And then there was one. It is just over two and a half years since we elected Gay Mitchell, Proinsias de Rossa and Joe Higgins as our three MEPs.
Within eighteen months Joe had made his way back into the Dáil. He waved goodbye toBrusselshis seat was taken by Paul Murphy. (No, I don’t know much about him either).
Fast forward another twelve months to this week and veteranDublinMEP Proinsias de Rossa announces that he is to stand down and his seat will pass to Dublin City Councillor, Emer Costello. As if to complete the row of falling dominoes, Cllr Costello’s vacancy on the City Council will in turn be filled by someone selected by her local labour organisation.
And so, two of the three people who asked us in June 2009 make them MEPs for a five year fixed term have decided to move on or move out. Thus… and who would have imagined we would ever again hear these words…leaving Gay Mitchell as the last man standing.
Everything that Joe and Proinsias have done is entirely and wholly within the rules. Casual vacancies arising from MEPs dying, resigning or otherwise being disqualified are filled this way. It applies across the EU.
It is arguable that this method of filling occasional vacancies is fairer and more democratic than the by-election route. The people’s decision on the five year mandate of their MEPs made in 2009, by proportional representation, is allowed to stand for the duration.
Nonetheless, it is disappointing that some of those who contested the Euro Election so fiercely can so easily renege on their mandate mid way through the term. I won’t dwell on this point as I cannot claim to be an impartial observer on this aspect having worked on Eoin Ryan’s 2009 campaign.
The point I will comment upon is broader. It is the degree to which these seats are becoming the property of the political party in a manner that starts to resemble the introduction of the party list system.
This may look like a big extrapolation from just one or two co-option processes, but when taken together with recent commentary from Prof David Farrell and others on changing Dáil sitting times to drag TDs away from constituency work, then the leap may not seem so great.
One of the particular features of our multi-seat PR/STV system is the level of personal attachment and connection between Public Representative and voter. This can often transcend party affiliation and may even be said to be on the increase.
Yet there is a curious clamour for this personal connection to be broken. The accusation of the parish pump and cliental-ism is made TDs are said to be so obsessed with getting re-elected that they encourage constituents to think that entitlements they were due were only won thanks to the intervention of the TD.
They argue that TDs should be spending their entire working week legislating and debating. They miss the risk that such a system would just institutionalise the control of party hierarchies.
TDs based in Leinster House Monday to Friday, doing virtually no constituency work for almost five years would be dependent on the national party structure to get them re-elected. Bad news for mavericks.
Not to mention the loss of to our system of representative government. How else can you represent people if you do not spend a good proportion of your time meeting with them and really learning their concerns?
Like all things; there is a balance to be struck. You cannot have TDs who only see life through the prism of how it will affect their re-election chances. But going to the other end of the spectrum is not the answer either.
You don’t learn much by sending out glossy 8 page A3 newsletters every six months. You got to get out and knock on doors. There is no point speaking in the Dáil if all you are churning out is what you found on Google; read from a focus group or what popped into your head over night.
The personal connection between the elected and the elector is important. Anything that diminishes it, undermines the democratic process.
Though I never voted for him (not even a 3 or 4) I will be sad to see Proinsias quit the stage. I wish him well.