Enda Kenny: pioneered reform

FINE Gael is planning a radical reform of the entire electoral system that will see some TDs elected to the Dáil through "regional elections" in four new constituencies.

The Sunday Tribune understands that key figures in the party are finalising an audacious plan to have a 'Mixed Electoral System', where 12 TDs will be elected from four regions based on the constituencies used for the European elections. They would be elected on the basis of a list system, which would be a break away from the PR-STV system which has been used in elections since the foundation of the state.

A further 134 TDs would be elected in the traditional constituency-based elections and the new slimmed-down Dáil would have 20 less TDs than the current 166 deputies. The party hopes to implement the mammoth changes for the general election after the next one.

Fine Gael is expected to publish its ground-breaking political reform plan 'New Politics' in the coming weeks. Fine Gael TDs and senators have already been briefed about the document, which claims to be "the most radical programme for political reform since the 1930s".

The document is based on four main pillars:

* A unicameral parliament (a parliament with one chamber)

* Electoral reform that will introduce a new 'mixed electoral system'

* Dáil reform based on a new 'Contract for Change' that will replace social partnership

* Local government reform

While exact details of the new list system will not be laid out in the document, it is understood that the '12 TDs from four regions' proposal is being considered by key front-bench personnel.

It is understood that 'New Politics', which was initially mooted by party leader Enda Kenny last November, has been met with widespread support from the party's front bench but there is some concern among members of the parliamentary party.

The plan outlines Kenny's controversial plan to scrap the Seanad on the basis that the population is hugely over-represented compared to other smaller countries such as New Zealand and Scotland. Ireland currently has 226 members of the Oireachtas – 166 in the Dáil, 60 in the Seanad. This equates to one member per 18,584 people.

"The principal reason for Ireland's over-representation is its bicameral (two parliamentary chamber) system. If one ignores the Seanad, and looks solely at the Dáil, Ireland's representation is more reasonable," said a Fine Gael source.

Scrapping the Seanad would save €150m over a full Dáil term and 'New Politics' will chart the fact that 12 separate reports on Seanad reform were completed between 1928 and April 2004 yet no tangible reform has actually taken place.

Phil Hogan, one of the architects of 'New Politics', told the Sunday Tribune: "In the present economic situation, we need to look at all costs associated with running the country, including the Oireachtas. One of the principal reasons why we want change is to bring about a more effective Dáil with a strong committee system.

"The second house has always lacked the popular democratic legitimacy associated with the Dáil and for that reason Fine Gael believes that it cannot carry out functions of parliamentary scrutiny efficiently and effectively."

Hogan outlined that changes to the political system will be made on the basis of "terms of reference set out for an electoral commission that will be based on geography and population concerns".

'New Politics' will also suggest the establishment of a 'constitutional convention' that will be asked to "make recommendations on the possible merits of a mixed electoral system, particularly in the light of a move to a unicameral parliament."