is tasked to generate unbiased information and distribute it to every voter, that costs another €2m in postage and say €1 in printing.  25 venues are designated Count Centres for the various constituencies and these range from the grand (The Dublin Convention Centre, the RDS, the Concert Hall in Cork) to the humble (Bonagee Community Centre, Letterkenny or the Band Hall, Clonmel) but they all have to be hired.  So that's another chunk of money.  Just exercising the old democracy in the this way has cost the state in excess of €6million.

But now we're agreed to keep the Seanad, let's be really circumspect in moaning on about how it's a plush-seated  retirement home for worn-out pols to fall asleep in.

1 comment:

  1. Minister for Children stated on Marianne Finnucan radio on Sunday that the Referendums cost €13.5 keep one talking shop, costing ...well lets not go there and create another, the mind boggles but this country is awash with money for a particular set...which seems to please 20% and as for the other 80% of us????