herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Con Houlihan: A land crying out for reform

Irrespective of who wins the election, they will be faced with major tasks. One task is to reform our way of voting. The electors' list should be brought up to date so that everyone who is alive should be on it and that everyone who has gone away should be off it. It is easy to commit electoral fraud, especially now when so many people are living on estates and do not know their own neighbours.

Every citizen should have an identity card with a clear photograph. At present some people think that a voting card is sufficient identification. In coming elections the identity card should be essential because forgeries now are so sophisticated that even a passport or a Visa card might not be sufficient. It is not very pleasant to turn up at the polling booth and find that your vote has been stolen.

This is why every citizen in Australia is obliged to vote. This makes stealing votes more difficult.

Some people argue in favour of constituencies with only one seat. This would be detrimental to proportional representation. Big parties would claim most of the seats. It would be better to have more seats in every constituency. At present three seats and four seats and five seats are typical. There is no reason why you couldn't have a constituency with six or seven seats.

We are seeing all over the world that smaller parties no longer take things lying down. Unless they are fairly represented in parliament, they tend to resort to the streets and even to violence.

We have seen a few examples of this here at home, mainly in the context of the medical card and of the abuse to which student nurses are subject. So far, street demonstrations have not led to much violence but the mood of a people can change. And the more seats there are in every constituency, the more democracy there is. For too long in the Republic, the typical constituency had only three seats. This almost certainly meant the bigger parties had two and one and that the small parties had no TD at all. It was a fraud devised to keep the bigger parties in power.

In the days of poor communications, a TD might live 50 miles or more from some of his constituents. When travel was by horse and trap or by bicycle, this was a daunting distance. Now with the proliferation of the phone, both ground and mobile, and the internet, communication is comparatively easy. This is a good thing even though it makes life harder for TDs. Let no one think TDs are overpaid or there are too many in the Dail. A TD is literally a public servant.

His or her time is never their own. He might be on a holiday in a very remote island such as the Canaries, where tourists do not go, and a neighbour from home might say: "I've been looking for you for a long time to see about the completion of the bog road." And so a TD is never on holiday.

I do not begrudge their salaries. And if occasionally they seem to go overboard on the expenses, you should remember that there are legitimate expenses for which you cannot claim.

Every journalist whose work entails a fair amount of travelling knows that and that is why so many were lenient in the context of Ivor Callely. Of course he went overboard but the reaction went overboard too.

In the next Government you can be sure that expenses will be closely safeguarded and the rogues will be put in their place. We hear talks about abolishing the Seanad. This body has its own place and most of its members have earned their place there. In general it is a civilised chamber and it would be sad to see it abolished.

Other tasks that await the incoming Government include the one that has been hanging around for years. I welcome the EU's presence because they care about the environment. Think of what the Icelanders say: "Our country is an island depending on the fish that are all around it. Take away the fish and there is no Iceland."

A succession of governments here have appeared to be indifferent to the environment. This is especially true in the condition of our waters.

In the neighbouring island there are five million registered anglers and heaven knows how many more. If they could come here and catch a few coarse fish during a day, they would be very happy.

Fishing in Britain is so hard to come by that even quarry holes are used and competitions take the place of what should be natural fishing.

There is vast room here for a vigorous and intelligent board to make the most of this harvest that is lying at our doors. The EU are taking more and more part in ensuring that levels of pollution are regularly monitored -- and polluters will in time be brought to book.

The biggest culprits are public bodies, corporations and county councils who turn untreated sewage into waterways and go unpunished. This wouldn't be tolerated in most European countries or indeed in many countries far abroad. In many ways we are a dirty people.

This factor isn't much to the fore in election propaganda because all governments have been equally at fault.

For far too long some obvious flaws in our way of running this country have been ignored. That cannot go on indefinitely. And we look to the European Commission to put manners on us.

Fogra: A few days ago I was reminded of the smell of printer's ink and the clatter of the machines in the caseroom. An old comrade, Tadhg Twomey, came to visit -- at 71 years he has given up running marathons but is still a distance runner. I send him my best wishes

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