We, the Irish public, can be decision-makers using people-initiated referendums.
This grassroots campaign is not connected to any political party or organisation. It does not receive funding from any organisation. It's ordinary people coming together irrespective of their political views and allegiances in support of a two-step process to enhance the political system. The process is as follows:
1) THE PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY
Within six months of the next government taking office, a People’s Assembly will be formed for a period of one year to devise a modern mechanism for people-initiated referendums. There would be two types of People-Initiated referendums.
a) Public/Citizen power to Veto
With the introduction of Public Veto referendums, the Irish people would have the power to initiate/trigger a referendum to prevent / block / stop poor legislation if necessary.
b) Public/Citizen Initiatives
This instrument would provide the Irish people with the power to initiate/trigger a referendum to introduce new legislation or a constitutional amendment without waiting on government consent.
2) THE PEOPLE'S REFERENDUM
When the assembly finishes after the year, a referendum will be held. The purpose of the referendum is to allow the Irish people to vote and decide if the mechanism for People-Initiated Referendums (The power to veto & citizen initiatives) should be put into the Irish Constitution.
WHAT is the problem?
The Irish political system is not fit for purpose and the Irish people need to empower themselves to change how political decisions are made in Ireland. There are three major reasons why our political system is failing:
The Irish political system used in Ireland is known as Representative Democracy. This means the power and decision-making process is entirely in the hands of representatives who are elected by the people once every five (5) years. However, this system also allows governments to make decisions against the will of the same people who elected and entrusted them to manage the country on their behalf. Promises are made to constituents and then, when elected, governments renege and implement policies and laws irrespective of the views and against the will of the people of Ireland. The problem is further exacerbated by a whip system that requires an elected representative to vote according to the party of which they are members. They do this regardless of the will of the constituency they were elected to represent.
The Irish political system allows politicians to make decisions knowing they won’t be held accountable for their actions.
3 Citizen Empowerment
The Irish political system restricts and limits citizen participation in making decisions impacting the lives of Irish citizens. At present, the Government appoints people to manage institutions and public bodies based on their relationship with the present government and not their qualifications for the position. This means that a person who is unqualified and inexperienced could be given a responsibility to manage matters of social, economic and environmental importance to the detriment of our society as a whole. A person may be given this responsibility just because they are a talented orator or have the right political connections even if they have a proven track record of being unable to manage large projects effectively and within budget. Ireland is a modern society with an educated population who are capable of making the best decisions in regards to matters that affect them and the Irish people as a whole.
There have been some recent examples to demonstrate just how dysfunctional the Irish political system has been:
Bank Bondholders Bail Out debt: Fine Gael and Labour were elected during the 2011 general elections with the mandate not to pay bank bondholder debt for which the people of Ireland were not responsible. However, as soon as the formalities of forming the new coalition Government were complete, the Government began making repayments on these loans contrary to the promises made to the electorate.
Irish Water / Water charges: The Irish Government decided to introduce water charges even though water was already being paid through higher Taxation such as road and income tax. The Government claimed this was necessary for a number of ever evolving reasons which did not stand up to logical scrutiny, such as:
- Conservation. The Government’s original assertion that a volume tax on water was for conservation reasons was clearly untrue. Whilst stating that over fifty percent of our water is lost through leaks, they implied that a bogeyman of waste existed who took joy in turning on taps unnecessarily, wasting our precious water. This argument was firmly put to bed when the Government decided to back track and introduce a flat rate of tax, proving conservation was never a concern in the first place.
- Investment. The Government stated that investment was imperative as our water system is in a state of disrepair. While we can all agree that our system is in dire need of repair, all this argument does is raise the question as to what has been done with the money we currently pay to maintain and upgrade our water system? Either way, it doesn’t justify using the ridiculous levels of public finances to set up a new company called Irish Water and install meters in every household in the country. It has since been established that the water meters have a lifespan of ten to fifteen years, at which point further costs will be required to replace meters. Again, further evidence of short-term thinking and poor decision-making from government.
E.U. requirement. We were informed that the introduction of water charges is an E.U. requirement. It was originally stated that water charges were introduced as it was necessary to comply with an E.U. directive. However, it was later revealed that, due to Ireland’s climate, we were exempt from this directive and were under no obligation to introduce water charges.
During this time, hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens took to the streets to complain about these charges. Although the size of the protests, petitions, opinion polls and public surveys clearly indicated that the people of Ireland wanted the government to scrap the additional water charges, the government continued to ignore the will of the people and pushed ahead with implementation.
The above examples illustrate that the real issue isn’t the fact that government can ignore the wishes of the people. The issue is that the people of Ireland have no way to stop governments making decisions against their wishes. When a government goes into power, representative democracy allows them to make decisions without any accountability for their actions, no matter how ludicrous those decisions may be.
WHO can fix this problem?
YOU! Every Irish citizen has a once in a lifetime opportunity to take one action that will take back Ireland’s future and give power back to the people of Ireland. It’s not complicated. It’s not illegal. It can be done. If you are over eighteen years old and registered to vote, you have the power to change this political system forever and put the future of Ireland in the hands of the people of Ireland. It doesn’t matter what your political, social, economic or environmental views and opinions are. This solution allows every person to have a future where true democracy can exist. A future where the people of Ireland can hold elected politicians accountable for their actions.
HOW can this problem be fixed?
We, you and I, can use the power of our vote to ensure the Irish political system is upgraded. In order to achieve the fairest and most inclusive political system, we just need to enhance our political system with one single element of the participative democracy used in Switzerland, a country recognized as one of the most democratic countries in the world.
1. 'People-initiated' referendums
The Swiss system is similar to the democracy used in Ireland in that citizens vote for representatives who then decide on policy initiatives. However, there are crucial differences. Switzerland enjoys a tried and tested system that ensures power ultimately remains with the people rather than elected representatives. A key element of the Swiss democracy allows any citizen to call for and initiate a referendum without the consent of elected representatives and even in opposition to government decisions.
Introducing this element of the Swiss system in lieu of the Irish system would significantly enhance democracy in Ireland. It would allow Irish citizens to deliberate and participate in the decision making of the country if they wish to do so.
It would provide a democracy that strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision-making, and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities. This is not the case with the current representative democracy paradigm. As outlined, the introduction of people-initiated referendums would provide citizens with the power to veto government legislation and, in addition, provide the people with the power to create new legislation.
Currently, in Ireland, political parties use the party whip to ensure its members do what they are told by the party irrespective of the wishes of the people. If the introduction of ‘people-initiated’ referendums were implemented in Ireland, it would create accountability from elected representatives. Instead of having no say between elections, the people of Ireland become the whip for all elected political parties and politicians. If politicians tried to introduce legislation against the will of the people, the people can constitutionally trigger a mechanism that will prevent government from doing so without a decision being made by the people by referendum.
Simply put, if the people of Ireland had people-initiated referendums to complement the current representative democracy system, it would mean elected representatives would manage the country’s affairs with the approval of the people. If, however, elected politicians tried to force through legislation against the will of its citizens, there would be a process that allowed those citizens to legally stop them.
(A referendum is a process similar to any election. Each citizen is asked to vote Yes or No to a specific question rather than vote for a person. The votes are then counted. If the number of citizens who vote YES is greater than the number of citizens who vote NO, then the wishes of those who votes YES must be accepted by all the citizens and, more importantly, the government.)
The process for calling a ‘people-initiated’ referendum would not be complicated. A citizen would gather signatures from X% of the voting population who support the citizen’s request. When the signatures are gathered, the government will be compelled under law to begin the process to hold a referendum.
To give an example of how a ‘Public Veto’ referendum would work, we can use Irish Water and the Water Bill. The Irish Government, the Seanad and the President of Ireland pushed through a Water Bill against the will of hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens. If ‘people-initiated’ referendums were in the Irish Constitution, a citizen could organize gathering of the required number of signatures and subsequently compel government under law to hold a ‘Public Veto’ referendum on the issue. If the results concluded that the majority of those who voted wanted the charges to be abolished, the Government would be required under law to abolish them. If, on the other hand, the majority of the citizens wanted the Water Bill and water charges to remain, then they would. This is true democracy! What’s most important is the fact that the citizens had a say and decided the outcome.
To give another example, this time of a ‘Public Initiative’ referendum, we can use the topic of our natural resources. There is public concern that the natural resources in Ireland will be privatised. If ‘people-initiated’ referendums were in the Irish Constitution, a citizen could gather the required number of signatures and subsequently compel government under law to hold a ‘Public Initiative’ referendum to protect the natural resources from privatisation. If the results concluded that the majority of those who voted supported the initiative, the Government would be required to ensure law is passed and adhered to.
Having ‘people-initiated’ referendums included in the Irish Constitution would complement our political system. It would add a safety net for all the people against legislation made by any government against the will of the people. Ireland is a modern, educated nation. People-initiated referendums would not weaken representative democracy. On the contrary, it would begin a shift towards a democracy where government worked with the people rather than working for the people.
2.Revision of the current Referendum process
If Ireland introduced ‘people-initiated’ referendums to the Irish Constitution, the referendum process should also be revised and improved. For example:
- It should be mandatory for the media to report equally both sides of the referendum.
- All official documentation should include the Pro’s and Con’s on voting both “Yes” and “No” prior to voting on the referendum. (These pro’s and con’s should be reviewed and agreed upon by a larger subset of the population rather than a government body.)
- There should be an introduction of a minimum time period before a second referendum could be held on the same question.
You do know that all the political parties / alliances in Ireland know the political system is broken? Here are some extracts from the main political party 2011 manifestos
Behind the wreckage of our banking system, our health service, our public finances and the jobs market, lies a cosy culture of cronyism and low standards that infiltrated the top of our political and public service systems under recent Governments.
It is a culture that abandoned the principles underpinning the Republic by distorting the power and resources of the State for the benefit of the few, not the many. It allowed special interests to crowd out the public interest. It pushed the interests of citizens behind those of powerful elites.
What are also needed are fundamental changes in the structures and systems of the State itself to improve the quality of governance experienced by the country. It is these fundamental changes that form the basis of this manifesto, all linked together by a 5-Point Plan that will:
5) Overhaul the way our political system works to stamp out cronyism and low standards.
Labour’s pledge is that Ireland will never again be vulnerable to the kinds of abuses of corporate and political power that have risked our country’s sovereignty. To restore confidence at home and abroad in public governance, Ireland must make significant changes in the culture and framework within which business is conducted.
That applies both to the formal rules of corporate governance and to the relationship between money and politics. Labour will rid Ireland of its ‘Crony Capitalism’ image, and restore trust in our democracy.
It is absolutely clear that no significant programme of political reform which involves amending the constitution can succeed without a real engagement with citizens during the process of drafting proposals. There are many ideas for how this can be achieved but none have yet been proven. It is important to avoid a situation where expert advisers become disproportionately influential in framing debate and drafting recommendations.
The political system has failed the people of Ireland.....
The political system is dominated and corrupted by the privileged, paralysed by clientelism and dynastic politics, and resistant to change. The Oireachtas has consistently failed to exert sufficient scrutiny over the Government and public bodies.
Sinn Féin believes that it is time for fundamental political reform. The current system is not fit for purpose.
The Government’s – Statement of Common Purpose
In the coalition governments Statement of Common Purpose, they said: Our political system, if it is to regain credibility and relevance, must change too.
THE PROCESS for change
The process to change the political system can be achieved in two steps. You hold greater power than you might know.
A People’s Assembly needs to be established for the period of One Year to devise a mechanism for people-initiated referendums. The assembly will undertake responsibility to devise the mechanisms for the two elements of participatory/direct democracy, Public Veto and Public Initiatives. The starting point of the mechanisms will be Articles 47 & 48 of the 1922 Irish Constitution; however, people will have the opportunity to take into consideration the International advice, advancements and support from countries that currently use people-initiated referendums within their political systems.
After the People’s Assembly has devised the mechanism, a referendum like no other will be held. The referendum will allow the people of Ireland to vote and decide if People-Initiated Referendums (Public Veto & Public Initiatives) should be put into the Irish Constitution and put real power in the hands of Irish citizens.
It is clear that the people in Ireland are tired and disillusioned with the level of corruption, deceit, and cronyism within Irish politics. The people have become educated and can think for themselves. The people want change and are ready for change. This is clearly evident by the levels of public unrest and protests on a variety of issues. It’s also one of the reasons why a number of new political parties are being announced. Whilst new political parties introduce fresh political ideas, the fact remains that the people have no means to hold the elected politicians accountable.
The 1 Year Initiative is different.
This initiative has one specific purpose. It does not discriminate against any Political Party or Independent politician. The purpose of the initiative is to ensure that all future governments truly represent the people, become accountable to the people, and give the power back to the people.
If you want to be part of 1 Year Initiative, there are only three things left to do:
Start talking about the initiative and sharing it with your family, friends and acquaintances. Let’s make this a red-line issue. Let us, the people of Ireland, make ‘people-initiated referendums’ the number one condition to support any politician.
This is the most important aspect. We need your support. If you support the 1 Year Initiative, please request and only support a politician who declares their support to give more power to the people. If they will not declare their support, it clearly means they DO NOT want change. The people have been taken for fools for too long. It’s time to upgrade the political system that supports everyone instead of the few.
We want the Government to establish an independent People’s Assembly to begin the process of managing the referendum. The People’s Assembly would be made up of approximately one hundred members of the public from across each county in Ireland. The assembly will be a random selection of those who wish to participate. Ideally, it will be a cross section of Irish society and include stay-at-home-moms, farmers, community workers, public servants, unemployed, the private sector, small business owners, public representatives, as well as project managers. Too often, government projects do not progress quickly due to politics, lack of skills and lack of management. This project must become one of the most successful projects in Irish history.
A Summary of the Implementation Process
- All the People demand support from all the politicians.
- The elected representatives support a joint Dail motion calling for the government to establish an Independent People’s Assembly. The People’s Assembly will devise the mechanism to support people-initiated referendums (Public Veto and Public Initiatives).
- The People’s Assembly will be a representation of Irish society. It would be made up of approximately one hundred members of the public from across each county in Ireland. It would include citizens from every walk of life who wish to participate. Ideally, it will be a cross section of Irish society and include stay-at-home-moms, farmers, community workers, public servants, unemployed, the private sector, small business owners, public representatives, as well as project managers. It would also include four of the 1 Year Initiative campaign volunteers.
- A position on the People’s Assembly will have no preconditions. Anyone who wishes to participate will have the opportunity to do so if they have been randomly selected. The names will be drawn randomly from the electoral register in each county in Ireland and in proportion to the population. (A minimum of two delegates per county) The campaign volunteers who wish to participate will be decided by a majority vote by the registered campaign volunteers.
- The People’s Assembly will have responsibility for devising a process outlining how ‘people-initiated’ referendums will work in practice. This will include details from the moment a citizen feels it necessary to initiate a referendum right through to the point in time when the referendum will take place. The assembly will invite the appropriate political and legal experts to present and advise on the various aspects prior to the assembly agreeing what is best for Ireland. Guests should include International experts from Switzerland, Italy and representation of the six counties.
- There will be a completely independent chairperson for the assembly and the minutes of each forum will be made available after each meeting. Ideally, the meetings will be streamed live for those who wish to watch meetings in real-time.
- The legal experts will formulate the Constitutional amendments based upon the mechanism agreed by the assembly.
- The public representatives will take the appropriate action to ensure the Bill passes through each of the legislative process to initiate the referendum on the constitutional amendments.
- The referendum will be held with citizens knowing the exact mechanism if the majority of people in Ireland vote and decide to introduce ‘people-initiated’ referendums into the Irish Constitution.
A referendum like no other could be held in Ireland. The referendum will present a change to the Irish Constitution. An upgrade to the political system will be presented to the people of Ireland from the people of Ireland. Every Irish citizen will have the privilege to vote and secure Ireland’s future forever.
We ask you to please consider all of the above and particularly the benefits to you, your family and our future generations.