Political parties should keep the seats they win in general elections – even if their TD steps down or passes away.
That’s according to former Tánaiste Michael McDowell who was speaking after the Government asked the Electoral Commission to examine whether Ireland’s by-election system should be scrapped.
In a letter to the chairwoman, Ms Justice Marie Baker, the Housing Minister Daragh O’Brien also asked for research into whether the voting age should be lowered and the use of election posters should be limited.
The commission’s members must now decide whether to agree to Minister O’Brien’s request.
In his letter, Minister O’Brien asked the commission to examine whether by-elections should be replaced with an alternate list system.
This would see candidates nominating a list of people who could fill in for them if they are unable to continue on with their duties.
The system is already in place to fill vacancies in the European Parliament.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Senator McDowell voiced support for the idea.
“After all, if we do believe we have a proportional representation system, a party that gets 20% of the votes should get 20% of the seats,” he said.
“But if it has 20% of the votes, it faces the problem then that if one of its members dies or something happens to one of its members, that party has no chance of recovering that seat in a by-election.
“That is wrong I think.”
He said the change would ensure that people’s votes are broadly reflected in an election.
“The mere fact that somebody gets in and dies shouldn’t deprive say 20% of the voters in a particular constituency,” he said.
Senator McDowell was less supportive of calls to lower the voting age.
“You know, it’s illegal for a 17-year-old to be found in a pub or licenced premises after certain hours, it is illegal for a 17-year-old to buy a lottery ticket – I don’t see any reason why we should say that children should be allowed to vote in elections.
“Children are impressionable and I don’t think there is any need for it.”
He said Scotland has “toyed” with the idea, adding, “I don’t think the outcome in Scotland is particularly cause for us to move in that direction”.
The voting age in Scotland was lowered to 16 for the Independence Referendum in 2014 and all Scottish parliamentary and local council elections in 2015.
People still need to be 18 to vote in UK parliamentary elections.
“Childhood is childhood and I think there is a constant pressure to pretend that children are adults for some purposes while protecting them from being adults for other purposes,” said Senator McDowell.
“If you can’t buy a lottery ticket and you can’t gamble in certain circumstances, why is that that view is taken of your mental capacity and of your maturity?”