Approach to Electoral Reform Bill raises serious questions over Government’s respect for rule of law

In his speech to the European Parliament in June, the Taoiseach highlighted, in thinly veiled digs at the UK and wayward EU states, the importance of respect for the rule of law and adherence to international agreements to the functioning of European democracy. It was a welcome statement of principle, but the Government’s recent behavior does not inspire as much confidence.

The European Commission’s annual rule of law report is an exercise by the EU where it measures how member states perform against democratic standards. The 2022 report was published in July of this year and it pointedly criticised Ireland for the practice of “discussions on new bills tend[ing] to be concentrated during short periods of time (in particular, during the two weeks before recesses), with negative consequences for proper parliamentary scrutiny.”

Ironically enough, that report landed as the biannual rushing of legislation through the Oireachtas was at its peak. Fifteen bills were barreled through the Dáil and Seanad in July alone. This compares to 14 for the entirety of the preceding six months combined.

One of those bills, the Electoral Reform Bill which was signed into law on July 25, might prove to be of particular interest to our European friends. The way in which this bill was dealt with by Government and by the Oireachtas also raises worrying questions that go beyond an end-of-season rush.

In principle, the Electoral Reform Bill is at strengthening democracy. The key ideas in it are laudable and important, including an independent Electoral Commission, reforms of party funding, and modernizing the electoral register.

In the first phases the process was as you might expect, there was extensive and generally collegial cross-party debate. The relevant Oreachtas Committee engaged with submissions and presentations from experts. ICCL made submissions on all these issues with recommendations for

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