The Irish election: How PR can keep the local link

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 29th March 2016

The General Election in Ireland last month was an earthquake in Irish politics.

Ireland now has a vastly more diverse political landscape, with the results a reflection of a major decline in party loyalties – and some big changes to politics more generally – something that is happening across much of Europe.

With voters supporting an ever wider range of parties – as well as independents – it’s fascinating to examine the results and the campaign in detail. And while there are significant differences, Irish politics can still offer lessons for the UK.

So today we’re launching our report on the 2016 Irish General Election – and what we can learn in Britain from Ireland’s voting system.

For a start, traditional attachments to established parties are breaking down in Britain, as in Ireland. The last General Election in the UK saw the highest result ever for parties outside the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Yet Westminster’s archaic voting system stops these views being translated into representation – with, for example, the Greens and UKIP getting five million votes between them but just two seats. There is an alternative, however.

Ireland’s Single Transferable Vote system for elections shows you can have a proportional voting system while retaining a local link, with candidates in multi-seat constituencies focusing on their local areas. We can genuinely have the best of both worlds – a constituency link and a voting system that fairly reflects voters’ choices, and our new report by Chris Terry, ERS’ Research Officer, shows how.

Moreover, it offers a chance to experiment with ways of diversifying politics away from the ‘usual suspects’ – whether that’s through gender quotas or simply utilising the multi-seat nature of the system to put up a range of candidates, as opposed to First Past the Post’s safe seats culture that prioritises, ‘safe’ seeming candidates.

No one can predict where Irish politics goes from here. But its voting system has allowed for significant change, and for voters to express their changing loyalties.

Read our report, ‘The 2016 Irish General Election: PR and the Local Link’ here

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